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The Crown season 4 release date, cast and time period

The first three seasons of Netflix's critically acclaimed historical drama The Crown have kept audiences glued to their televisions, clamoring for more with the end of every season. Fortunately, Netflix has so far indulged us, with a fourth season due to be released in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.

The fourth season of The Crown, which follows the lives of the British royal family — and Queen Elizabeth II in particular — began filming in August 2019, before the third season even dropped on the streaming service. At the time of this writing there is just a week of filming left on the fourth season, and at this stage producers seem determined to complete the project before fears over the coronavirus take over and force them to shut down, according to Deadline. A spate of suspensions and delays have already swept over the entertainment industry, but The Crown has not halted production. The publication reports there is no major filming left on the royal drama, simply a need to "tie up loose ends."

It appears that the latest season of The Crown will be one of the few productions to suffer no ill effects (no pun intended) from the pandemic. Here's what we know about the season so far.

What is the release date for season 4 of The Crown?

At this stage, Netflix has yet to announce an official release date for the fourth season, but there is hope that they won't be subjecting fans to another two year gap between the third and fourth seasons as there was with the second and third. Given that there won't be as many changes to the cast between these two seasons as there was from season 2 to season 3, there's also likely to be far less need for such a delay.

Despite the lack of information coming from Netflix on a possible release date, Radio Times speculates that the fourth season will drop on the streaming service sometime in either November or December 2020, around a year after the third season's release. The current production schedule does seem to look favorably on that particular prediction, although you may not want to pin all your hopes and dreams on it. By way of comparison, the second season of fellow Netflix series The Witcher is currently filming (although that shoot has been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak), and it's expected to be released in 2021.

Who has been cast in season 4 of The Crown?

Season 4 of The Crown will feature much of the same cast as the third season, with Olivia Colman returning in her lead role as Queen Elizabeth II. Just to keep things interesting, Claire Foy, who played the younger Elizabeth in the first two seasons, will also be returning as the Queen, according to Collider. Tobias Menzies will be returning as Prince Philip, while Helena Bonham Carter is reprising her role as Elizabeth's troubled sister Princess Margaret.

Elizabeth and Philip's eldest two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, will be portrayed by their season three actors Josh O'Connor and Erin Doherty, respectively. Princes Andrew and Edward, who have grown up somewhat since we last saw them in season 3, will be portrayed by new actors: newcomer Tom Byrne will take over the role of Andrew, and Angus Imrie (Fleabag) will play Edward, according to Harper's Bazaar.

This season will also introduce some highly anticipated new faces. Princess Diana will be making her first appearance on the series, with actress Emma Corrin (Pennyworth) cast in the role. The introduction of Princess Di means that we'll also see Princes William and Harry for the first time, although no casting information has been made public for their parts just yet.

Another vital character will also be joining the cast, as Margaret Thatcher's long reign as Prime Minister is about to start. The X-FilesGillian Anderson will have big shoes to fill as she takes on the role of the Iron Lady.

What is the time period of season 4?

The second season of The Crown left us in 1977, two years before Thatcher was elected PM. Radio Times speculates the end date will be somewhere around 1990, two years before Charles and Diana separated for good. This means fans will get to watch the show go from their meeting, to their wedding, to their parenthood, to the inevitable breakdown of their marriage in a single season. Bring tissues.

O'Connor himself has warned that things are about to get much more difficult for Charles in the upcoming season. "Well, it's the Diana years, so we know that period so well," the actor said. "And in terms of Charles himself, if series three was to make people feel empathy and sorry for him, I guess we're going to pull the rug from under him in the next series."

That time period also covers the entirety of Thatcher's time as Prime Minister. Fans can expect her relationship with Queen Elizabeth to be pivotal to season four of the show, and they weren't always exactly the best of friends. Thatcher's time in office saw some trying times for the U.K., including having to deal with Apartheid in the Commonwealth country South Africa, a massive miner's strike in the mid-80s, and the Falklands War, among other things.

It's possible that the fourth season might bring US President Ronald Reagan into The Crown to portray his relationship with the Queen. Considering we've seen a number of previous presidents from across the pond so far in the show, it would make perfect sense to have their relationship play a part in season 4 — but we'll have to wait for an official announcement to know for sure.