Season Three of The Crown: Changing Actors, Evolving Royals

Changes in Netflix’s Season Three of The Crown

The Crown first aired on Netflix in 2016, with great names amongst the cast like Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and John Lithgow. I’m a huge British history fan, so The Crown is right up my alley; I’ve been hooked since the first season. Claire Foy notably played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, a decidedly different English queen. Her portrayal of Elizabeth II was rather remarkable; between the accent and mannerisms, Foy brought the early years of Elizabeth II’s reign to life in a way that black and white news clips cannot manage to do. So, when it was announced that Claire Foy would only play Queen Elizabeth II for the first two seasons until the show reaches 1964 — the same pattern going for Matt Smith as Prince Phillip — I was unsure how the transition would go. Season three of The Crown opens in 1964 and introduces Olivia Coleman as Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip. As an avid Outlander fan, I was eager to see Tobias Menzies in the role of Phillip. So far, neither of the new leads have disappointed.

Olivia Coleman as Queen Elizabeth II in Season Three of The Crown (Netflix)

New Actors, New Age

Season three of The Crown opens in 1964 and spans to 1977. The show focuses on the royal family — and the Queen, in particular — battling with the pull of modernity. The role of the monarchy in contemporary politics was being forcibly reframed, and Coleman’s Elizabeth maneuvers the difficult position she finds herself in with hesitance and disease.

Coleman and Menzies breathe new life into Elizabeth II and Phillip. As much as I loved Matt Smith in the role of Phillip, I found Tobias Menzies’ Phillip to be even more intriguing. I was most excited to see the new Phillip because I was curious about how the image of Black Jack Randall (Menzies’ particularly sadistic character from Outlander) would impact my view of Phillip. Overall, I was impressed with how natural Menzies’ Phillip was — the performance didn’t feel forced in the least, and the mannerisms were, I believe, some of the most consistent in the series.

Now, the change of actors was disjointed. At first, anyway. But I think, in a way, this was intentional. Coleman is recognizable — familiar, even — as Elizabeth. However, that familiarity is not entirely comfortable. The audience is navigating a new cast, a bit like the Queen is navigating the new world for the monarchy in the mid-to-late 1960s. It is familiar, similar, but not quite the same.

Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip in Season 3 of the Crown (Netflix)

New Characters Throughout

Beyond Elizabeth and Phillip, I really enjoyed getting to know two newer characters in particular — Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Josh O’Connor, who I recognized from The Durrells (another fantastic show) does a fantastic job in the role of Prince Charles, particularly in the episode following his time in Wales. Erin Doherty, who plays Princess Anne, nearly steals the show with her down-to-earth attitude and iconic ’60s style. I found Doherty’s portrayal of Anne to be most intriguing because of her relatability. Anne dresses like a teenager, sings pop songs while driving, and is generally indifferent to regal pomp and circumstance. Her character is such a divergence from so many aspects of the show that it really resonates with the audience.

Season Three of The Crown is a Masterpiece

In all, the latest season of The Crown needs to be seen to be believed. The ten-episode series manages to touch on a number of fundamental historical events and social movements with just enough attention that the audience feels truly transported throughout the season’s timeline. If anyone is concerned about getting used to the new actors in the season, I recommend going into it with a fresh mind, accepting that it’s a different show and yet the same. You won’t regret it.

Photos taken from Netflix promos. For further reading, I recommend this Vogue article, this Variety article, and this Elle article.