FOR all the talk of change in season two of “The Crown”—and there is lots of it—everything feels uncannily familiar. Though things begin in the mid-1950s, there are already grimace-inducing references to the European Economic Community: one character wonders whether Britain should be “in or out”. Just weeks after real-life Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle on November 27th, a union that is seen as bringing some much-needed diversity into the royal family, on-screen Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) breaks new ground by bringing the first “commoner”, Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), a photographer, into the fold. And the criticisms offered by Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) of the monarchy—a “tired institution without a place in the modern world”—have hardly been assuaged.

Some of the historical echoes are more thunderous. When John Kennedy (Michael Hall) orates on the slippage of America’s “intellectual and moral strength” and the nation being “divided like never before”, one cannot help but wonder what he might have made of the current leadership and sorry state of the union. As he speaks passionately of a “dry rot, beginning in Washington…seeping into every corner of America”, faint calls for draining a swamp are distinctly audible. Kennedy’s wandering eyes and roving hands are open to reinterpretation too, in light of current scandals. If the president decides to feel up a young woman at a state dinner, as is depicted here, it may well feel like an abuse of power rather than a bit of flirting. Certainly that is how many women working on Capitol Hill have felt.

The darkest foreshadowing of all is a fraternisation with fascism. The show jumps back in time to the discovery of the Marburg files in 1945. These revealed a disturbing admiration of Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936, for fascism. He visited concentration camps, and was said to believe “with certainty” that “continued heavy bombing will make England ready for peace”. He does not believe that his alignment with a hateful group should disqualify him from serving his country: the show jumps forward to his attempts to gain employment in the foreign office a decade later. Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy, on masterful form) sends him packing, allowing no leeway for such vile sympathies in government.

Edward VIII’s confidence that he could still be useful is an example of another pervading theme of the second season: vanity, particularly of the male variety. This too feels familiar. Michael Parker, Prince Philip’s private secretary, boasts of his infidelities without fear of repercussions (his arrogance is later rewarded with divorce, scandal, a termination of employment and a life apart from his children). Vanity also defines much of Philip’s behaviour. He presses to be made a British prince to elevate his position above that of his “eight-year-old son” and to “shut [courtiers] up and demand their respect”. More egregious is when his “gentleman’s radar” misreads the signals of a journalist following his royal tour. After granting her an interview in his private rooms, he receives not romantic attention but a barrage of searing questions about his family history and personal traumas. “Don’t ever let vanity get the better of me again,” he spits at Parker.

Nor are those in what Walter Bagehot called the “efficient” branch of government immune to an inflated sense of self-importance. Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) waxes lyrical to the young men of Eton College about how his alma mater continues to be the “birthplace of Britain’s leaders”, that “narrowness at the top is not necessarily a bad thing” and that the education Eton provides has furnished those leaders with a certain “clarity”. As he does so, his aides are rushing to give him news of the nationalisation of the Suez canal: it is a perfectly tuned piece of dramatic irony. Despite Eden’s supposed clarity, he proves unable to handle the crisis, a war that he concedes was waged in order to secure himself a place in history. When he offers his resignation to the queen, he still cannot bring himself to admit incompetence. Readers turning away from the news to “The Crown” will find less escape from the headlines than they might have wanted.

If this season of “The Crown” has benefitted from some fortuitous timing, that alone does not explain the programme’s status as one of the best dramas of recent years. Deft scripting, characterisation and nuanced performances—particularly from Ms Foy—make sure the insights into the private lives of the royal family never stray into sensationalism. Change, of course, continues to meet the monarchy on and off screen: Olivia Colman will take the title role for the next two seasons, along with a new cast. With Prince Charles’ courtship and marriage likely to feature during their tenure, expect more uneasy confrontations with modernity.