17 November 2019 20:35
The Crown season 3 premiered on November 17, 2019. The third season features an entirely new cast, with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies taking over the roles of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Taking place between 1964 and 1976, season 3 co-stars actor Jason Watkins as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The Crown, Netflix's series chronicling the personal and public lives of Queen Elizabeth II and her family, boasts award-winning performances and stunning costumes. It's also something of a history lesson, as viewers have seen several chapters in British history brought to life onscreen.
Season 3 is no exception: We meet U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson, played by British actor Jason Watkins. Here's what to know about the real Harold Wilson, his career as a Labour Party politician during a period of massive social change, and his friendly working relationship with the queen. Wilson served as Prime Minister twice. His first tenure as PM was from 1964 to 1970, and he returned to office from 1974 to 1976. Prior to his time as Prime Minister, Wilson was a Member of Parliament (MP), acted as Shadow Chancellor from 1955 to 1961, and Shadow Foreign Secretary from 1961 to 1963. After the sudden death of Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskill in 1963, Wilson took his place. After winning a narrow victory as Prime Minister in October of 1964, Wilson's Labour government supported MPs in successful efforts to end capital punishment, decriminalize certain laws against homosexuality, and legalize abortion under medically-related circumstances. While drawing a direct parallel between the Labour and Conservative parties of the U.K. and the United States' Democrat and Republican parties wouldn't be accurate, it's fair to say many of the laws passed while Wilson was in office would be considered progressive—especially for the mid-1960s. Wilson himself made expanding options for higher education a priority while in office, and helped launch the Open University in 1969. Turning 50 years old in 2019, the Open University calls itself "the leading university for flexible, innovative teaching and world-leading research in the United Kingdom and in 157 countries worldwide." He also famously rebuffed U.S. pressure to send British troops to the Vietnam War. After losing the June 1970 election to the Conservative Party's Edward Heath, Wilson stayed on as Labour Party Leader. After a fraught general election in 1974, he was elected Prime Minister once more. Wilson got along well with Queen Elizabeth. Like those who held the position before and after him—including Winston Churchill, played by John Lithgow on The Crown—Wilson spoke to Queen Elizabeth weekly in a private audience (a formal one-on-one meeting) while Parliament was in session. The sitting prime minister and the queen met alone, and no record of what they discussed has been published. Wilson was the first Labour Party MP under the queen's reign. Per The Telegraph, Wilson cherished these weekly audiences: "Harold Wilson described the meetings as the only times when he could have a serious conversation, which would not be leaked, with somebody who wasn't after his job." Express Getty Images The Sunday Post called Wilson the queen's "unlikely, but trusted, confidante," and claims that their meetings would run for over two hours. Though the outlet doesn't provide official sources for their intel, journalist Craig Campbell writes that the queen "saw him as a down-to-earth British chap who could tell her all about real life and what her subjects really got up to, and she hung on his every word." According to Campbell, their similarity in age and Wilson's "deep respect for female intelligence" cemented their bond. Olivia Colman thinks the Queen shared Wilson's views. Colman, who takes over the role previously played by Claire Foy in season 3, says that portraying the queen gave her food for thought regarding the monarch's personal politics. "I think she's a leftie, but I think what's extraordinary and wonderful about her, she can be everything to anybody," Colman told The Times. "Whatever you want her to be, she sort of is. I want her to be a leftie and think she is because she loved Harold Wilson." Frank Barratt Getty Images Jason Watkins's Wilson appears in much of season 3. Watkins, whose English TV and movie credits date back to the 1980s, plays Harold Wilson in eight of the season's 10 episodes, according to IMDB. That suggests that a good chunk of the action will deal with his friendship with the queen, and how they work together through the political shifts of the 1960s and '70s. Times change. Duty endures. Season Three of The Crown arrives 17th November. pic.twitter.com/c3pzvSKM6k — The Crown (@TheCrownNetflix) October 21, 2019 "Harold Wilson is a significant and fascinating character in our history," Watkins said in a statement when his casting was announced. "So looking forward to bringing him to life through a decade that transformed us culturally and politically." Wilson abruptly resigned as Prime Minister in 1976. Possible spoiler alert: Wilson's second stint as PM was a short one. On March 16, 1976, Wilson announced his resignation—just days before he turned 60, with three years remaining before the next election. His decision came as a shock to supporters and critics alike, and to this day there's a lack of consensus on the "real" explanation for why he left. "As determined as we have been, there will be an advantage in getting a fresh approach, and a fresh élan, from a new Prime Minister," Wilson said in a press conference following his resignation. Despite Wilson's insistence that it was simply time for someone new (translation: he'd about had it), those grasping for a deeper explanation have offered other possible reasons in the years since. A researcher in the field of neurology published work suggesting that Wilson, who had been living with cancer for years before his death in 1995, was actually struggling with Alzheimer's disease while still in office. Wilder theories involve his supposed paranoia over an alleged conspiracy involving the KGB and M15, proposing that he left to avoid a secret plan to unseat him and destabilize England's government. Months after Wilson's resignation, he was knighted by his friend the queen. Wilson was named a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter—literally, the highest order of knighthood in the British honours system. For more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter.