Diana, Thatcher are cen­tral to ‘Crown’

So are their roles as moth­ers in Sea­son 4

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY VALENTINA VALENTINI

“First and fore­most, I’m a wife and a mother,” Diana, Princess of Wales, says half­way through the new­est sea­son of “The Crown.” And while Diana, a fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ure in the Bri­tish royal fam­ily, is one of sev­eral new char­ac­ters in­tro­duced in the fourth in­stall­ment of Net­flix’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed drama, it is moth­er­hood it­self that plays a cen­tral role.

The show, which fol­lows Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s life through the eyes of cre­ator Peter Mor­gan, is given new di­men­sion as Sea­son 4, which spans 1979 to 1990, fur­thers a story line that has car­ried through “The Crown”: the queen’s chil­dren rec­on­cil­ing the mother they had with the adults they have be­come.

El­iz­a­beth’s el­dest chil­dren — Charles, Prince of Wales, and Anne, Princess Royal — har­bor feel­ings of aban­don­ment, as seen through the eyes of the sea­son’s most prom­i­nent new char­ac­ters, even­tual princess Diana Spencer, played by rel­a­tive new­comer Emma Cor­rin, and Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher, por­trayed by vet­eran Gil­lian An­der­son. The sto­ries of these two fig­ures are well-known, to say the least, but “The Crown” takes us deeper into the lives we imag­ined they lived and the women they were be­hind closed doors.

“I think Diana comes into her own as a mother, as a woman in such a big way” in the sixth episode, Cor­rin says, when Prince Charles (Josh O’Con­nor) and Diana tour Aus­tralia with their new son, Wil­liam, whom Diana was strongly ad­vised to leave at home for six weeks — just as Queen El­iz­a­beth (played in this sea­son and last by Olivia Col­man) had for five months with her chil­dren nearly 30 years ear­lier.

“The great­est act of ser­vice I can give to the crown as princess is not to be some meek lit­tle wife,” spews the usu­ally quiet Diana as they fly to Aus­tralia, “but to be a liv­ing, breath­ing, present mother, bring­ing up this child in the hopes that the boy who will one day be king still has a ves­tige of hu­man­ity in him, be­cause God knows he’s not go­ing to be get­ting it from any of his courtiers.”

Cor­rin says this mo­ment was piv­otal for the young princess. “It showed a real change, a real strength and also marked a huge turn­ing point for the royal fam­ily as a whole, [show­ing that] her con­nec­tion to her child was more im­por­tant than any­thing else she was do­ing.”

While the royal fam­ily is por­trayed as wel­com­ing to Diana at first, find­ing her a per­fect match for Charles, they very quickly grow to de­spise her. At one point, Princess Anne (Erin Do­herty) cal­lously notes Diana’s beauty, charm and moth­er­hood as the source of the world’s ad­mi­ra­tion — some­thing that would nor­mally be a com­pli­ment, but is de­liv­ered as a clear in­sult. Though it speaks to the wider re­sent­ment of Diana by the fam­ily, it’s also an in­di­ca­tor of the trauma that Queen El­iz­a­beth’s chil­dren feel from be­ing ig­nored by their own mother.

“We’ve seen it with Charles in Sea­son 3,” Cor­rin says, “when all he wants is his mother’s sup­port, [and a] nor­mal ma­ter­nal re­la­tion­ship. None of the chil­dren have that, and I think Diana’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to give her chil­dren a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship and to be with them and to sup­port them and adore them whole­heart­edly in­evitably ruf­fled feath­ers, be­cause it was not the usual way of do­ing things.”

Thatcher, on the other hand, lived for be­ing a politi­cian. Her main goal in life was to be pro­fes­sion­ally suc­cess­ful, ac­cord­ing to An­der­son, and yet most morn­ings she heard quips from re­porters ask­ing if she’d cooked the ba­con or poured the cof­fee. As the first fe­male Bri­tish prime min­is­ter, it was dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to imag­ine a woman, a wife, a mother and lead­ing politi­cian in­hab­it­ing the same body — and that was in­deed the bane of Thatcher’s ca­reer.

As the gro­cer’s daugh­ter rose to promi­nence, she al­most ap­peared to be ful­fill­ing her so­ci­etal duty by hav­ing chil­dren, too, An­der­son says. “You cer­tainly get a sense of what she was de­ter­mined to ac­com­plish no mat­ter what,” she notes, along with the be­lief that hav­ing twins, Carol and Mark, in 1953 was per­ceived as an in­ter­rup­tion in Thatcher’s early ca­reer as a bar­ris­ter.

“I don’t see Thatcher as a mother,” says An­der­son, who read the late politi­cian’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and sev­eral books about her to pre­pare for the role. “It was def­i­nitely a way in for the writ­ers to [ex­plore] both the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences be­tween the queen and Thatcher. But . . . my tak­ing on the part wasn’t be­cause I wanted to play Thatcher the mother.”

How­ever, the chance to ex­plore both the queen and the Iron Lady as ma­tri­archs was one of Mor­gan’s proud­est mo­ments. “Writ­ing Thatcher and the queen as moth­ers was prob­a­bly an an­gle that no one has ex­plored be­fore and prob­a­bly never will again,” yield­ing one of his fa­vorite episodes of the sea­son, he says in the show’s pro­duc­tion notes. In it, we see Thatcher in mo­ments of fer­vent moth­er­hood and home­mak­ing. In more than one scene, she pre­pares din­ner, apron and all, for her chiefs of staff or cabi­net mem­bers while dis­cussing pol­icy. And when her son — her fa­vorite, as she tells the queen — goes miss­ing dur­ing the Paris-Dakar Rally, Thatcher be­comes par­a­lyzed.

“Ap­par­ently,” An­der­son says, “she could not run the coun­try.”

Dur­ing her au­di­ence with the queen in that episode, Thatcher cries and chas­tises her­self for do­ing so, balk­ing at “the very idea that the first time a prime min­is­ter should break down in this room and it be a woman.” The queen quickly cor­rects her, say­ing many a prime min­is­ter has bro­ken down in front of her.

“In that re­veal, we see a lot,” An­der­son says. “We see the vul­ner­a­bil­ity . . . Her eyes are filled with tears and she looks des­per­ate. And I felt like it was im­por­tant that we see an el­e­ment of that des­per­a­tion.”

In­deed, Mor­gan’s modus operandi for the en­tire se­ries has been to show the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of the royal fam­ily and those around them. Mother­ing has al­ways played a part in El­iz­a­beth’s por­trayal on “The Crown” and is cer­tainly a part of her the pub­lic has never been es­pe­cially privy to be­fore the show aired.

With the en­trance of Thatcher and Diana to the story, these three women ex­pand and con­tort in our minds as we learn that Thatcher spoiled her son while re­buk­ing her daugh­ter, or that Diana fought to be a con­nected par­ent. The show sat­is­fies us, it seems, and we hold on to the sto­ries, de­spite what­ever artis­tic li­cense may be in­volved, be­cause deep down, we want these un­touch­ables to be just like our own par­ents: flawed.

Pho­Tos By DEs Wil­liE/NET­flix

TOP: Princess Diana is played by new­comer Emma Cor­rin in Sea­son 4 of “The Crown.” ABOVE: Vet­eran ac­tress Gil­lian An­der­son takes on the role of Bri­tain’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter, Mar­garet Thatcher, in the lat­est in­stall­ment of the Net­flix drama.

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