With another season of Netflix’s The Crown released recently, more forgotten royal baggagecomes to the forefront, but is this justified? Well Netflix doesn’t seem to mind, exposing the royals’ most popular 90s scandals (such as tampon chat-up lines, and Princess Diana’s BBC interview), while reminding us of earlier controversies, like the abdication and awful political affiliations of King Edward VIII. However, to what extent is this altered for our viewing purposes: do events based loosely upon tabloid rumours and second-hand sources make for great tv, or is the real John Major correct in labelling the new series ‘a barrel-load of nonsense’?
The Crown season five follows the royal family from first-world problems to almost career- ending difficulties. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are played by Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce respectively, whom both perfectly portray the mannerism, speech, and intentions of their real-life inspirations. Hindering her throughout, Netflix’s the Queen does
have one major flaw: her failure to modernise. The unelected leader unconstitutionally lobbies for yacht repairs, and repeatedly rejects fresh, progressive ideas. We’ve seen her stubbornness through earlier seasons, like the refusal for Margaret to marry Peter Townsend, so perhaps her unwillingness to accept new, modern ideas doesn’t come as a surprise when the queen is initially against dissolving the marriage between Charles and Diana. Elizabeth
states herself simply too busy to deal with Diana, but is this the truth: that she’s doesn’t hate Diana, she merely cannot schedule her a visit in between her busy lifestyle of lobbying, and learning how to use a new tv? Doing her job for her, Philip meets Diana before she does, but only in an attempt to keep her meek, and forcibly loyal to the institution she no longer wishes to remain a part of.
But is this just another Princess Diana story, or is royal activity during the 90s larger than just one woman? The story of the people’s princess is continued, with star Elizabeth Debicki able to take on the mantle of Princess Diana, whilst Dominic West fails to resume where Emmy Award winner Josh O’Connor (for Outstanding Lead Actor from his role in The Crown season 5) left off. This story appears to be the major constant, with the married duo both seeking divorce through their own methods. While no scene from this season can compare to the season four finale’s explosive confrontation between the Prince and Princess of Wales (‘Why should I care about her?’ ‘Because I care about her!’), their shared scenes are some of the greater moments of the series. From a season premiere ‘second honeymoon’ fight to their
very short display of respect towards each other making an omelette, before they remind each other and the viewers that this royal marriage is not one to stay.
Filmed and produced through the pandemic, as well the death of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, The Crown is created at a difficult wave of change, with minimal time for potential reshoots and script changes – possibly this is why the newest season feels timid, showing more praise for the royal family than previous seasons. But aside from its unusual shyness in
depicting the possibly fictional cruelness of the royals, perhaps the major issue within this season isn’t the relevance of the royal family, but the relevance of the show. There is a handful of feel-good moments, such as the long awaited reunion of Princess Margaret with her beloved Peter Townsend, but the show that used to feature a larger ensemble of major
figures it once utilised, such as Churchill and Thatcher, are lost in the history books. This leaves the show now feeling dependent upon the failure of the world’s most famous marriage.
The show fails to provide the same level of interest one experienced in previous seasons, leading to audiences of all ages yawning at what feels like their hundredth time watching the princess’s story. This is, of course, ‘Based on a true story’, and highly dramatized for tv. The Crown season five begins similarly to its previous seasons, showing the royal family’s unwillingness to change, and the consequences this brings upon them. If you can relax with a cuppa on the
couch, the excellent acting and redundant stories can be fun in exploring the background and development of many royals, but the largely great cast is forced to adapt with a noticeably unfocused (or perhaps too careful) script writer pulling their punches upon the aftermath of massive royal change.
Andrew Taylor [he/him]
[Image credit: Netflix]