The Crown’s Third Season Will Explore This National Tragedy ‘With Dignity’

Show frontrunner Peter Morgan wanted to make sure the 1966 tragedy was 'never forgotten'...

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by Katie Rosseinsky |
Updated on

With filming now in full swing for season three of The Crown, production has moved to Wales as the show prepares an episode that will explore one of the most tragic episodes in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

On October 21st 1966, a colliery waste tip collapsed in the small mining village of Aberfan. At around midday on the last day before half term, 150,000 tonnes of coal waste slid down the hillside and engulfed Pantglas Junior School, killing 144 people in total. 116 of them were pupils at the school.

Eight days later, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan to pay their respects. The couple visited again in May 1997, and the Prince of Wales has since represented his parents at the 50th anniversary commemoration in 2016.

The show has not filmed in Aberfan itself, but in Cwmaman, a nearby village. Pictures from the set show children dressed in ‘60s clothes outside a replica of Pantglas School, and this week, Olivia Colman was photographed looking near-identical to the monarch as she recreated her visit.

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The actress wore an orange suit trimmed with fake fur, paired with a matching hat, an ensemble which bore a close resemblance to Her Majesty's real-life outfit.

In order to depict the tragedy respectfully, the show’s production team has held public meetings with residents of Aberfan, many of whom remember and are still affected by the events of 1966.

NOW READ: Everything We Know So Far About The Crown Season Three


The Crown S3 slider - Grazia

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Olivia Colman is our new Queen

The first of these new cast members to be announced was Olivia Colman, who'll be stepping into the Queen's sturdy patent courts as The Crown moves through the Seventies and beyond. This is arguably the biggest role yet for one of Britain's best-loved (and most versatile) actresses, who already has one Golden Globe to her name (earned for her supporting role in The Night Manager). She'll be joined by Helena Bonham-Carter, who'll embody Princess Margaret in her most turbulent years, while Tobias Menzies will be Matt Smith's replacement as Prince Philip. Newly announced as an addition to the cast is Ben Smith, who will play Anthony Armstrong-Jones opposite Helena's Princess Margaret.

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We'll be waiting until 2019 for new episodes

Let the waiting game begin: the long process of re-casting means that production for the third season is set to begin in July, with a release date slated for 2019.

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The cast will be entirely new

Tearing through a decade or so in just ten episodes, The Crown's characters are ageing at such a rate that the actors playing them just can't keep up. So, in the interests of verisimilitude (prosthetics and CGI trickery can, after all, only go so far) season three will inaugurate a fresh line-up of stars. While we're sad to wave goodbye to Claire Foy, Matt Smith and co, the promise of an entirely new cast is certainly one that'll keep us talking until the next season airs.

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It’ll start off in the mid-Sixties

Season two closed in 1964, concluding with the birth of Elizabeth and Philip's youngest child, Prince Edward. The show's third round should pick up shortly after, with a storyline that will carry us through Harold Wilson's turbulent tenure as Prime Minister, which saw the UK gripped by economic crises and industrial strikes.

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Diana won't make an appearance this time around...

After teasing us with hints to the contrary, the show's producers have finally confirmed that we won't be introduced to Lady Diana Spencer in season three (despite the fact that the future Princess of Wales first met her husband-to-be aged just 16, when he was dating her older sister, Sarah) Whichever actress lands the coveted role will go on to take centre stage in season four, as the show starts to document her tumultuous marriage to Prince Charles; there are also rumours that the star could stay on into the fifth season. Let the casting speculation commence…

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Seasons three and four will be shot back to back

Peter Morgan, the show's creator, recently revealed that the next two seasons will be shot consecutively. 'We're doing them back-to-back. I'm writing them all at the moment,' he recently told the audience at a BAFTA Masterclass event. 'Now we're just embarking on the process of casting.'

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... But we will meet Camilla

There were three people in this marriage, after all: season three will also mark Camilla Parker-Bowles' Crown debut (appearing, presumably, alongside a re-cast twenty-something Prince of Wales). Charles and Camilla (née Shand) met and fell in love in the early Seventies, when they were part of the same posh countryside set. At the time, neither party was prepared to fully commit: Charles to a woman who didn't quite fit the mould required by the palace, Camilla to a life of royal rules and regulations.

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Princess Margaret’s marriage will break down

We could trawl through the history books to pick out potential plot points for season three, one storyline which we can count upon is the disintegration of Princess Margaret's marriage to photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. 'We'll see the break-up of this extraordinary marriage between Margaret and [Lord] Snowdon, historical consultant Robert Lacey told Town & Country last year. The couple were married for the best part of two decades, eventually separating in 1976 and formally divorcing two years later, with multiple infidelities on both sides.

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The sets will be bigger and better than ever

Last year, the show's producers applied for permission to carry out new building work at the show's Elstree base, which has now received a green light from the relevant authorities. This means Buckingham Palace will get new gates and a balcony that's primed for royal waves (does this mean a wedding tableau?), while Downing Street will also be extended.

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Josh O'Connor will play Prince Charles

It's been confirmed that Josh O'Connor, one of this year's nominees for the prestigious EE BAFTA Rising Star award, is set to play a young Prince Charles for seasons three and four (you might recognise from God's Own Country or ITV's The Durrells). In the announcement he said: 'I am thrilled to be joining The Firm for the next instalment of The Crown. Seasons 3 and 4 will follow some of the most turbulent events in the Prince of Wales's life and our national story and I'm excited to be bringing to life the man in the midst of it all. I'm very aware it's a formidably talented family to be joining, but reliably informed I have the ears for the part and will fit right in.'

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Princess Anne could have some major storylines

He might be the heir to the throne, but it's not all about Prince Charles in season three: writer Peter Morgan has hinted that the Queen's only daughter, Princess Anne, could have some pivotal plotlines, involving her romance with first husband Captain Mark Phillips and the 1974 kidnap attempt outside Buckingham Palace. She'll be played by Erin Doherty, whose sole TV credit to date came in an episode of Call The Midwife last year.

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The Queen Mother will be played by Marion Bailey

Best known for her roles in Mr Turner and _Vera Drak_e actress Marion Bailey will be taking over from Victoria Hamilton to take on the role of Queen Mother. Here enthusiasm at joining The Crown cast echoed many of the other new additions. She said: 'It's a brilliant show and we have a tough act to follow but what a gift to be playing the fascinating and greatly loved Queen Mother.'

Speaking to the BBC, episode director Benjamin Caron explained why it was important to represent the disaster in this season of the show, which will chart the defining events of Queen Elizabeth’s reign from the mid ‘60s through to the mid ‘70s. ‘Every series of The Crown looks at major political events and moments in history, and this is one of them,’ he said. ‘Of course we should do this. This story in particular affected the whole of Wales, the United Kingdom and the Queen.’

‘Peter Morgan, the writer and showrunner, and I thought this was a story we wanted to tell. And we wanted to do that with truth and dignity, and also to make sure that it is never forgotten.’

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‘We have been talking to local schools, and we also have some actors who grew up close to Aberfan. They are involved in the show. Some of the kids who we have been filming with earlier in the week grew up around the area. So we have, as much as possible, been trying to involve the local community.’

The Crown, which is set to star Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth, Helena Bonham Carter as her younger sister Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, will continue to film in Wales when the show recreates the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle.

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