The Crown season 4 has an appearance by a beloved former castmember that helps unify the original seasons 1 and 2 casts with the current actors.
Warning: SPOILERS for The Crown Season 4, Episode 8 - "48:1"
The Crown's original Queen, Claire Foy, cameos at the beginning of season 4, episode 8, "48:1", which bridges the gulf between Foy and her successor, Olivia Colman. Foy portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in the first two seasons of The Crown, and her performances earned her a Best Lead Actress Golden Globe in 2017 and an Emmy in 2018. For her part, Colman received an Emmy nomination for her work in The Crown season 3 and she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress as well.
Foy played the young Queen Elizabeth from age 21 in 1947 to age 38 in 1964. Alongside Matt Smith, who played Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip in The Crown seasons 1 and 2, Foy won raves for how she embodied the young Queen, who inherited the throne from her late father, King George VI (Jared Harris), and was mentored in the early years of her reign by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). As she gradually learned how to be Queen, Foy's Elizabeth dealt with numerous crises in Great Britain and within her own family, such as the jealousy of her younger sister Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby). In The Crown season 2, Elizabeth and Philip's marriage were put to the test but they emerged stronger than ever - an example they hoped their son Prince Charles (John O'Connor) and his estranged wife Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) would follow in The Crown season 4.
Colman took over the role of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown season 3, but season 4 brings on new challenges for the monarch in the form of her first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson). The contrast between the "two women running the shop" is one of The Crown season 4's compelling core stories, and they especially clashed in "48:1" over Thatcher's refusal to join the Commonwealth in repudiating the apartheid government of South Africa with sanctions in 1986. But to set the stage for the showdown between Thatcher and the Queen, episode 8 began with a flashback to 1947 when the younger Queen Elizabeth was in South Africa and gave a speech about the importance of service to her country to mark her 21st birthday - which brought Claire Foy back for her surprise cameo.
When The Crown season 3 began, it was initially difficult to overlook the physical difference between Foy and Colman, especially since there was no time jump and the transition happened in the same year, 1964. The Crown dealt with it head-on with a cheeky nod as Colman's Queen surveyed commemorative stamps emblazoned with her Queen and Foy's young Queen side-by-side. As Colman's Elizabeth summed up, it was best to "just get on with it" and accept the recasting since replacing the entire cast every two seasons is built into The Crown's production plan. While Colman indeed made the role her own, with help from Tobias Menzies, who played the older Prince Philip, Foy was certainly missed and fans wondered if she would return for a flashback or cameo.
Seeing Claire Foy play Elizabeth when she was still just a princess once again wasn't just a delightful surprise; her cameo in The Crown season 4 did a lot to meld her young Elizabeth with Colman's sovereign in fans' eyes. Foy and Colman appearing in the same episode at different eras in Elizabeth Windsor's life smoothed over the gap of them portraying different generations of the same character. Foy's 1947 speech about service and love of country also brilliantly juxtaposed with scenes of the young Margaret Thatcher leading the Conservative party at Oxford, telegraphing how the Iron Lady would be opposing the Queen over the United Kingdom's role opposing apartheid decades later.
At the end of her address on the wireless, Foy's Elizabeth was thanked and she turned and left the stage, which could symbolically mean that it was the final time she plays the Queen. However, The Crown has proven adept at weaving flashbacks into its narratives, and perhaps creator Peter Morgan can find a way for Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton to appear as all three generations of Queen Elizabeth II when Staunton inherits the role in The Crown seasons 5 and 6.