Warning: SPOILERS for The Crown season 4.
The Crown season 4 ends in heartbreak and disillusionment as Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Princess Diana (Emma Corrin), and Margaret Thatcher (Margaret Thatcher) all conclude the season not getting what they wanted while Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) continues to endure.
Season 4 of Netflix’s critically-acclaimed historical drama about the Windsors moved into the 1980s, a decade dominated by “two women running the shop” in the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the disastrous marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The Crown season 4 tackled the war between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, Michael Fagan (Tom Brooke) breaking into Buckingham Palace and entering the Queen’s bedroom that same year, Thatcher and the Queen’s row over apartheid in South Africa, and finally, the downfall of The Iron Lady’s tenure as Prime Minister in 1990. The Crown season 4 also dealt with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s (Tobias Menzies) other sons, Prince Andrew (Tom Byrne), and his marriage to Sarah Ferguson (Jessica Aquilina), and Prince Edward (Angus Imirie) coming of age, as well as shining a light on the little-known cousins of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) who were institutionalized and forgotten.
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But The Crown season 4’s juiciest story was about Charles and Diana; the season’s ten-episodes depict their first meeting in the late 1970s, their rushed engagement, and “fairytale” wedding in 1981, and the immediate breakdown of their marriage due to jealousy, infidelity, and the couple’s overall incompatibility. In addition, Prince Charles continued his true love affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Shand) despite the births of Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984. Despite a brief respite of romance during their 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand, the marriage between the Prince and Princess of Wales disintegrated and, by the end of the decade, they both wanted the sham they were trapped in to end.
The Crown season 4 finale is titled “War”, which ostensibly refers to the 1990 war in the Persian Gulf (Operation Desert Shield and Storm), but the true war in the episode is between Charles and Diana, yet there were no victors because the Queen refused to let them end their marriage.
Charles And Diana’s Marriage Is Over, But They’re Not Separated Yet
The Crown season 4’s Charles and Diana drama culminates with Diana’s 1989 solo trip to New York City and the Windsor family Christmas at Balmoral in 1990. In episode 9, “Avalanche”, Charles was stymied in his attempt to deliver a speech explaining to the Queen and Prince Philip why he wanted to end his marriage when Diana blurted out that she was willing to do anything to keep the marriage going – which is all Queen Elizabeth needed and wanted to hear. Rather than match Diana’s effort, Charles froze her out, and The Crown subtly implies that this may have been a strategy on the Prince’s part, knowing that Diana would be lonely and eventually cheat on him, which is what happened when she resumed her affair with Major James Hewitt and Charles was immediately told by their protection officers.
Diana’s four-day tour of New York in 1989 was a much-ballyhooed media sensation, but it infuriated Charles because it made Camilla realize that the public would never love her as much as they do Diana if Charles got his wish for them to be together. Charles continued to feel boxed in that he couldn’t follow his heart and had to continue with this “grotesque misalliance”. When Diana returned from New York, Charles confronted her and he angrily declared his love and preference for Camilla. The Crown also used Charles’ disgust as a proxy for how the Royal Family felt about Diana’s “selfish… grandstanding” in New York when she hugged children hospitalized with AIDS. In real life, the Windsors disapproved of Diana being so public in choosing charities to support that the Crown considered “controversial”.
At the Windsors’ 1990 Christmas party, both Charles and Diana tried to get audiences with an evasive Queen Elizabeth, who correctly suspected that they both wanted to argue why their marriage should end. However, Charles and Diana didn’t get what they wanted; instead, as always, the Queen got what she wanted and she forced Charles and Diana’s marriage to continue for the good of the Crown. But Charles and Diana’s hearts’ desires were clear: He wanted out of the marriage and to be with Camilla while Diana also wanted her freedom, not just from the marriage but from the Royal Family, which she feels doesn’t love or appreciate her in the ways she thinks she deserves. Diana and Charles ended the decade still stuck together and The Crown season 4 leaves their story with an ominous and unspoken “to be continued”.
How The Royal Family Feels About Charles And Diana
The Windsors who were prominent in The Crown‘s earlier seasons took a back seat to Charles and Diana’s debacle, but each Royal illuminated key aspects of the doomed romance. Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham-Carter) was the first to see how ill-matched Charles and Diana were and she urged the Queen to stop the wedding, but her concerns fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) went from initially thinking Diana was “perfect” for her reluctant brother but as The Crown season 4 progressed and their marriage began to disintegrate, Anne ended up as a sounding board for Charles’ unhappiness, but she urged her big brother to stop complaining and make a go of it, for all of their sakes. However, Anne also felt threatened and outshined by the public’s love for Diana, which soured her on her sister-in-law.
The most interesting observer and occasional participant in Charles and Diana’s drama was Prince Philip. Himself an outsider to the Windsors, and one who never felt fully accepted and even had his own marital troubles with Elizabeth in The Crown season 2, Philip had the most empathy for Diana among the Windsors. It was Philip who personally gave Diana “The Balmoral Test” in episode 2, and he was impressed at what a “triumph” she was. So, in The Crown season 4 finale, Philip again reached out to Diana during Christmas 1990. But he, too, was disappointed by Diana’s intransigence, and he saw that they were not alike after all. As Philip explained, he came to understand that he and everyone else are all supporting players to the Queen, “the only one who matters,“ which is the central theme of The Crown‘s entire series. But Diana refuses to play along with this and accept her role in the Windsors’ pecking order, so she ultimately lost Philip’s support as well, which the Princess of Wales realized leaves her more alone than ever within the royal family.
Once again, the only person’s opinion and desires who truly “mattered” when it came to Charles and Diana’s disastrous marriage was Queen Elizabeth. The monarch’s ironclad belief was that Charles and Diana should just suck up their unhappiness and make the best of it. Using her own experience when she and Philip had problems in their marriage as an example, Elizabeth’s reasoning is that Charles and Diana simply have to keep working on their marriage and, in time, actual love would blossom. But the Queen was also at her wit’s end at how “spoiled and immature” the “endlessly complaining” Prince and Princess of Wales are, yet she ordered them to stay together and, as always, the Queen gets her wish.
Margaret Thatcher’s Dramatic Political Downfall
Margaret Thatcher’s 11-years as Prime Minister inarguably turned England into “a very different country” but it all came crashing down in November 1990 when Thatcher resigned, having been forced out by her own party turning on her. Thatcher’s support began to erode because of her controversial poll tax and how it affected Great Britain’s standing with the rest of Europe. In what Prince Philip described as “Julius… or Julia Caesar” fashion, Thatcher’s Conservative party publicly turned on her.
In one of their final audiences, The Iron Lady sought support from Queen Elizabeth for her idea to dissolve Parliament, but the monarch talked Thatcher out of this transparent and desperate play to hold onto her fading power. In the end, Margaret Thatcher stepped down as Prime Minister (she was succeeded by John Major, which The Crown didn’t mention), which ended the decade of England being ruled by two powerful, but very different, women.
How Margaret Thatcher’s Relationship With Queen Elizabeth Ends
The Crown season 4 starkly drew the contrasts between Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher. Despite failing the “Balmoral Test”, Thatcher’s successes in The Crown season 4 included the war in the Falklands and radically altering British society into mirroring her hardline Conservative views, which lead to mass unemployment and other domestic problems. In 1986, Thatcher and the Queen butted heads over the Prime Minister’s refusal to join the other 48 members of the Commonwealth in issuing sanctions repudiating the apartheid government in South Africa. This was a contest of wills that led to the Queen’s press secretary resigning over the press publishing stories that the Queen was angry at her Prime Minister, violating the rule that the monarch never publically expresses her political opinion.
The Crown showed Thatcher and the Queen able to work successfully together because, despite their many differences, they were also the same age (Margaret is six months older), and they both loved their country. The Queen recognized that her relationship to Thatcher was the first time that she wasn’t the junior being “educated” by an older (and male) Prime Minister and that at heart, Margaret Thatcher was very much a monarchist. Ultimately, Queen Elizabeth recognized Margaret Thatcher’s service to Great Britain by presenting her with the Order of Merit. Although Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister ended, the possibility exists that the Iron Lady (and Gillian Anderson) could still appear in The Crown season 5, just as Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) before his death, since Margaret Thatcher lived until 2013.
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