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John Boland's week in TV: ‘It’s hard not to feel that the fun has gone out of The Crown’



Recast: Oscar winner Olivia Colman has taken over as the queen in the new series of The Royals

Recast: Oscar winner Olivia Colman has taken over as the queen in the new series of The Royals

Recast: Oscar winner Olivia Colman has taken over as the queen in the new series of The Royals

Royals behaving badly dominated the week's television, whether in the third season of The Crown (Netflix) or Prince Andrew's juggernaut crash of an interview with Emily Maitlis on BBC2.

Little more needs to be said at this stage about the latter except that it revealed the most dislikeable of the current royals (and there's stiff competition) as even more arrogant and entitled and contemptuous and callous and downright stupid than perhaps even his family had realised.

At least The Crown is fiction or at least heavily fictionalised, though the brilliant trick perpetrated by creator/screenwriter Peter Morgan is to fool us into believing that this is the real thing and that we're being allowed to eavesdrop on what actually took place and what was actually said behind closed palace doors.

But this third season has somehow dented that illusion and it's mainly done that by recasting its main characters. Gone is the peerless Claire Foy as the queen, along with Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, and I can't understand the thinking behind these changes.

These performers were so persuasive and their replacements are so unlike them that they seem different people altogether: Olivia Colman's queen is suddenly a constipated monarch, Tobias Menzies is a duke who seems to be impersonating a middle-aged Prince Charles, and Helena Bonham Carter conveys none of the amusingly pouty skittishness that Kirby brought to the role of tantrum-throwing Margaret.

It's all splendidly visualised and wittily scripted and with an expert turn from Jason Watkins as Harold Wilson in early episodes, but I've felt no compulsion to binge-watch and so I don't know if Gillian Anderson will bring some icy oomph to Margaret Thatcher or Emerald Fennell will have some fun as Camilla.

But in truth, it's hard not to feel that the fun has gone out of the whole thing and that what seemed exciting and daring in the first two seasons has become as middle-aged and dutiful as its principal characters.

However, the first episode of The War of the Worlds (BBC1) was very good. HG Wells's 1897 sci-fi novel has already received the Hollywood treatment - in a serviceable 1953 version starring Gene Barry and in Steven Spielberg's 2005 blockbuster, with Tom Cruise single-handedly battling the invading aliens - but this new three-parter returns the story to Wells's original time and place.

Or nearly. The Surrey setting is the same, but we're now in 1905 and the narrator, with due acknowledgement of the era we're now in, is a woman rather than a man: Eleanor Tomlinson's Amy, who's living in sin with married George (Rafe Spall) and frowned on by the local villagers.

That's the least of her problems when the aliens turn up, annihilating the village and most of its inhabitants, and seemingly most of the world as well. This was all splendidly done in last Sunday night's opener, which also tapped into current concerns about global war, climate change, human displacement and the lies told by those who rule over us.

I'll certainly be watching tomorrow night's episode, which I won't be doing with the second instalment of Vienna Blood (BBC2), a three-parter based on crime novels by Frank Tallis and set in the Austrian capital in the first decade of the 20th century.

Tired old tropes abounded from the outset as world-weary detective Oskar reluctantly accepted the assistance of Freudian young doctor Max in solving the murder of a woman whose death had been made to look like a suicide.

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We heard about "the psychopathy of the criminal mind" and in due course Max's brilliant deductions revealed the murderer, but it was a long, slow slog, and one that featured women as either hysterics or as naked cadavers ogled by the camera. No thanks.

But two crime series came to a resounding end this week. The more satisfying was the finale of Spiral (BBC4), with its two irresistibly dodgy cops solving the case, though not without cost to themselves - the thuggish but gallant Gilou taking the rap for Laure after they both broke the law.

We've been following these two since Spiral started in 2005 and it's impossible to imagine the series without both of them. So will Gilou (Thierry Godard) somehow manage a get-out-of-jail card for the season that's currently being filmed in Paris, or will Laure (Caroline Proust) have to go it alone? I, for one, can't wait to find out.

Mr Mercedes (RTÉ2) ended this week, too, and if the finale left something to be desired, overall this season was just as compelling as the previous two. And, as with Spiral, you really cared for its main characters - not just Brendan Gleeson as Bill Hodges, but Holland Taylor as Ida, Justine Lupe as Holly, and Breeda Wool as Lou.

Sadly, we won't be seeing them again in these roles, given that Stephen King has written no more Mr Mercedes novels other than the trilogy on which these three seasons were based. That's a real pity, but at least the tremendous adaptations did the books proud.

Meanwhile, our national broadcaster's obsession with property continues unabated. Not content with Room to Improve, Home of the Year, Goodbye House and The Big DIY Challenge, it now offers Home Rescue (RTÉ1), which is actually just a new title for Desperate Houses.

In this week's opener, architect Róisín Murphy and builder Peter Finn moved into a crazily cluttered house in Borris, Co Carlow, and, after three days of tiresome cod bickering between the two of them, it was transformed into a place of beauty. Ho hum.

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