The latest and fifth instalment of The Crown web series holds its prominence in the highest tier, not only because it’s the first to come after the demise of Queen Elizabeth II, whose reign the show chronicles, but also for re-establishing the infamous and bitter separation of (then) Prince Charles and late Princess of Wales Diana. Halfway through the series, we get to see the monarch standing amid the debris of the Windsor Castle that was caught on fire.
This metaphorically also stands for the Royal household in shambles as the public begin to develop a distaste for the Crown for spending the country’s finance, giving them a scandal-ridden royal family, which grows a distance between the subjects and the monarch.
The fifth season is where Imelda Staunton takes over as Queen Elizabeth and chronicles the time span between 1991-97. With her composed demeanour, polished English, and royal suits, one cannot help but get reminded of the actor’s other famous character, Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter. But nevertheless, as Imelda tries to uphold her performance as Lilibet, it is on Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana, that the show places all its bets on. It is that period in Diana’s marital life when all hell breaks loose.
Charles’ growing and steady affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles is plaguing the former’s marriage with Diana, and her only peace is with her boys, William and Harry. While we see Prince Philip finding a platonic and friendly companion in Penny Knatchbull, Diana, unfortunately, finds none. By this time, the elderly royals are way past their 7-year itch, and they have found an amicable settlement to find solace in the company they deem to be happy.
There is also a scene with Diana and Prince Philip where the latter confronts her to establish this. As a visibly upset Diana utters, “I don’t think there is anything to say,” Philip replies that it is the “wisest thing to say”. Jonathan Pryce as Philip is both warm and chilling in this scene. Is he an ally or a chilling elderly royal in-law, who himself is stuck in the same loop of marrying a crown-entitled royal?
The Crown establishes multiple scenes where Diana feels stuck in her marriage, which lead to the rocky separation with Charles, much to the chagrin of the Queen. In one episode Charles and Diana are on their second honeymoon. As the Prince discusses royal matters, we see Diana, who is clearly lost and distant from the royal world. Much later in the show, we also get to witness her infamous interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, where she goes on to say how “crowded” her marriage has become.
Elizabeth as Diana pulls off a child-like persona with wandering eyes, and a calm demeanour. We also get to see her short-lived romance with Dr Hasnat Khan. But parallelly, The Crown also focusses on the life of Diana’s last boyfriend Dodi Fayed, and his father Mohamed Al-Fayed. While we aren’t yet at the point where Diana and Dodi meet, and their unfortunate car crash demise, it does talk about the early days of the Egyptians as they vie business potentials in England.
Besides throwing the major spotlight on Diana and her post-separation phase, this season is one to look out for certain unexpected moments. There is a reunion of sorts for Princess Margaret and her former love Peter Townsend, who had to be separated since the latter was a divorcee. There is also a beautiful and understanding friendship to look out for between the Queen and former Prime Minister John Major, played by Jonny Lee Miller. They seem to empathise with each other’s problems during the time of crisis, as the royal family seems to be having a decline in public imagery. A post-separation scene between Diana and Charles, as they hang out in the former’s residence is heart-warming, inevitably raising the question if they were better off as just acquaintances.
This season gives plenty of moments to understand the emotions of Diana, her paranoia, trauma of separation and breakdown revelations during Martin’s interview. From her going all out to express herself, wearing revenge dresses, embracing public life, voting against monarchy on a TV show, fearing being tapped and spied on, this season is for Diana and the life she led post her separation. However, with all these moments, The Crown makes you want to watch those hour-long ten episodes at 1.5x speed. There are parts that are slow and dragging making The Crown a tedious watch. The performances are powerful, but the lacking presence of a singular narrative to string these moments and performances together, makes the fifth season expository and unfortunately, monotonous.
Series: The Crown Season 5
Creator: Peter Morgan
Cast: Imelda Staunton, Elizabeth Debicki, Jonathan Pryce, Dominic West, Jonny Lee Miller and others
Streaming on: Netflix