Other than having loyal followers, “Game of Thrones” and “The Crown” wouldn’t appear to have much in common. Look closer. The hit Netflix series, which returns Sunday for a fourth season, is all about a call to duty in a kingdom that isn’t much more glamorous than Westeros.
The difference is that the gladiators in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy managed to conduct their business without stiff upper lips.
Her majesty’s sniffling service whines more than ever in new episodes covering the period between 1977 and 1990.
That means much of the action revolves around Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin). They meet cute, but quickly take their separate corners, with the future king mooning over Camilla and Di hogging the spotlight..
“What do I have to do to get some kindness in this family?” Charles pleads to sister Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) in one of his many hissy fits. At one point, Di takes her grievances straight to the queen, pleading for sympathy.
“I think the people can see that I’ve suffered,” she says, before awkwardly hugging her mother-in-law. Elizabeth reacts as if a butler just served her lukewarm tea.
In one episode, the queen (Olivia Colman) schedules lunch with each of her kids to decide which is her favorite. It’s a tie; they’re all self-centered brats.
Other than Lady Di, the most high-profile new character this season is Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson, so committed that she almost makes you forget Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning turn in the same role.
The prime minister takes no pleasure in playing second fiddle to royalty, cutting short one of her regular meetings with the queen so she can lead a parade celebrating a “victory” in the Falkland Islands. When she curtsies, it appears to pain her more than reports of violence in Northern Island.
Meanwhile, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) continues to seethe with sibling rivalry, comforting herself with a string of cocktails and young lovers. We sympathize with her the most, but only because Carter is so skilled at delivering snappy one-liners.
A lot of “Crown” viewers share a fascination with “Downton Abbey,” but the mood at the Crawley estate was comparatively giddy. Even the servants enjoyed revelry and romance.
The only time this family seems to enjoy themselves is when they’re hunting for a wounded stag, engaging in silly parlor games or dancing to David Bowie. Peasant pleasures.
It’s telling that the most sympathetic newcomer this season is Michael Fagan, the Brit who sneaked into the palace in 1982 and confronted the queen in her bedroom.
The season’s best episode explores the life of Fagan (Tom Brooke) as he puts up with unemployment and losing his kids in a custody battle, incidents that lead to his infamous night visit.
Their conversation brings out a bit of humanity in Colman’s character, but she’s too entrenched in her bubble to ever truly change.
In one scene, she reads about Di’s misguided attempt to impress her husband with a public dance to “Uptown Girl.”
The queen looks up from her paper and asks Prince Philip: “Who is Billy Jo-el?”
When one royal doesn’t recognize another, you know all is lost.