Season 3 of The Crown premiered on Netflix in November 2019 with a new cast that takes viewers through 1964 to 1977, starting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s election in the UK, and ending with the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II (the 25th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne). The third season serves as a bridge to Season 4 premiering on November 15, 2020, that will cover the years 1977 through 1990.
Season 3 introduced a mostly-new cast and was, at first, hard to get used to seeing the same characters we became so familiar with played by different actors. The most obvious transition to cope with was Olivia Colman playing the lead role as the queen following two years of outstanding work by Claire Foy. Foy takes the character up until the end of Season 2 and the year 1964. Colman, who in real life is just 10 years older than Foy, takes over the role of the queen when Season 2 ends.
Other changes in the main cast may also throw you at first. Prince Philip is now played by Tobias Menzies (previously by Matt Smith), Helena Bonham Carter is now Princess Margaret (previously by Vanessa Kirby), and Geraldine Chaplin as “Wallis” — the Duchess of Windsor (previously played by Lia Williams), to name a few. John Lithgow, however, who is incredibly convincing as Winston Churchill in the first two seasons, returns for a cameo in Season 3.
Once you get comfortable with the cast changes in Season 3 though it’s hard not to fall deeply again into this show. Not only is the acting superb (most certainly highlighted by Colman, Tobias Menzies, and Bonham Carter), the plot thickens through each of the ten episodes like a radio drama you can’t stop listening to. The Crown would have worked just as well as a weekly release (as some streaming services like Disney+ and Hulu have maintained), but obviously with all the episodes on disc you can binge-watch to your heart’s delight.
Much of Season 3 focuses on the queen and her incapability to express emotion, a point that is emphasized in Episode 3 that deals with the 1966 Aberfan Mine Disaster. The queen avoids visiting the site of the accident for several days, and you would have imagined emotions building up. But, when she finally travels to the mine and meets family members who lost children in the accident she barely sheds a tear. Colman portrays Queen Elizabeth II as struggling with her own internal conflicts as well as external discord.
Of course, there are other characters who we get to know throughout the season that are worth mentioning. Jason Watkins portrays Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Labour party as a sort of a shifty-eyed introvert who seems overly intimated by the queen (and others in power). Princess Alice (played by Jane Lapotaire), the mother of Prince Philip and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, is moved to Buckingham Palace from the turmoil in Athens. And, Josh O’Connor plays Prince Charles who finds happiness in the theater while at Cambridge but upon the death of the Duke of Windsor sees himself with more responsibility.
The Crown is one of those shows that is actually available in higher resolution (4k Ultra HD) streaming on Netflix. However, for those of us that won’t give up physical media (or maybe don’t pay for streaming services), Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has once again pressed a very high-quality Blu-ray edition of The Crown. The third season follows the same specs as the previous two seasons, with 1080p video presented at 2.00:1 aspect ratio.
The color rendering is very close between the Digital 4k stream (supposedly with Dolby Vision) and the Blu-ray Discs, which may question whether or not HDR was used to effectively expand the color depth. See the photo above of both the Blu-ray (left) and Digital 4k HDR (right) to compare.
There is a definite advantage in sharpness to The Crown when streamed in 4k. But Ultra HD TVs do a pretty good job of upscaling 1080p to the 4k TV’s 2160p resolution (in height and width Ultra HD is 4x the number of pixels of 1080p). Take for example a close-up of the face of John Lithgow (as Churchill). There is slightly more definition in the eyebrows and wrinkles when streamed in 4k.
As in previous seasons of The Crown on Blu-ray, the soundtrack is provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 channels in both English and French. There isn’t a whole lot of surround sound happening but in the more environmental scenes (driving through the streets, in the air, at the theater, etc.) as well as when a musical score accompanies the visuals you can hear more bass and dynamic sounds in the space.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t details in the sound mix during interior shots though. The audio engineers have added some ambient enhancements that are probably hard to pick up unless playing the sound really loud or listening with headphones. All sound systems may vary, but we found the best sound setting to be “Movie” rather than “Music,” “Night,” “Sports,” or “Clear” (settings provided on many Samsung audio systems).
One of the most logical reasons to pick up the Blu-ray edition of Season 3 is the exclusive content, which consists of three new featurettes including “Behind The Crown: The Making of Season 3,” “Charles’ Investiture: Growing Up Royal,” and “Royal Fabrics: A Look at the Costumes.” There is also a photo gallery titled “Majestic Comparison.” We found the “making of” featurette to provide the most interesting content related to the episodes, with behind-the-scenes footage including Colman’s transformation into the queen.
If you already own Season 1 and Season 2, continue your hard copy collection of The Crown with Season 3 on Blu-ray Disc. This is a series that is supposed to last through six seasons, so Season 3 gets you halfway there. Whether or not there will be a complete series box set at the end of all six seasons is up for grabs, but as long as the series is on Netflix there will likely be individual seasons released. In a few years though, these physical discs may be harder and harder to find (especially unopened). The disc editions from Sony, unfortunately, don’t contain any Digital Copies — Netflix is retaining the rights to stream the episodes only with a subscription. But if you want to physically own your copies, forever, discs are still the only way to go.