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9 things to know about the first 3 seasons of 'The Crown' if you want to skip ahead to the Princess Diana episodes

Claudia Willen   

9 things to know about the first 3 seasons of 'The Crown' if you want to skip ahead to the Princess Diana episodes
  • Season four of "The Crown" is available to stream on Netflix.
  • Peter Morgan, the show's creator, introduces characters like Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher in the newest installment of episodes.
  • While viewers can certainly jump into the episodic series without watching the first three seasons, it's helpful to know some of the backstory.
  • Insider created a list of 9 plot points to know before tuning into season four of "The Crown."

Season four of Netflix's "The Crown" showcases all of the costumes, castles, and corgis that dominated the fictional historical drama's first three seasons.

However, the newest episodes, which are set between 1979 and 1990, have sparked interest even from those who haven't watched the show thanks to the introduction of two new characters: Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson).

Since "The Crown" is an episodic series, it's possible to jump into the fourth season without bingeing the first 30 hours of the show. There are several plot points that newcomers should know before tuning in, however.

If you've never seen an episode of "The Crown" (or you just need a refresher), here are 9 things you should know before watching season four.

The show centers around the current monarch and head of state, Queen Elizabeth II

If there's anything that viewers should know before turning on season four of "The Crown," it's that the hierarchy within the British royal family is of the utmost importance to the characters.

While all members may be royals, there's a clear ranking dictated by the family tree. The monarch and head of state sits at the top of this invisible pyramid, so it makes sense that the Netflix drama hones in on the eye of the storm: Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman).

Viewers enter season one of "The Crown" in 1947, roughly five years before the transition from King George VI to Elizabeth (then played by Claire Foy), who was only 25 when she ascended the throne in real life.

Elizabeth's power as the Queen - and how she commands those she outranks, including her husband, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) - drives the show's plot.

Her and Philip's eldest son, Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor), is the heir to the throne, meaning he's also a primary focus on "The Crown."

Elizabeth became queen earlier than expected after her father, King George VI, died at 56

Even though the line of succession may seem like it's set in stone, "The Crown" outlines the roundabout way that Elizabeth ended up on the throne.

Her uncle, Edward VIII, was the King before her father, George VI.

However, Edward abdicated in 1936, less than a year into his reign, so that he could marry an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. Because the Church of England condemned the King's decision to be with a woman that had two living ex-husbands, Edward chose love over title.

While Edward's abdication took place before season one of "The Crown," the show's first three seasons show the former King and his wife exiled in France before Edward (Derek Jacobi) died in season three.

Since the former King had no children when he abdicated, his younger brother, George, became the monarch in 1936, and Elizabeth, George's eldest daughter, became the heir apparent.

And though the young royal was groomed to eventually become the Queen from the time her father took the throne, duty called earlier than expected when George fell ill in his mid-50s and underwent a lung operation, as seen in the first two episodes of the series.

The King failed to recover and died in episode two of season one, leaving Elizabeth to ascend the throne with little notice.

Elizabeth has a 'special relationship' with each Prime Minister but is supposed to remain politically neutral

According to the royal family's website, the Queen has a "special relationship" with each prime minister in real life.

She holds the ability to "appoint" the leaders who have the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, inviting them to form a government in her name. The monarch also meets one-on-one with the prime minister on a regular basis, which is shown on the first three seasons of "The Crown."

Perhaps most importantly, the Queen is required to remain politically neutral at all times, a practice that Elizabeth comes to master on the show. In fact, her grandmother, Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), taught her that "to do nothing is the hardest job of all" on the fourth episode of season one.

"To be imperial is not natural, not human. People will always want you to smile or agree or frown, and the minute you do you will have declared a position, a point of view. And that is the one thing as sovereign that you are not entitled to do," Atkin's Mary told her granddaughter in the series.

As viewers watch the Queen grow into her role, they witness her form various relationships with the many prime ministers elected during her reign, including Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), Harold MacMillan (Anton Lesser), Edward Heath (Michael Maloney), and Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins).

In season four, she's poised to work with Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), the country's first female prime minister.

Philip was seen as an outsider when he married into the family

Before joining the British royal family in 1947, Philip was Greek and Danish royalty. And though he was born a prince, he still had to make some changes before marrying Elizabeth.

In the series' first episode, Philip (then played by Matt Smith) stripped his former title and citizenship in preparation for the wedding. He adopted the surname Mountbatten, which came from Elizabeth's maternal grandparents, and joined the Church of England.

Though he completed all the steps to become naturalized, he was still seen as somewhat of an outsider even after he joined the family.

And although viewers are aware that Philip comes from a foreign background, they don't learn about the character's upbringing or family history until the ninth episode of season two, during which the show's writers chronicle his traumatic childhood.

After Philip's family fled Greece to escape a period of political upheaval, his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg (Jane Lapotaire), experienced mental health issues and was involuntarily institutionalized.

His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (Guy Williams), wasn't a major figure in his life, so Philip became very close to his older sister, Princess Cecilie (Leonie Benesch), who died in a tragic plane crash.

Not only was Philip essentially orphaned at a young age, but his father publicly blamed him for his sister's death at her funeral on the show.

Elizabeth and Philip dealt with marital struggles throughout the show's early seasons

In the early days of their marriage, the onscreen couple faced their own challenges behind closed doors.

Philip, who saw the public's opinion turn against his own family in Greece, encouraged Elizabeth to modernize several royal traditions during season one, like televising her coronation and opting out of the custom requiring him to bow down to her.

And while Elizabeth agreed to some of his requests, she was pressured to reject others to preserve tradition, leaving Philip disgruntled.

The tension between the couple grew so much that Philip was sent on a five-month-long overseas tour in Australia, where it's insinuated that he was unfaithful to his wife, in 1957.

When they reunited during the third episode of season two, Philip referred to their marriage as a "prison," however they both agreed that divorce wasn't an option given their positions in the royal family.

And while the Duke of Edinburgh continued to face the occasional identity crisis well into the show's third season, Elizabeth and Philip seemed to hit their stride by the season finale.

Princess Margaret was forbidden from marrying the man she loved and instead tied the knot - and eventually divorced - a photographer

Princess Margaret (currently played by Helena Bonham Carter), the Queen's younger sister, spent much of season one and two lusting after her forbidden lover Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), a married air force officer that worked as an equerry for her father when they met.

Elizabeth promised her sister that they could marry if they waited two years, when Margaret would be 25 and no longer need the Queen's consent.

However, Elizabeth, whose title also made her the Head of the Church of England, backtracked on her word during season two due to pressure from the Church and government, making Margaret choose between Peter and her place in the royal family.

"I'll never forgive her," the princess told Townsend during the season one finale. .

And though Margaret vowed never to marry again when she said goodbye to Peter, she eventually tied the knot to a photographer named Antony "Tony" Armstrong-Jones in season two. As tensions escalated between the couple during season three, they both began affairs and ultimately parted ways.

In the midst of a blowup between her and Tony on the season three finale, Margaret overdosed on a drug called nitrazepam.

Though the incident was never explicitly stated to be a suicide attempt, the princess told Elizabeth that she "possibly" meant to take a "critical" amount of the pills.

Charles' strained relationship with his father, Philip, caused him to lean on his Uncle Dicky

Philip has had a complicated relationship with Charles since the child was born on "The Crown."

Described as "uncommonly shy" and "delicate" on episode nine of season two, Charles is somewhat of a mystery to his father. Trying to toughen up his son, Philip pushed for Charles to attend Gordonstoun, the same all-boys school in Scotland that he went to, despite professional advice that other schools would be a better fit.

Charles referred to the school as "hell on earth" on the show and begged to leave, but Philip didn't allow it and called him "weak" after the child failed to complete a strenuous physical challenge.

The young royal began leaning on Philip's uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten (or "Uncle Dicky," as Charles calls him). Charles regularly wrote letters to Dicky and confided in him, viewing him as a father figure.

Charles fell hard for Camilla Shand, but the royal family discouraged their marriage

Netflix makes it no secret that a love triangle between Charles, Diana Spencer, and Camilla Shand plays out in season four of "The Crown."

However, Charles began forming feelings for Camilla (Emerald Fennell) - and getting pushback from his family about his decision - toward the end of season three.

Shortly after Camilla and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles (Andrew Buchan) got into a fight on episode eight, they both became entangled with the royal family. Andrew slept with Charles' sister, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), and Camilla enthusiastically cheered for Charles at his polo match.

"There is someone I quite like," Charles told Dicky, confirming that he was referring to Camilla.

And even though Camilla insisted that she and Andrew weren't seeing each other anymore, Anne cautioned the family that she wasn't being honest about their relationship.

Dicky and The Queen Mother conspired to send Charles overseas to distance him from Camilla and successfully pushed for a marriage between Andrew and Camilla on the ninth episode of season three.

And while Camilla may be a married woman headed into season four, Charles isn't quite ready to let go.

There's growing criticism of the monarchy

While most of the "The Crown" takes place within the royal bubble, viewers also get an idea of the public attitude toward the monarch - which isn't always gleaming.

As Post-War Britain progressed during seasons one, two, and three, Peter Morgan, the show's creator, made a point to show the various controversies following the royal family and the public's skepticism about the crown's ability to adapt.

For example, after the Queen made a tone-deaf speech about everyday citizens' "uneventful, lonely lives" on season two's fifth episode, a writer named Lord Altrincham (John Heffernan) wrote a scathing article criticizing the crown's unwillingness to evolve. His article was picked up in major newspapers and gained popularity, leading the Queen to hold a secret meeting with him to learn his suggestions.

The following season, the Queen was lambasted for her "scandalous lack of care and interest" after waiting eight days to visit Aberfan, a small mining village in Wales where a coal-waste landslide killed 116 children and 28 adults in 1966.

And though the thrilling drama of "The Crown" has peaked widespread interest, Morgan's creation hasn't rubbed everyone the right way.

Recently, Oliver Dowden, the UK government's Culture Secretary, said that Netflix should include a disclaimer before each episode of "The Crown," stating that the show is fiction to ensure that younger generations don't view the events as fact.

However, with the introduction of Corrin as the ill-fated Princess Diana in season four, onscreen criticism of the monarch will undoubtedly ramp up, especially considering the backlash the real Queen Elizabeth II faced for her decision to wait five days to address the public after Diana's death.


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