Emmy episode analysis: Helena Bonham Carter (‘The Crown’) plays a princess hitting rock bottom in a cry of the heart

In the third season of Netflix’s acclaimed revolving-cast drama series “The Crown,” Helena Bonham Carter plays the middle-aged version of Princess Margaret, taking over for previous Emmy nominee Vanessa Kirby from the first two seasons. For her performance, Bonham Carter has received her fourth career Emmy nomination after bids for “Merlin,” “Live from Baghdad” and “Burton and Taylor.” Her Emmy episode submission for Best Drama Supporting Actress is the season three finale, “Cri de Coeur.”

For this 2020 contest, she is up against reigning champ Julia Garner (“Ozark”), past winners Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”), Thandie Newton (“Westworld”), Meryl Streep (“Big Little Lies”) and Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), previous nominee Fiona Shaw (“Killing Eve”) and rookie contender Sarah Snook (“Succession”).

Bonham Carter is yet to win an Emmy, or an Oscar for that matter, having been nominated twice, for “The Wings of the Dove” (lead, 1997) and “The King’s Speech” (supporting, 2010). This year, the acclaimed English actress might finally end her losing streak and take home a trophy for her stand-out performance as the older, less wide-eyed version of the famous royal.

SEE 2020 Emmy nominations complete list: All the nominees for the 72nd Emmy Awards

“Cri de Coeur” spotlights the tragic story of Margaret’s disastrous love life and the complicated relationship that she has with her family. After years of neglect from her husband Antony Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels), Margaret begins to act out, drunkenly demanding at her lavish birthday party that her cheating husband be stripped of his royal privileges. The Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) rebukes her daughter, leading to Margaret hitting rock bottom as she blows up at her hypocritical family. Margaret then escapes to a private getaway, where she encounters the much-younger Roddy Llewellyn (Harry Treadaway), and the two embark on a then-scandalous love affair. While Margaret seems to have finally found some happiness, her life ends up in tatters as a prying paparazzi splash images of her and Llewellyn all over the British tabloids. Upon her return home, Margaret and Tony have a violent argument that ends in the departures of not only Tony but a scared-off Roddy as well.

The episode culminates in Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) visiting her younger sister Margaret, who lies in bed after her literal crisis of the heart. Both sisters bear their own burden; the Queen doubts and blames herself for the tumultuous events plaguing mother England, while Margaret is broken and inconsolable, leading her to overdose anxiety sedatives in what is implied as a potential attempt to end her life. While Elizabeth initially considers her sister’s behavior as a cry for attention, she eventually realizes that Margaret is hurting and requires her love and support. The sisters ultimately console each other, with Elizabeth confiding that “of all the people everywhere, you are the closest and most important to me. And if by doing this, you wanted to let me imagine for one minute what life would be without you, you succeed. It would be unbearable.”

SEE ‘The Crown’ cinematographer Adriano Goldman: ‘I can’t say I have ever had a bad day’ on this show [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]


For the first two seasons, “The Crown” did pretty well in the acting categories. John Lithgow won Best Drama Supporting Actor for season one in 2017 for his performance as Winston Churchill while Claire Foy won Best Drama Actress for season two in 2018. With the third season winning the SAG Award for Best TV Drama Ensemble this past year, that’s likely a good sign of how much the actors branch still loves “The Crown.” While she didn’t win at SAG earlier this year, she did pull off a rare feat in which she was nominated in the catch-all drama actress category, for which lead and supporting performances compete together. That kind of support could be telling.

The TV academy only has this year and next year to honor Bonham Carter (and leading lady Colman for that matter), before they are replaced for the show’s final two seasons by Imelda Staunton (as the Queen) and Lesley Manville (as Margaret), so there’s added incentive to award her before it’s too late, particularly for her show-stealing performance this past season.

We often talk about how effective it is for an episode to showcase an actor’s impact and range. This episode showcases that in spades, as Margaret is at various times throughout the episode either drunk, happily in love, mortified with embarrassment and shame, distraught and angry as she trades vicious barbs with her estranged husband, and ultimately defeated as she lies in bed after her overdose. This episode has everything an actor would want in an episode submission. It is all about her and she gets to really demonstrate that she was the star of the season.


Despite equally its best haul from 2018 with 13 nominations across the board, “The Crown” dipped in acting bids, going from four in 2018 to only two this year – for Bonham Carter and also Colman in the lead race.

If both actresses lose their respective categories, this might be a factor we will point to as a sign that the actors weren’t as excited about the show as they were last season.

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