Best The Crown episodes: Top 10 moments in Netflix’s drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

As season 5 of royal drama The Crown heads for Netflix, we pick 10 must-watch episodes that portray key moments from the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II to stream now.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 26 September 2022 - 11.27am
Netflix Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown

Since its launch in 2016, The Crown – a dramatic retelling of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – has been one of Netflix’s most successful shows.

Over the course of four seasons we have seen the young Princess Elizabeth ascend the throne, impose her will on an outdated, male-dominated court, tolerate a succession of very different Prime Ministers and negotiate several national crises.

In her private life, the Queen - as portrayed in The Crown - also has to manage the frustrations of her restless husband Prince Philip, prevent sister Margaret’s love life from causing a repeat of the 1936 abdication crisis, and bring up four children, all while acting as the figurehead of the nation and putting the institution she promised to protect – the Crown – ahead of anything else, even the happiness of her family.

While The Crown is only a dramatisation, the events it portrays are based on real happenings and the characters based on real people. Season 5, which is due to arrive on Netflix towards the end of 2022, will be the first to be broadcast since the deaths of both the Duke of Edinburgh in April 2021 and the Queen herself earlier this month.

The Crown season 5: Who's joining the cast of the royal drama?

All four seasons of The Crown are available to watch on Netflix, and while every episode is a masterpiece of storytelling, here are 10 of the best, must-watch episodes to give you a flavour of this award-winning show and the extraordinary life of the woman at its heart.

Hyde Park Corner - Season 1 Episode 2

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Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) set off on a tour of the Commonwealth in place of her ill father, King George VI (Jared Harris). No sooner have they arrived at their first port of call, Kenya, that tragic news comes through from Sandringham that will change her life forever.

Why it's a must-watch: Although her father the King was seriously ill, the young princess has barely begun her apprenticeship when she ascends the throne literally overnight and finds everything and everyone around her has changed. An especially poignant episode in light of the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Windsor - Season 1 Episode 3

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Elizabeth, now Queen, returns to a country in mourning and has her first audience with the Prime Minister, veteran politician Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). Meanwhile Edward, Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) - in Britain for the first time since his abdication – offers Elizabeth valuable advice while also reopening old wounds for Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins) and the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) caused by his abdication 16 years earlier.

Why it's a must-watch: Faced with all the experience and cunning of her 77-year-old PM as he delays the Coronation to suit his own ambitions, the 25-year-old Queen more than holds her own, soon earning his respect and admiration.

Smoke and Mirrors - Season 1 Episode 5

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Elizabeth puts a restless Philip in charge of preparations for her Coronation, but he duly upsets her by suggesting he doesn’t kneel before her at the ceremony, and irritates the organising committee by insisting they televise the event. Meanwhile the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are excluded from the pageant.

Why it's a must-watch: Prince Philip’s frustrations and perceived emasculation as he adjusts to life in the shadow of his wife the monarch are a constant theme of The Crown. But he is also a passionate moderniser, and ultimately the Coronation did more than any other to make television a mainstream medium in the UK.

Marionettes - Season 2 Episode 5

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It’s 1957, and journalist Lord Altrincham has written an article likening the Queen’s manner of public speaking to that of “a priggish schoolgirl” and calling on the court to drop its detached, upper-class attitude. As the press and public begin to come round to the peer’s point of view, Elizabeth makes a remarkable gesture which transforms the British public’s relationship with its monarch.

Why it's a must-watch: The monarchy that the Queen inherited was firmly rooted in tradition for tradition’s sake. Lord Altrincham’s criticism led to the Queen reconsidering many royal customs and establishing new traditions that are now firmly established.

Stories behind The Crown: Who was Lord Altrincham?

Paterfamilias - Season 2 Episode 9

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Powerless when it comes to affairs of state, Prince Philip takes charge of his son Charles’ education by overruling the Queen’s preference for Eton and sending the heir to his own alma mater Gordonstoun. While visiting the school, Philip reflects on his own time at the austere Highlands academy, his difficult relationship with his own father and the sudden death of his beloved sister Cecile.

Why it's a must-watch: Prince Philip endured a nomadic childhood which took in spells in Greece, Germany, France and England. As such, Gordonstoun provided a comparatively settled home, and its headmaster, Kurt Hahn, a surrogate father figure. Philip’s plan to give Charles the same character-building education backfired, with the prince later describing the school as “Colditz with kilts”.

Aberfan - Season 3 Episode 3

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In October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults died when a colliery spoil tip engulfed a school and houses in the Welsh village of Aberfan. Although Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) advises the Queen (Olivia Colman) to visit the village, she declines and Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) attends the children’s funeral on her behalf. When it’s rumoured that a cabinet member has accused her of a lack of sympathy, Elizabeth reconsiders and visits the grieving families, shedding a tear in private on her return.

Why it's a must-watch: The Queen was said to regard the eight-day delay in her visit to Aberfan as the biggest regret of her reign, and returned to the village three times over the years. Away from the royal storyline, the gut-wrenching depiction of the disaster, rescue work and public response to the tragedy makes 'Aberfan' one of the standout episodes of the entire series.

Tywysog Cymru - Season 3 Episode 6

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The second Welsh-based episode of season 3 finds a young Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) being sent, against his wishes, to Aberystwyth University to learn Welsh ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales. Through his tutor he becomes sympathetic to Welsh nationalism, but when his investiture speech expresses support for Wales, the Queen tells him he must learn to suppress his personal opinions.

Why it's a must-watch: The Queen famously never allowed her views on any subject – personal or political – to be made public, and certainly did not approve when others betrayed her confidence.

Gold Stick - Season 4 Episode 1

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The opening episode of season 4 introduces both Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher. Diana (Emma Corrin) is first shown as the shy sister of Charles’ then girlfriend Sarah, while Mrs Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) is the forthright new Prime Minister who stuns the Queen at their first audience by announcing that women “are not generally suited to high office”. This episode also features personal tragedy for the Royal Family as Charles’ favourite uncle Louis Mountbatten (Charles Dance) is assassinated by the IRA.

Why it's a must-watch: The two women who, along with the Queen, came to define Britain in the 1980s make their entrance in the same episode. Mountbatten’s death has political and personal repercussions as Thatcher vows to the Queen that she will defeat the IRA, while Charles’ final correspondence with his uncle convinces him that it’s high time he found a suitable wife…

Stories behind The Crown: Mountbatten killed by IRA bombers 

Terra Nullius - Season 4 Episode 6

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In 1983, Charles and Diana toured Australia, where newly elected Prime Minister Bob Hawke was claiming that the cost of the visit would boost the Republican cause. In the event, Diana – who took baby William on tour against the Queen’s wishes – won the hearts of the nation. But cracks in their marriage begin to show and when the princess tries to discuss it with the Queen, she receives little sympathy.

Why it's a must-watch: Just as she had done across the UK since their 1981 wedding, Diana drew massive crowds as she blew away the stuffy image of the monarchy in Australia. But like his father before him, Charles finds himself overshadowed by his wife, while Diana’s attempts to open her heart to the Queen elicit little sympathy from a woman who had always put the monarchy ahead of marital difficulties.

48:1 - Season 4 Episode 8

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Beginning with a surprise returning cameo from Claire Foy as the younger Queen, '48:1' chronicles the conflict between the monarch and her Prime Minister over imposing sanctions on Apartheid-era South Africa. Set against the backdrop of a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the Bahamas, the episode examines the tensions between the pair, and the fallout when word gets out that the Queen is “dismayed” by Mrs Thatcher’s actions.

Why it's a must-watch: The young Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday broadcast from Cape Town, in which she pledged to dedicate her life to the service of the Commonwealth, has long been regarded as the guiding principle of her long reign. In 1986, that promise faced its stiffest test in the face of the UK Government’s reluctance to impose sanctions on South Africa against the wishes of all other 48 Commonwealth states.

Behind The Crown: What really happened between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher?

Watch The Crown seasons 1-4 on Netflix now.

Season 5 premieres on Netflix later in 2022.