Image Source: Netflix
Season four of The Crown puts a younger generation of princess firmly at the centre of the story: Princess Diana. The princess who gets the short end of things, though, is Princess Anne, and that's one of the show's biggest mistakes. Played by Erin Doherty with a wonderfully vinegary attitude and just the right amount of vulnerability, Anne is one of the most exciting characters, but also one of the least explored.
Of course, part of this is just a side effect of the fact that, as the show goes on and the cast gets bigger, more and more characters are relegated to side plots. Even characters who used to have significant roles in the plot, like the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, are given less and less to do by the time the fourth season rolls around. The difference between them and Anne, however, is that they at least got a chance in the spotlight at some point; Anne never has, which is a huge shame given the fact that she's easily one of the most interesting and dynamic members of the family.
The Crown alludes to these parts of Anne's life, but only in throwaway lines in season four. If you sneezed at the wrong moment, you could have missed the fact that she's an Olympian; the show completely skipped over her Olympic qualification, which happened in 1976 in the real world (which would have been season three of The Crown), and tucks it into a single sentence from her father Prince Philip this season. Anne's equestrian accomplishments could have stood as an example of a royal achieving something for themselves, rather than through the institution of the Crown, but the show didn't go there. Similarly, she was the first of the Queen's children to get married — to fellow equestrian Mark Phillips, who is briefly glimpsed in season four — but the show totally skips any mention of that until joining Anne after her marriage has already fallen apart. Perhaps, in season five, we might get to see the real-life conclusion to Anne's romantic journey (which parallels her aunt Margaret's life in some ways, but with a happier ending), but I'm not holding out big hopes.
Image Source: Getty / Tim Graham Photo Library
Another story the show, bizarrely, didn't cover: Anne was the victim of an attempted kidnapping in broad daylight! In 1974, she and her husband Mark, were riding in a car when they were ambushed by a man named Ian Ball. Ball fired several shots, injuring multiple officers and bystanders who intervened, and tried to force Anne to come with him so he could get a £2 million ransom. Anne, famously, snapped back, "Not bloody likely, and I haven't got £2m!" According to the BBC report, Anne later stated that she thought about hitting Ball, but stopped out of fear he would shoot her. "It was all so infuriating; I kept saying I didn't want to get out of the car, and I was not going to get out of the car... I nearly lost my temper with him, but I knew that if I did, I should hit him and he would shoot me."
The high drama and fear of this incident should have made it perfect material for The Crown, but, once again, no sell. It's easy to imagine this incident, rather than the historically inaccurate Thatcher family plot, being the thing to set off the Queen's panicked reflections about her relationships with her children, but that's not the direction the show goes.
It's especially frustrating to see Anne sidelined because The Crown has always made a point of selling itself as being about interesting royal (and, this season in particular, royal-adjacent) women. Without even a single "focus" episode, however, Anne winds up being little more than a prop for other characters: a foil and ally for Charles; a jealous if distant rival for Diana; part of a love quadrangle with Charles, Camilla, and Andrew; an embodiment of vague guilt for the Queen; an "attagirl" favourite for Philip. Anne even tells her mother how tired she is of being overlooked and compared to others, but then the show itself does that to her — to its detriment, I believe.
To be fair, that pretty much has been Anne's fate in real life, as someone relatively low down the line of succession (although, in recent years, she's the royal family's most active member, according to the Times in 2017). But for a TV show that's been willing to tweak history when needed and has shown an interest in uncovering lesser-told stories of the royal family, it's particularly disappointing that it hasn't managed to find time even once to spotlight Anne's intriguing life.