Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Hogan

Every episode of The Crown – ranked!

Claire Foy in The Crown.
Claire Foy in The Crown. Photograph: Netflix

After six seasons, three queens and 143 award wins, Peter Morgan’s sumptuous royal saga has reached the end of its reign. The final batch of six episodes dropped on Netflix this week, finally dethroning the decades-spanning drama.

Could The Crown restore its reputation in the home stretch? Slightly, but it’s still the sepia-tinted early series that dominate our countdown. As the series abdicates, here’s our definitive ranking of every episode from worst to best …

60. Aftermath (season 6, episode 4)

Hello, England’s rose. Propping up our chart is the one with Diana’s ghost. The spectral princess (Elizabeth Debicki) bats her eyelashes at Charles and patronises the Queen from beyond the grave, which would be impressive if it wasn’t so hilarious.

59. Alma Mater (season 6, episode 7)

Meg Bellamy and Ed McVey in season 6 of The Crown.
Meg Bellamy and Ed McVey in season 6 of The Crown. Photograph: Justin Downing/Netflix/PA

A Hallmark fromage-fest following William and Kate’s student romance. Carole Middleton (Eve Best) is a grasping social climber, while boozy banter lad Harry is basically The Sherminator from American Pie. Our star-crossed, gilet-clad lovers have all the chemistry of two polo mallets.

58. Dis-Moi Oui (season 6, episode 3)

That fateful Paris day is reconstructed in oppressive detail. After a cringe-inducing proposal, Dodi and Diana flee the paparazzi. It’s intercut with William killing a stag in a lame rehash of a sequence from two seasons ago.

57. Ruritania (season 6, episode 6)

It begins with a god-awful dream sequence about Tony Blair being crowned King, set to a choral version of Things Can Only Get Better. The PM heroically solves the Kosovo war single-handedly but fails to win over the Queen’s beloved Women’s Institute. Satisfying.

56. The System (season 5, episode 2)

Not only did it insinuate an affair between Prince Philip and his carriage-driving pal Penny Knatchbull but Morgan was called “callous” for using the death of her five-year-old daughter as a plot device.

55. Willsmania (season 6, episode 5)

William strops around Eton like Kevin the Teenager and has cumbersomely scripted rows with his father. At least Jonathan Pryce gets to shine as wise, twinkly Prince Philip.

54. Misadventure (season 2, episode 1)

The Queen finds a picture of a ballerina in Philip’s luggage. Strangely, it’s never mentioned again. Their marital strife is set against the confusing backdrop of the Suez crisis.

53. Decommissioned (season 5, episode 10)

Obvi-metaphors ahoy. The Queen reluctantly decides to retire the Royal Yacht Britannia, which Charles says is “not fit for purpose … old and obsolete … her glories belong to the past”. What could he mean?

52. Hope Street (season 6, episode 9)

Meg Bellamy as a catwalking Kate Middleton in season 6, episode 9 of The Crown.
Meg Bellamy as a catwalking Kate Middleton in The Crown. Photograph: Justin Downing/Netflix

Kate Middleton’s see-through dress on the catwalk causes a media frenzy, but this is a soggy Golden Jubilee pudding. Conspiracy theories about Di’s crash are disproved in ghoulish reconstructions, William uses the phrase “wacky baccy” and the queen mother’s death lacks impact.

51. Queen Victoria Syndrome (season 5, episode 1)

Imelda Staunton’s reign gets off to a wobbly start. Sticklers kicked off over the scene where Prince Charles contrives a secret meeting with the new PM, John Major (implausibly played by Jonny Lee Miller), to seek support for the Queen’s abdication. Major called it “a barrel-load of malicious nonsense”.

50. Persona Non Grata (season 6, episode 1)

A foreboding flash-forward to the tunnel crash is bizarrely framed by a nameless Parisian taking his dog for a late-night walk. Pass le poo bag.

49. Gunpowder (season 5, episode 8)

Morgan’s clumsy metaphors reach a nadir when Martin Bashir interviews Diana on 5 November 1995. It’s intercut with William’s Eton history teacher explaining Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, hammering home words such as “treason”, “bombshell”, “dynamite” and “explosive”. OK, OK, we get it.

48. Coup (season 3, episode 5)

While the Queen busies herself abroad with her horse-racing manager, Porchey, a cabal of establishment toffs hatch a plan to oust Harold Wilson.

47. Imbroglio (season 3, episode 9)

The royals have rarely seemed more hypocritical than when meddling in Charles and Camilla’s romance. There’s no evidence of Lord Mountbatten and the queen mother colluding to split them up, let alone of Princess Anne singing along to David Bowie.

46. No Woman’s Land (season 5, episode 7)

While Bashir uses dirty tricks to bag an interview, lonely Diana loiters in a London hospital to manufacture a meeting with “dishy” heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan. When he scoffs some vending machine crisps, she simpers: “That’s unexpectedly sexy.”

45. Olding (season 3, episode 1)

The Queen, now played by Olivia Colman, turns into the world’s worst spycatcher. It transpires that Anthony Blunt, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, is actually a KGB mole. Awkward.

44. Two Photographs (season 6, episode 2)

Elizabeth Debicki in season 6 of The Crown.
Elizabeth Debicki in season 6 of The Crown. Photograph: Daniel Escale/Netflix

The best episode of season six’s first chapter – which isn’t saying much – was the one that focused least on Di and Dodi. It contrasts two photographers used in the proxy PR war: a ruthless Italian paparazzo and a cosy portraiture merchant at Balmoral. Say cheese.

43. A Company of Men (season 2, episode 2)

HRH Boaty McBoatface. While Philip turns into Naval Action Man – complete with beard, sweater and realistic eagle eyes – the Queen admitted she missed him via her Christmas message. Relatable.

42. Fagan (season 4, episode 5)

As Margaret Thatcher’s policies lead to rising unemployment, a desperate Michael Fagan breaks into the palace and wakes up the nightie-clad Queen for a terribly scripted chat about the state of the nation. But not before asking her for a cigarette.

41. Lisbon (season 2, episode 3)

An episode where Philip is a total git. Palace staff try to avert a scandal that could reflect badly on him. He also throws his toys out of the pram about being outranked by Charles, so is made a prince.

40. Dangling Man (season 3, episode 8)

The Charles/Camilla/Andrew Parker Bowles love triangle become a rhombus when Princess Anne joins in. Derek Jacobi excels as the dying Duke of Windsor, but his scenes with the Queen are speculative and lightweight.

39. Ipatiev House (season 5, episode 6)

An unusually graphic episode, opening with the grisly massacre of the Romanov family and featuring more nudge-nudging about Philip’s relationship with Penny Knatchbull.

38. Moondust (season 3, episode 7)

Mountbatten, we have a problem. Prince Philip becomes oddly obsessed by the 1969 moon landings and depressed by his own achievements. It’s basically a 48-year-old aristo sulking that he’s not an astronaut.

37. Avalanche (season 4, episode 9)

While on a Swiss skiing trip, Charles is caught in an avalanche. He and Diana re-evaluate their imploding marriage – meaning he doubles down with Camilla and she resumes her affair with James Hewitt. Dispiriting.

36. Mystery Man (season 2, episode 10)

The Profumo scandal hits close to home, when Philip is rumoured to have attended his osteopath Stephen Ward’s salacious parties. It’s all innuendo and frustratingly inconclusive.

35. Smoke and Mirrors (season 1, episode 5)

A rare dip in the stellar debut season. The Queen breaks protocol by appointing Philip to arrange her coronation – only for him to refuse to kneel (a fabrication by Morgan). The Duke and Duchess of Windsor watch on TV, like a braying Gogglebox.

34. The Way Ahead (season 5, episode 5)

Proving fact is weirder than fiction, this episode tackles the “tampongate” phone call between Charles and Camilla. It ends with the unlikely spectacle of Charles breakdancing at a Prince’s Trust bash. Bizarrely, this actually happened, albeit a few years earlier.

33. War (season 4, episode 10)

Mrs Thatcher clings to power, even asking the Queen to dissolve parliament on her behalf – an unnecessary fictional flourish. As Charles and Di’s marriage crumbles, the older royals tell them to suck it up.

32. Gold Stick (season 4, episode 1)

Gillian Anderson arrives as Thatcher, complete with constipated voice that strays into Spitting Image territory. The BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz wrote: “She’s for ever craning her neck from side-to-side as if scanning for a tasty lettuce leaf, while over-egging her Thatcher impression to such an extent she is close to unwatchable at times.”

31. Cri de Coeur (season 3, episode 10)

As her marriage falls apart, Margaret finds comfort in the arms of landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn and later overdoses on sleeping pills. Helena Bonham Carter is heartbreaking. Her family are frostily unsupportive.

30. The Balmoral Test (season 4, episode 2)

The Balmoral test … Gillian Anderson in season 4, episode 2 of the Crown.
The Balmoral test … Gillian Anderson in season 4, episode 2 of the Crown. Photograph: Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix

It’s a clash of the unsympathetic as Thatcher visits the royals’ Scottish castle but can’t get the hang of their snobbish ways. Diana shoots a CGI stag and fits right in, so they push Charles to marry her.

29. Annus Horribilis (season 5, episode 4)

Windsor Palace burns down. Anne and Charles suffer martial woes. Fergie gets her toes sucked. Still, a high point of Imelda Staunton’s stodgy stint came with her emotive monologue about her family’s tumultuous year.

28. 48:1 (season 4, episode 8)

Colman and Gillian Anderson impress in an overtly political episode about the battle of wits between Thatcher and the Queen over imposing sanctions on South Africa.

27. Margaretology (season 3, episode 2)

Helena Bonham Carter and Clancy Brown in season 3, episode 2 of The Crown.
Helena Bonham Carter and Clancy Brown in season 3, episode 2 of The Crown. Photograph: Des Willie/Netflix

Bonham Carter is a hoot as Princess Margaret, winning over Lyndon B Johnson (Clancy Brown) with her fast and loose ways, holding a drinking contest and reciting rude limericks. What a gal.

26. The Hereditary Principle (season 4, episode 7)

A heart-rending episode about the Queen’s disabled cousins, Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, who were institutionalised and forgotten. The episode was praised by Mencap for casting actors with learning disabilities.

25. Windsor (season 1, episode 3)

While the new Queen adjusts to her duties and Philip huffs, the exiled Duke of Windsor (played by Alex Jennings with scene-stealing nastiness) returns home for his brother’s funeral and causes copious pearl-clutching.

24. Couple 31 (season 5, episode 9)

An intimate episode sees Charles and Diana’s divorce finalised. As they reflect on their marriage in her Kensington Palace apartment, she makes an omelette which ends up as scrambled egg. Metaphor on toast, anyone?

23. Gloriana (season 1, episode 10)

Margaret (the superb Vanessa Kirby) and Group Captain Peter Townsend are reunited after two years apart, expecting to get engaged. Will the Queen keep her promise and let them marry? Of course not. A cold ending to a stellar debut season.

22. Favourites (season 4, episode 4)

This humanising gem covers the disappearance of Mark Thatcher during the Paris-Dakar rally. When PM, Thatcher describes him as her favourite child; the Queen denies she has one – although everyone knows she does.

21. Paterfamilias (season 2, episode 9)

Stephen Daldry won the 2018 Emmy for outstanding directing for a drama series for this heartstring-tugging insight into why the royals are the way they are. As young Charles struggles at Philip’s old boarding school, dual timelines juxtapose his childhood with his father’s.

20. Wolferton Splash (season 1, episode 1)

The launch episode was classy but distinctly musty, set in a gloomy palace and focusing on the ailing King George VI (Jared Harris). It hit the headlines when Matt Smith as the young Philip was seen getting out of bed baring the royal rump. Smith joked: “It was the best bit of acting I did in the whole series.” Cheeky.

19. Beryl (season 2, episode 4)

An episode about marriage. Princess Margaret’s torrid love life is contrasted with the Queen and Philip’s 10th wedding anniversary bash. When brittle Margaret meets photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), their chemistry crackles. Cue saucy snap.

18. Pride & Joy (season 1, episode 8)

Style mavens loved the insights into the making of a royal tour wardrobe as the Queen and Prince Philip embark on a six-month waving odyssey. Back home, Margaret assumes her sister’s official duties and tries to pep things up – until Winston Churchill informs her that personality isn’t required for the job.

17. Ritz (season 6, episode 8)

Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret in The Crown.
Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Photograph: Keith Bernstein/AP

The magnificent Lesley Manville takes centre stage at last. The Queen and Princess Margaret reminisce about VE Day, when the former “used to be fun”, before Margaret jets off to Mustique and her health deteriorates. Tender, elegiac and affecting.

16. Mou Mou (season 5, episode 3)

Who knew Mohamed Al-Fayed could be sympathetic? The dodgy fifth season’s standout episode was largely royal-free. Salim Daw beautifully portrays the rise of the Cairo street hustler to British high society. En route, he employs the Duke of Windsor’s West Indian butler Sydney Johnson to tutor him in taste and refinement.

15. Fairytale (season 4, episode 3)

She rollerskates! Emma Corrin as Diana in season 4, episode 3 of The Crown.
She rollerskates! Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown. Photograph: Des Willie/Netflix

Emma Corrin is a revelation, as Lady Di gets inducted into the highly dysfunctional House of Windsor. She listens to Edge of Seventeen in a taxi! She rollerskates with Duran Duran on her Walkman! She dons that Emanuel wedding gown! Camilla’s lurking presence hints at trouble ahead, as does the ironic episode title.

14. Sleep, Deary, Sleep (season 6, episode 10)

Happily, Morgan manages to orchestrate a finale fit for a Queen. Or, more accurately, three Queens. With feelings stirred up by plans for her own state funeral, the Queen considers stepping down. As Claire Foy and Colman return for spine-tingling cameos, it’s a stirring love letter to the late monarch.

13. Scientia Potentia Est (season 1, episode 7)

Feeling uneducated in the company of statesmen and missing the wise counsel of Churchill, the Queen hires a private tutor to make up for lost time. Themes of mind v body and men v women abound, before the young Queen finds her voice in air-punching fashion.

12. Bubbikins (season 3, episode 4)

Prince Philip’s hinterland is explored in this uplifting episode. Tobias Menzies is terrific as he invites a camera crew into Buckingham Palace. How modern. Meanwhile, his mother – chain-smoking nun Princess Alice – comes to stay and wins over a royal-sceptic reporter from this very newspaper.

11. Terra Nullius (season 4, episode 6)

Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin in The Crown, series four, episode six.
Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin in The Crown. Photograph: Des Willie/Netflix

Charles and Di’s headline-grabbing tour steers the Australian public away from republicanism. Everyone loves Diana, except her resentful husband. The Queen’s stiff-armed response to her homecoming hug is a meaningful moment.

10. Assassins (season 1, episode 9)

The Queen’s bond with horsey Porchey is a bittersweet thread throughout all six seasons. Here, she stays with her old pal to escape marriage problems with Philip. John Lithgow’s towering turn hits a peak as Churchill sits for an 80th-birthday portrait and is forced to confront his fading powers.

9. Dear Mrs Kennedy (season 2, episode 8)

The First Couple meet the royal couple in season 2, episode 8 of The Crown.
The First Couple meet the royal couple in The Crown. Photograph: Netflix

Less stately than a regular episode but more gossipy. The starstruck royals struggle to conceal their fandom as the First Couple of the US come to stay. At first there’s female rivalry but then the women find common ground. The Queen’s heartfelt letter to Jackie after her husband’s assassination is a poignant coda.

8. Tywysog Cymru (season 3, episode 6)

Josh O’Connor and Olivia Colman in season 3, episode 6 of The Crown.
Josh O’Connor and Olivia Colman in season 3, episode 6 of The Crown. Photograph: Des Willie/Netflix

It’s notable that two of our Top 10 comprise visits to Wales. This nuanced episode, co-written by James Graham, zeroes in on Charles (Josh O’Connor at his best) being sent to learn the language before his investiture as Prince of Wales. After initial tension with tutor Edward Millward (Mark Lewis Jones), friendship blossoms and Charles grows sympathetic to his Welsh nationalism. That is until the Queen sets him straight.

7. Gelignite (season 1, episode 6)

The Crown does romantic melodrama. Kirby’s Margaret has never been more gut-wrenching than when she is denied her true love, Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). “Hearts mend,” says stony-faced “palace puppet master” Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens) as he exiles Townsend to Belgium, of all places. A doomed love story that feels like Downton Abbey meets Pride & Prejudice.

6. Vergangenheit (season 2, episode 6)

A knotty instalment that delves into the royals’ unsettling Nazi links. The Duke of Windsor asks to return to public life, but when the damning Marburg Files expose the full extent of his fascist sympathies – including his plan to return to the throne after a German invasion – the Queen unleashes quiet fury on her creepy uncle. Powerfully, it closes with archive photographs of the Windsors with Hitler.

5. Marionettes (season 2, episode 5)

An intelligent treatise on modernising the monarchy. When the Queen falls out of public favour after a tone-deaf fictional speech at a Jaguar factory, journalist Lord Altrincham (winningly portrayed by John Heffernan) writes a scathing column and is summoned to meet the Queen to advise on loosening up her image. She duly agrees to televise her 1957 Christmas speech.

4. Act of God (season 1, episode 4)

One of those early episodes that’s as much history lesson as prestige drama. Like a proto pandemic, the 1952 Great Smog shrouds London in lethal pollution for a week and causes thousands of deaths. The repercussions hit home for Churchill when his favourite Downing Street secretary is fatally hit by a bus due to poor visibility on the streets. The smog scandal nearly brings down the PM, but prompts the Clean Air Act in 1956.

3. Matrimonium (season 2, episode 7)

Matthew Goode and Vanessa Kirby in season 2, episode 7 of The Crown.
Va va vroom … Matthew Goode and Vanessa Kirby in season 2, episode 7 of The Crown. Photograph: Netflix

Princess Margaret’s doomed romance with roguish charmer Antony Armstrong-Jones is the second season’s most seductive storyline. Their Burton-and-Taylor-esque affair reaches a crescendo when she hears that her ex, Group Captain Peter Townsend, is engaged to an heiress half his age. Margaret hustles Tony to propose so she can eclipse her old flame. A rare dose of arty bohemian cool in the Windsors’ starchy world. When the couple vroom away from Buckingham Palace on his motorbike, it’s an indelible image.

2. Hyde Park Corner (season 1, episode 2)

Claire Foy as the Queen in season 1, episode 2 of The Crown.
Duty calls … Claire Foy as the Queen in season 1, episode 2 of The Crown. Photograph: Alex Bailey/Netflix

The second episode was the moment when we knew The Crown was something special. While the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth is on an adventurous Commonwealth tour with her husband, news reaches their Kenyan safari lodge that King George VI has died. Conflicting emotions flit across Foy’s face as she realises she is not only a bereaved daughter but also the new sovereign. Both Foy and Smith do wonderful work with few words. Duty calls and her reign begins, as do six seasons of drama.

1. Aberfan (season 3, episode 3)

The Crown at its most moving. When a colliery slag heap collapses on a junior school, killing 116 children and 28 adults, the disaster is viscerally depicted. The Queen’s emotional reserve means she delays visiting the valleys village to offer solace until PM Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) challenges her to show she cares – foreshadowing the regal reaction to Diana’s death. A devastating closing shot lingers on Colman’s face as she weeps while listening to a hymn sung at the children’s funeral. The heartfelt episode is poignantly dedicated to the people of Aberfan.

• All six seasons of The Crown are on Netflix

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.