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Colman wears 'The Crown' with regal grace

By Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

There’s a new queen on television and yes, she rules.

“The Crown” returns to Netflix Sunday for its third season, continuing to explore the role of the British monarchy in the modern world while focusing on the ongoing reign of Queen Elizabeth. But time has marched on – this season takes place in the 1960s -- and the youthful air brought to the role by Claire Foy is no longer appropriate.

Olivia Colman plays a 40-something Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown."

Enter recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman as Elizabeth in her 40s, more sure of her position while still resenting its prison-like strictures. Colman was simply born to play this role. She’s so painfully British she can convey depth with a slight nod of the head, and her eyes are constant windows to the storm within.

Of course Elizabeth, the royals and all of England have plenty of outer storms to weather as well. On the political front there are massive strikes, Britain’s plunging economy and uneasy relations with the U.S.

At home Elizabeth’s children, notably Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (the deliciously droll Erin Doherty), are growing up and getting complicated. Meanwhile her husband Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies; there’s a good drinking game to be had here spotting “Game of Thrones” actors) and younger sister Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter, wonderfully bawdy) feel useless, with good reason.

Phillip’s uselessness is the subject of the season’s one weak, navel-gazing episode. The rest are – aside from occasional corn sproutings -- eye-opening, elegant, often moving revelations of history both personal and national. Relevant topics – income inequality, the hazards of aging, ties that both bind and strangle – are everywhere. The world is a mess, the splendor of royalty offers some illusion of order. “The Crown” wrestles with the worth and cost of that illusion.

“The Crown”