Film & Television

‘The Crown,’ Season 3: A Tale of Two Sisters

“Lilibet is my pride, but Margaret is my joy.”

In the first season of The Crown, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) taunts her sister Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) by reminding her that their father, King George VI (Jared Harris) may have held his eldest daughter in esteem, but held the youngest in his heart. 

The rivalry between the girls was constant and inescapable. Inconsequential royals until 1936, they found their lives turned inside out when their uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry socialite divorcée Wallis Simpson. Their father, a comparatively unassuming personage, became king by default. And Elizabeth, then ten years old, became heir presumptive (had King George and Queen Elizabeth had a son, she would have been passed over). Margaret, just six at the time, was suddenly thrust into her sister’s shadow. A role she clearly resented.

Sisters, in fact and fiction, are often positioned as rivals if not polar opposites: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), Katherina and Bianca Minola (Taming of the Shrew), Jo and Amy March (Little Women), Beezus and Ramona (Ramona the Pest), even Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. If one sister is smart, the other is pretty. If one is ambitious, the other is kind-hearted. If one is blonde, the other’s a brunette. You get the picture.

From an early age, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor displayed a solemnity and maturity beyond her years. Winston Churchill, who would later become her Prime Minister and an invaluable advisor, described her at two years old as “a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” Although Margaret became second in line to the throne, she wasn’t given any official duties. Naturally vivacious as a child, she was spoiled by her father. Her governess, in 1950’s The Little Princesses, a book she published after leaving the royal household, recounted the younger sister’s “light-hearted fun and frolics” and “amusing and outrageous . . .  antics.” The frolics and antics continued into Margaret’s adulthood, fueled now by alcohol, cigarettes, fashion, and fashionable friends.

Season three of The Crown (available to stream — or binge— now on Netflix) picks up in 1964 with an almost completely new cast. Acknowledging that the series’s fans had become inordinately fond of Foy, Kirby, and the rest of the show’s ensemble, creator Peter Morgan and his talented team of writers and directors wisely deal with the transition head on. 

The first scene of episode one involves the Queen’s advisers presenting her with the updated postage stamp that bears her likeness. We see Foy’s youthful profile side-by-side with that of the new Elizabeth, Oscar-winner Olivia Colman. A sycophantic courtier presents the two images, explaining that everyone at the postal office is delighted. The new stamp, he asserts is “an elegant reflection of her majesty’s transition from young woman to . . .”

“Old bat?” Elizabeth interrupts in her familiar clipped voice.

“Mother of four and settled sovereign,” the man corrects, without missing a beat. He goes on to say that there are only “the tiniest changes.”

“A great many changes,” Elizabeth counters matter-of-factly. “Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just must get on with it.”



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