Season 5 of The Crown is finally out on Netflix, and for the second time in the series, the cast has been replaced to show the royal family of Windsor at an older age. The fifth season focuses on the period in England between 1991 and 1997. It covers, among other events, the separation of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth’s Ruby Jubilee, and the premierships of two prime ministers. The prime ministers in The Crown are an excellent tool to judge the passing of time in the show.
Every time one PM walks into the queen’s meeting area after having been told the method of how to approach, it’s a signal that the times in England are about to change. Queen Elizabeth has interacted with eight prime ministers who have run the gamut of being completely forgettable to changing the monarch forever. While the series is not finished and there are PMs to come, the current rankings of on-screen minutes show a lot about who was the most important to Elizabeth’s reign up until 1997.
Edward Heath – 7 Minutes
Edward Heath, played by Michael Maloney in the third season, appeared on-screen for only seven minutes. He is the prime minister elected between the two Harold Wilson terms, and just as his own real life terms were overshadowed by the Wilson terms on either side, his time on The Crown is overshadowed by the notable absence of Harold Wilson.
Heath appears in three episodes, and his most notable scene is when he attempts to mock Wilson to Elizabeth’s face. However, he is clearly unaware that she has taken an unexpected liking to Wilson, and the awkward silence that follows is a symbol of Heath’s time on the show. His tenure was marked by unemployment and civil unrest to which he was unable to respond much less approach the queen about.
Tony Blair – 7.5 Minutes
The fifth season of The Crown ends with the election of Tony Blair to the premiership, and while he has only one episode, he will surely be a large figure in the upcoming season. Blair was the PM for 10 years, during some of the most important events in Britain at the turn of the century, events that are sure to figure prominently in the final season.
Blair, played by Bertie Carvel, has only seven and a half minutes of screen time, but they are quite significant. He first denies the request to finance the repair of the queen’s yacht, then he meets privately with Prince Charles to talk about modernizing the monarchy. The implication is clear: Blair signals a younger Britain that may not care about Elizabeth the same way the country did in the first five seasons.
Harold Macmillan – 34 Minutes
After the Suez Crisis in season 1, Harold Macmillan used the chaos to his advantage to take control of the party and become PM after Anthony Eden. His scenes only come in season 2 and his relationship with Eden mirrors the one between Eden and Churchill, another man from the same party fomenting dissent in the current party’s leadership.
Macmillan is an interesting PM in The Crown. He’s likable and witty and seems to have a firm grasp on what it means to serve the crown and country. But his time on screen is more about his difficult home life rather than with the queen. He is one of the few PMs Elizabeth is angry with upon their departure and his role serves to show that Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth is maturing and becoming someone the PMs look up to, rather than the other way around.
Harold Wilson – 44 Minutes
Harold Wilson, played by Jason Watkins in season 3 is the first prime minister in the series from the Labour Party and is therefore the first PM to be necessarily opposed to the monarchy. He is a tough but fair PM who despite being pulled in multiple directions by his own cabinet and his relationship with the queen keeps and even temper and sound judgment.
Season 3 is also the season when Elizabeth Debicki is introduced as Princess Diana so while Wilson is important to the history of England, his screen time is shortened to make way for another important figure in British history. His time on the show is proof of the power of the Crown and Elizabeth in particular. He goes from staunchly anti-monarchy to a royalist in a season and is visibly shaken when the queen honors him by inviting herself to his house for dinner.
Anthony Eden – 47.5 Minutes
Anthony Eden has the benefit of being present in both seasons 1 and 2 of The Crown and has a significantly larger screen time than may be expected for a PM who has not much interaction with Queen Elizabeth. Eden’s real conflict is with the PM he replaces, Winston Churchill.
Eden, played by Jeremy Northam, first battles Churchill for control of the party and eventually takes it away from the legendary PM, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t hold power over Eden. The premiership of Eden is characterized by his intense drive to get out of the shadow of Churchill which leads him to making stubborn and unwise choices without the involvement of Elizabeth who was close to Churchill.
John Major – 70 Minutes
The prime minister for nearly all of season 5 of The Crown is John Major, played by Jonny Lee Miller. Noted as being somewhat of a “boring” prime minister compared to the colorful PMs of previous seasons, Major was known for his honesty and mild manners. A large departure from his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.
He still plays a very important role within the family in season 5 and his 70 minutes of screen time is a testament to that. In the past, Queen Elizabeth referred to her meetings with prime ministers as part therapy sessions but in season 5, it’s Major who appears to be the therapist for the Royal family. The House of Windsor often comes to him to stir drama and complain, and he is stuck in the middle trying to keep the country afloat even though he can see inner-core of the monarchy that’s looking unstable.
Margaret Thatcher – 86 Minutes
The Iron Lady was much anticipated when season 4 of The Crown was announced and the first trailer scenes of Gillian Anderson playing her raised expectations. Margaret Thatcher proved to be an incredibly important figure in events both from real life and as depicted in The Crown, as the show followed her personal life nearly as much as it did Churchill’s. The amount of screen time for Thatcher was needed because of how she represented a new era of Britain and the role of women at the time.
Up until this point, the only women Queen Elizabeth had to butt heads with were those in her own family. She had learned how to deal with arrogant men and was quite formidable in that realm. But Thatcher presented a new challenge, a woman her own age, devoted entirely to duty and her country as much as the queen. Their rivalry that grows into grudging respect is a highlight of the show and the scene of the queen awarding Thatcher the Order of Merit is incredibly moving.
Winston Churchill – 117.5 Minutes
As the first prime minister of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, it is expected that Winston Churchill would have the most screen time of all the PMs. While many of the real figures on The Crown were new to American audiences, nearly everyone would have heard of Winston Churchill. John Lithgow’s award-winning performance encapsulated the strength, aura and fierceness of the man.
Elizabeth grows into her role as queen under Churchill, then overtakes him by the end of the first season as he realizes that he has come to respect her not only as a peer but someone he looks up to. Churchill is the last remnant of the England before Queen Elizabeth’s reign and watching his personal and professional life wind down is akin to watching a New Britain be born under the leadership of its new monarch.
Next: 10 Burning Questions Viewers Have After Season 5 Of The Crown