After a year-long wait, Netflix has finally blessed us with additional 10 hours of pure entertainment. I have been obsessed with The Crown since it was first launched in 2016; the release of season 4 has been one of the most anticipated and exciting events in the last few months of my life (I say this proudly with a hint of sadness). For full disclosure, I am aggressively Eastern European and there is no logical reason for me to be this invested in the British Royal family. I have also never displayed any inclination towards monarchism, on the contrary.
I wholeheartedly believe that my unlikely interest stems from the incredible production and immaculate craft put into every single episode of The Crown. With season 4 in particular, I found out that my attention was constantly fixated on costume design, specifically with regards to the two new characters of Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher.
One of the main purposes of costume design is to help with characterisation and storytelling. The Crown does this particularly well. Costume designer Amy Roberts has definitely managed to compliment Peter Morgan’s writing in the most attractive and effective way. The show’s outfits are not only beautiful to look at and mostly historically accurate, but they also help us viewers learn about the characters.
Firstly, I would like to preface this review with a little note on the writers’ approach to the show in general. The Crown is based on real events and real people. The last season takes place during the 1980s, or in other words, it depicts recent history. Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid controversy. Makers of The Crown have repeatedly stressed that characters and events in the show are a work of fiction, merely inspired by reality.
This is something I personally feel was done very well, although I do see how it was impossible for the creators to avoid criticism coming from politicians, royal family experts and other VIPs. To end my preface, I will be reviewing character building in the realm of fiction and I will not be commenting on any potential historical or politically (in)sensitive facts or inaccuracies.
Margaret Thatcher was by far my favourite character of season 4. Again, I must reiterate, I am referring to the character, not the politician herself. We meet her early on after she gets elected as the first female PM and we follow her journey until 1990 when she leaves the office. In her first weekly meeting with the Queen, we see her wearing a signature 70s blue suit with a skirt and a white patterned blouse.
This outfit in particular has feminine touches, which will later develop into sharper masculine clothes, reflecting her political career.
I have noticed two distinct visual patterns while Thatcher’s character is formed in the show. The first one being the clash between her and the Queen. There are multiple wide shots scattered throughout, depicting the contrast between the two. The visual impact is heavily supported by costume choice. Queen Elizabeth wears much more muted colours and softer, more old-fashioned clothes. I found it very interesting to observe that difference, going hand in hand with their personal and political clash.
The second visual technique I had noticed was positioning Thatcher in the middle of the shot, highlighting the fact that she is the only female and simultaneously the most powerful person in the room.
The way her character is portrayed often touches on the concept of feminism and political power. Thatcher’s wildly sexist and otherwise unprogressive views are put in contrast with her, by default, progressive presence. This is also conveyed visually, resulting in oddly comical sights. For instance, there is a scene where she wears a delicate, patterned blouse and a floral apron, all the while discussing radical political strategies.
My second favourite character was, of course, the Princess of Wales, played by Emma Corrin. We meet her almost immediately when she first bumps into Charles. She is depicted as a delicate, playful, whimsical creature and Charles is immediately intrigued. Her visual progression is even more drastic than Thatcher’s as she changes from a naive young girl to a cultural icon. The show stops in the year 1990 so we are yet to see the full transformation; however, the difference between her first and last appearance is stark.
The show features multiple iconic costumes, like Diana’s famous wedding dress which was made with 95 meters of fabric and 100 meters of lace. Those are all incredibly done and have a real on-screen impact. However, I would like to specifically talk about one of her first outfits, comparing it with her last one. Furthermore, I am also going to discuss the visual contrast between her and the rest of the royal family.
The second time we meet Diana she is wearing yellow overalls and a childish-looking knitted cardigan. I believe this costume (inspired by Diana’s real outfit) was chosen to reflect her youthfulness. Amy Roberts has commented on this particular choice, saying the aim was to convey messiness and the typical confusion teenagers experience when it comes to choosing what to wear, how to present themselves. Many of Diana’s early costumes are a little sloppy and mismatched.
Her look in the final episode and the final shot of the season is extremely different. She is wearing a black floor-length dress with a collar. She looks very well put together, sharp and fashionable. This look is presented right after Diana fully realises that she is stuck in her unfortunate situation, possibly forever.
The black dress not only shows her progress and character development. The choice of colour potentially foreshadows Diana’s tragic fate. Alternatively, it symbolises death in a less literal sense; at that moment, she is finally processing the loss of her freedom.
It is also quite evident that her outfit choice stands out from the rest of the royal family. This is a consistent characteristic of Diana’s costumes. She is wearing colours, patterns and fits that are very different from what other royal family members are dressed in, emphasising her separation from them and from their conservative values.
In conclusion, season 4 exceeded my expectations, which is always surprising especially when the expectations are so high. Perhaps the biggest praise I can give to the creators of The Crown is how impressively they managed to show instead of telling. All in all, I would say that The Crown is worth watching, regardless of your personal views or interest in the subject matter.