On November 17, 2019, Netflix released the third season of the critically acclaimed series, The Crown. This season, we see Queen Elizabeth II (played by Olivia Coleman) struggling with a midlife crisis, her relationship with her sister, and her relationship with her eldest son. We also see the Royal Family's reaction to the moon landing, a change of government, and the disaster at Aberfan. As in previous seasons, this season has 10 episodes and, as far as I can tell, it's barrelling towards at least an Emmy nomination. So far, my favorite episode of this season, hands down, is episode 3: Aberfan.
WARNING! The following contains spoilers for episode 3 of The Crown!
Normally, it's hard for me to express emotion at a movie or TV show, but the combination of the writing and the acting, the use of music in each scene, and the fact that this actually happened, made this episode absolutely gut wrenching. I made the mistake of watching this episode on a rainy day with my dog so I was on the floor, sobbing and he was very worried.
The beginning of the episode shows the people of the village going about their day, the day before the disaster, including the children preparing a song that they were going to perform for the school assembly, "All Things Bright and Beautiful." We see the students leave the school to go home and they are singing in their respective houses as they are getting ready for the evening. Then the students rushing to school while four miners go to Tip Seven to investigate a reported sinkhole that derailed one of the coal carts and destroyed the rail tracks. The land starts to shift and the hole is enlarged. Two remain there while the other two go fetch the supervisor and convince him to get a safety team out there. While they're explaining what's happening, the side of the mountain gives out and a landslide begins barrelling towards the village. The camera cuts to the schoolhouse, where the children are lining up for the assembly. The teacher notices the wave of rocks and debris coming towards them as the children begin to realize what is happening. The teacher tells them to get under their desks as he stands and stares at the landslide. The wave makes impact and the camera stability changes to show the ground shaking. The screen goes black. We are taken to the opening of a "hypermarket" where the prime minister is giving a speech and is told of the the disaster in Aberfan. We then cut to Aberfan to see people digging with anything they can, shovels, hardhats, even their hands to try and rescue those trapped under the wreckage. We see them pulling the children's belongings including books, the music they were supposed to sing, and a child's glasses.
The scene cuts to the Queen being notified of the disaster and her reaction is to not go, only make a pre-written statement offering condolences because "the Crown only visits hospitals, not disaster sites" (honestly this made me furious, but a different episode absolutely enraged me, more on that in a different post). We then see the prime minister in his plane, with his secretary discussing what happened, how much coal was lost in this incident, and how the regulations were not being followed. We then see the road blocks and people still running to help dig. The prime minister walks onto the site and sees people digging, debris moving, and bodies being carried out. The entire town stops and falls silent when a whistle is blown (this whistle is blown when someone believes they hear a survivor). And there is little to no music playing until the prime minister walks onto the site. This scene is one of the more emotionally intense ones as we see parents holding their child's bodies.
The prime minister goes on to make a statement in public and the locals say that it "was a disaster waiting to happen," and "we've been saying that for years." We then see Princess Margret's husband leave for the site as she walks in. The radio says that there are 67 bodies, mostly children and the body count was still rising since there are more missing. The Queen still refuses to go to the site, even though the prime minister is insisting.
The most intense scene of the episode is where Princess Margret arrives for breakfast with her sister and mother. She describes how her husband called from the middle of nowhere. He asked her to go kiss their children for him. He had gone to the school and saw "miners used to digging for coal, now digging to reach their children." We are shown the mortuary and told that the bodies were there, waiting to be identified by the parents. The Salvation Army writes descriptions of each body, including what they have in their pockets like candy or a handkerchief, to help identify them. The way they shot this scene, jumping between the dining room in "present day," the disaster scene being described from earlier in the day, and Margaret quietly sobbing on the phone with Tony, all with quiet, heart-wrenching music playing in the background makes this scene the reason I believe this season of The Crown is going to win at least one Emmy.
A public forum with the National Coal Board is held the following day and we see the outrage and grief from the families in the village. They say that the Board has known about the spring under Tip Seven and other hazards for years as the villagers have been writing to inform them of it. We also see the Board trying to direct blame to the previous party's government and how the current government is trying to place the blame on the Crown.
The Queen's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh goes to Aberfan to represent the Crown and attends mass funeral of 81 children. The villagers sing a hymn in unison at the funeral and we see that some mourners are in too much pain to sing. The camera cuts to an overhead shot of the funeral and we see a massive crowd with a cross made of flowers. The Duke returns home and reports to the Queen the emotions raging in the village. She asks him if he cried, and he admits that he did. The Queen then decides to go to Aberfan were she meets affected families and is instructed to display emotion in public (something she is not accustomed to). Later, the Queen has a meeting with the prime minister where she confesses that she has trouble displaying any type of emotion. She says that she didn't cry when some of her favorite people died, when her first child was born, nothing. She says that she fears that she is deficient in some way. The prime minister confesses that he hasn't done a days manual work in his life and how we prefers that upper class way of life that he is publicly against.
Overall, this episode is a roller coaster of emotion. The timing of music and the different stability of the camera in each scene were perfect. This episode is perfect for when you need a good cry or just want to appreciate some amazing cinematography. The rest of the episodes in this season are also amazing. I like that this season, the focus shifts to different family members to give each of them a more character development. Grab the popcorn, blankets, tissues, and cuddle buddy; this season is a must-watch.