We’re well on our way into our first COVID-19 winter, and it seems all anyone can talk about (besides, you know…the ongoing pandemic) is the long-awaited fourth season of the Netflix series The Crown. Season 4 is more than living up to expectations—Princess Diana has finally arrived!—but despite the show’s many romantic entanglements, there is a glaring dearth of physical passion. Below, Vogue writers Michelle Ruiz and Emma Specter sound off about The Crown’s puzzling lack of sex.
Emma Specter: Michelle, I don’t know about you, but I went into this season of The Crown expecting, well…sex. Or at least the promise of sex, if not the act itself! After all, we’ve got Charles and Diana, we’ve got the famously randy Princess Margaret, we’ve got known temptress Camilla Parker-Bowles. And yet, almost no physical contact of any kind. Why?
Michelle Ruiz: Emma, thank you. I thought I was the only one astounded and a little angry at the chastity of this much-anticipated season. There is an entire episode about Michael Fagan, a prominent Falklands War plot, and yet I’m on episode 8 and I’m pretty sure no one has kissed on the lips yet. I understand [The Crown creator] Peter Morgan likes to provide ample historical/political context and give weight to the general frivolity and ridiculousness surrounding the royals but the lack of sex is such a missed opportunity.
ES: I totally understand that the royal family needs to be afforded some modicum of respect, even in a fictive portrayal, but…come on. When Charles and Di say “I love you” to each other on their tour of Australia in episode 6, it seems almost deliberate that they don’t touch at all. Yes, it’s probably meant to underscore the fundamental lack of connection in their relationship, even in the good times, but Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin are attractive people! I want to see them kiss! Sue me! Michelle, were there any other prime sex opportunities you feel the show missed?
MR: Nary a makeout session during that seminal moment in the Outback—it was borderline appalling. William has been born by then and, in an ensuing episode, Charles announces to Princess Margaret over lunch that he and Di are expecting again…are these children being conceived by immaculate conception? I’m not rooting for gratuitous sex scenes (okay, maybe a little bit), but I think a very emotional way to depict Charles and Diana’s lack of connection might have been by showing them in bed. Part of the draw of The Crown for me is imagining what truly transpires behind palace doors. Sex is a huge part of that! One scene that stood out to me was Charles (alias: Fred) bidding farewell to Cam (aka Gladys) at Highgrove before his ill-fated wedding to Diana. Camilla is smoking a cigarette in a darkened doorway. Clearly, it’s post-coital. A glimpse at their farewell shag would’ve been nice!
ES: Okay, YES. As the brilliant Maddie Aggeler recently noted at The Cut, Charles and Camilla had a level of sexual chemistry and bizarre endearment in their relationship that bordered on James Joyce–ian. Could we…see that, please? One thing I really enjoyed was Margaret Thatcher refusing to let her husband sleep in a separate bed from hers at Balmoral, on the theory that “those that sleep apart grow apart.” I am personally not a fan of humanizing Margaret Thatcher, known monster, in any way, but I enjoyed this little moment of class-based division (even if it did lead me to consider the sex life of Margaret and Denis Thatcher, which was really not something I ever wanted to think about). Did you clock the moment where Prince Philip alludes to his sex life with the Queen in episode 7?
MR: We have ESP. I very much noticed that moment and hoped for a little sovereign sex, only to be denied again. It was very endearing when Phil told the Queen he felt terrible that he wasn’t sleeping beside her when Fagan broke in. Ideal moment to retreat to the Queen’s grand bedchambers, or maybe Philip’s? How, in fact, do these upper-crust couples who sleep apart engage in the act? I guess we’ll never know.
You mentioned Princess Margaret earlier, who has an affair with Derek “Dazzle” Jennings. There’s this really fun scene where they clink drinks and dance to Bowie…but there is no touching beyond a chaste couch-snuggle. If anyone could have delivered a memorable sex scene—or even a kissing scene—surely it would have been Helena Bonham Carter? The lack of sex feels very intentional—do you think it’s about deference to the real-life royals and their privacy, even though the show takes plenty of liberties otherwise?
ES: Our extremely royal-savvy colleague Elise Taylor reminded me that there was a Princess Margaret/Antony Armstrong Jones sex scene in Season 2 that got cut, allegedly because the show’s producers decided that people don’t–in star Vanessa Kirby’s words—“want to see royal boob.” Not to out myself as a total creep, but…cannot relate! To be fair, I have been in love with Helena Bonham Carter for 22 of the 27 years I’ve been on this planet, so I’m not an objective sampling of the population, but it seems pretty natural that a woman as convivial and (relatively) liberated as Bonham Carter’s Margaret would engage in sexual activity from time to time.
Given that context, I agree with you that the show is trying not to piss off the royal family any more than it already has. The demure British sensibility of “close your eyes and think of England” might also be at play here. Now, Michelle, we get down to the vital question: Who on this season of The Crown would you most want to see in a sex scene? (Or a kissing scene, even?)
MR: Unpopular, potentially controversial opinion: This is the first season of The Crown I’ve really cared about, although I did tune in to last season’s Charles/Camilla storyline and found Emerald Fennell to be divine. I had the pleasure of interviewing her last year about her humanizing depiction of Camilla as a “chain-smoking serial snogger.” Given that Joyce-ian, almost annoyingly obsessive love between Camilla and Charles, and the fact that they are the couple most likely to have good sex on the show, I would have been into some of that snogging. Also, they’re constantly on the phone—yet another missed opportunity.
That said, after waiting years for the “Diana season,” I also absolutely crave Charles and Diana sex, in all of its possibly fumbling, awkward glory. At the very least, some tender kissing during that magic-hour Australian light would have been welcome. O’Connor looked too good in head-to-toe khaki. How was The Crown to know it would drop during a global pandemic, when people are craving human connection more than ever; but, overall, its parochial treatment of sex has left me a bit cold. It’s the polar opposite of Normal People.
ES: As someone who had to watch every episode of the last season of The Crown for work, I wholeheartedly agree. This season is miles beyond the preceding three, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed at the lack of even-stifled passion! Maybe there’s hope, though—Season 5 will focus on Diana post-divorce, so maybe we’ll get some fun affair scenes. I will say this, and only this; If I don’t get to see Di step out in the revenge dress, I will boycott Netflix forever. (Or for a day or two, anyway.)