Today, we are going to analyse the characters from The Crown series (Season Four). We will specifically take a look at their dimensions and their arc of change during the season with practical examples.
In order to give a coherent and understandable explanation, we will use Robert McKee‘s model about dimensionality and character evolution.
In his book Character. The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage, and Screen (2021), he affirms that a long-form series (like The Crown) needs of complex characters that can change or be revealed. That’s why he talks about different selves: the public self, the social self, the private self and the inner self. The contradictions between them creates dimensions.
The actress Gillian Anderson, who plays Margaret Thatcher in the series, recently described the way the screenwriter and creator Peter Morgan creates his characters in the series and make them stand out.
“Peter’s versions of these characters are relatable and that’s one of his great gift: writing very three-dimensional characters who you forgive somehow in their behaviour, even if they behave appallingly sometimes. You can see the balance of that behaviour in other actions or aspects of their personality that makes you kind of understand why they make the choices that they make. And it makes you want to question your preconceptions about them.”— Gillian Anderson, Actress in an interview with Variety
Queen Elizabeth II, the Protagonist (Olivia Colman)
The protagonist of this series is obviously Queen Elizabeth II. She’s the centre of the Crown, she even personifies it. The series takes from the wedding of the Queen with Philip (when she ascends the throne) to the beginning of the 21st Century (six seasons). In this particular season, number four, we go from 1979 to 1990, the years of Thatcherism.
Firstly, it’s necessary to see that she’s the character with more dimensions and complexity as she’s the central character.
We won’t explore all of them, but rather focus on the most important ones:
Lack of empathy versus Guilt-Ridden. In episode 5 Fagan, Fagan reproaches her attitude for being away from what’s happening in the country and her lack of empathy for the people. On the contrary, she feels guilty about not knowing her children or what the country needs in episode 4 Favourites. See the example below:
On the other hand, her arc of change during the season goes from positive to negative:
Obviously these characters have a long path until the end of the series. However, in this season we know where the story is heading. The Queen feels confident of The Crown, but she is worried about the succession. Will England have stability when she is no longer the monarch? Will the Crown always win?
In the climax of the season (episode War) Prince Philip says: “she is the oxygen we all breathe”. That’s the reason why she has a connection to all the characters in the story.
One of the most important relationship of all seasons is with Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, the oracle. We are able to see them in episodes like Fairytale when discussing Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding, or in Favourites when she needs advice about her children.
The sociogram of the entire season involves the cast of characters and their relationships.
Robert McKee in his book Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting writes about cast design:
“The protagonist creates the rest of the cast. The rest of the characters are part of the story always, and above all else, because of the relationships they establish with the protagonist and the way in which everyone of them helps outline the dimensions in the complex nature of the protagonist.”— Robert McKee, Story Mentor
- The relation Elizabeth-Philip is contrasted by the relation Thatcher-Denis. Both marriages are stable and they don’t experience any difficulty, but they offer us two different perspectives, one is upper-class (the Royals) and the other one is middle-class. For example, while the Queen and Duke sleep separated from one another, the Thatchers sleep together.
- The marriages of the Queen’s children work as counterpoints to the ideal marriage, specially Charles-Diana’s relation.
- Another cases are Geoffrey Howe (Thatcher’s long-serving colleague) and Charteris (the loyal assistant of the Queen). Both shows how the main characters treat their inferiors. In Thatcher’s case, Howe ends up betraying her.
Another important character function in a story is to block the protagonist for getting what they want. The antagonist function. We will highlight three cases:
- Margaret Thatcher questions the ways of acting of the Queen and how to obtain power. ¿In silence without making enemies or without fear of enemies?
- Princess Diana questions the most important flaw of the Queen: empathy. The People’s Princess against the intransigent Queen.
- Princess Margaret questions the rules of The Crown which Elizabeth believes. The axiom “If you are not the center, you do not matter” is profoundly questioned in episode 7 The Hereditary Principle.
[This is very much] The Queen in a sandwich of Margaret Thatcher on the one side, Princess Diana on the other and [Princess] Margaret just one step off as well.Peter Morgan, Writer & Creator of ‘The Crown’
Furthermore, every character has a vision about the central theme of the series and the season: Have an own voice and being who you are versus. Duty to the Crown.
- Queen Elizabeth II. “It’s not a choice, it’s a duty”. Follow our duty above all else, but she ends up betraying that belief.
- Queen Mother. The Crown must always win even if it means being above human lives.
- Princess Margaret. We can’t let The Crown destroy us.
- Philip. The Crown is necessary as it’s what saved me.
- Anne. Being independent from the Crown can lead us to misfortunes such as depression.
- Charles. “Am I listened to in this family? Am I seen for who and what I am? No. Do I have a voice?”
- Diana. At the beginning, she admires the Crown like in every fairytale. However, by the end she even wants to go to war against it.
Princess Diana (Emma Corrin)
She is one of the most important character of the season. Moreover, she acts as the center of good of the story as we empathise with her above the other cast members and we also know her tragic story.
As the other cast members, she has three dimensions.
The People’s Princess versus Eating disorder/Depression. As we see in episode 6 Terra Nullius she’s adored by everyone worldwide, but behind closed doors she suffers from eating disorders as we see in episode 3 Fairytale.
What’s interesting about her is her arc of change from the screenplay to the screen.
You’ve got her journey. She’s pulled into the royal world and an increasingly toxic marriage. What’s interesting about her, I think, is your first image of her and your final image.Amy Roberts, Costume Designer for ‘The Crown’
Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson)
Perhaps the most interesting character of the season –apart from the ideological differences we may have with the real person– because we see precisely facets we haven’t seen before about her.
Gillian Anderson says: “Before the cameras were turned on, she was necessarily on performing when she was rehearsing moments of speeches. We saw her at home with Denis. That was the first time at least I had seen another side of her. It’s as much a portrayal of her as a mother and wife as it is her as Prime Minister.“
Her central dimension is The Iron Lady versus Vulnerable. Anderson gives a terrific performance in the final episode War where we see her transition from the person she is in front of the cameras, the Iron Lady, to the vulnerable woman in her bedroom. Those stairs represent a turning point from the ‘game-face’ of her political life to a devastating, shocking display of raw emotion and hurt.
The other dimension is Deferential towards the Monarchy versus Hunger for Power. In the first episode Gold Stick, we see she’s very respectful of the Queen and The Crown as well as in all the other episodes with her very deep curtseys. However, in episode 5 Fagan we see her hunger for power to the limit of surpassing the Queen leading the victory parade of the Falklands War.
Furthermore, some objects are crucial to the character because they represent something else symbolically: her make-up, her hairspray, her high heels, her dresses, … because they are her weapon and shield to the world in order not to show her vulnerability. She is the Iron Lady. In the screenplay, Peter Morgan (or the narrative voice of the script) refers to her as “Margaret Thatcher The Godfather”.
Clearly, from the point of view of the character’s treatment, we should consider the fact that in episode 5 Fagan the screenwriter uses the real voice of Thatcher instead of the actress Gillian Anderson’s in some radio interviews to reflect the reality of the country and the terrible consequences of her policies in real people. An intelligent device that says to the public: “That’s the way the Iron Lady was and these were the awful consequences.”
Like Princess Diana, her evolution is very clear as her storyline is a political drama and she may not return for following seasons.
Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor)
In season 4, Charles arc from positive to negative as the audience empathise more with Princess Diana in their marriage. Like most of the characters, he is a tridimensional character too.
Feels mistreated by his own family versus Mistreats Diana. On the one hand, the Crown demands “duty” of him as he is forced to marry Diana instead of Camilla, and he feels everyone in his family thinks he’s mad. On the other, he mistreats Diana causing psychological problems.
The facet of being an adulterer is from the personal self at the beginning of the season, but by the end of the season (as it occurred in real life), the adultery becomes public.
Just as we mention before, his arc of change in the season goes from a kind human being to cruel and uncaring.
Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter)
The actress Helena Bonham Carter sumps up very clearly the role of the Queen’ sister in this season:
Margaret ages. She’s having to battle with that, and feeling unattractive and not successful in love, which doesn’t help.Helena Bonham Carter, Actress
The work in crafting episode 7 The Hereditary Principle is astounding screenplay-wise. The sequence of Margaret fluctuating from being Conceited and the life of the party to Depressed is a great lesson for writers at juxtaposing scenes.
In terms of her evolution in the season, we may see a mental change for the worse.
Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies)
Duke of Edinburgh and husband to the Queen, he plays an important role in Prince Charles and Diana’s relationship during the season. He supports her daughter-in-law until the climax of the season. His dimensionality and his arc of change say a lot about this powerful dynamic.
As The Crown is a family drama in depth, one of the most important dimension of Philip in the series is Adoring his daughter Anne versus Disregarding her son Charles as we see in episode 4 Favourites and episode 1 Gold Stick.
Furthermore, those parents-children relationship are contrasted by the relation between Margaret Thatcher and her twin children.
As we already mention, his arc of change has very much to do with Diana and his perception about her, an external change. The climax of the season let us clear the relationship between the two won’t be the same in following seasons.
Princess Anne (Erin Doherty)
The only daughter of the Queen is perhaps the most independent from the Crown and the Royal Family. She seems not to want the comfort of it. Also, she is Charles’ confidante in his relationship with Diana and Camila.
Scared versus Likes her reputation as “the difficult one”. As everyone in the Royal Family, she is forced to deal with newspaperman and paparazzi in her daily life. However, in episode 4 Favourites she confesses her mother how scared she feels about it, specially when Diana is taking part of her “job” off.
On the other hand, her evolution in the season is influenced by the analysed dimension.
Queen Mother (Marion Bailey)
Finally, the Queen Mother who is more a secondary character but important to understand how the system –the Establishment– works. That’s why her three dimensions deal with the duty of the Crown.
Abides by the rules of The Crown versus Cruel for the sake of The Crown. This character’s central dimension is revealed in season 4 as we discover how she has overstepped the moral bounds for the “purity of the Crown” in episode 7 The Hereditary Principle.
“The gene pool of that family better have 100% purity”, an interesting quote regarding a joke she says in episode 2 The Balmoral Test: “Tippity toppity down with the nazis”. By setting up this line, the writer is comparing the Queen Mother to a nazi the moment she talks about the purity of the Crown.
This revelation is essentially the arc of change for this character in the season.
Something as important as the monarchy simply cannot be allowed to fail.Queen Elizabeth II, Olivia Colman.