On November 9, Netflix released the 10 hotly-awaited new episodes of The Crown. A fifth season that, at first, was going to encompass the entirety of the troubled 90s and with that, wind up the show.
But when the drama became the “jewel in the crown” of the streaming service, and bearing in mind that more intrigues took place in that decade than any before it, plus with a leading character as strong as Lady Di – a figure who shook up the entire system – it was decided to instead extend the series to a sixth and final season.
As a result, this season delivers a much richer, more detailed and delicately-embroidered story than has been the case previously. Each episode is like the public display of a historic gem that the British monarchy would prefer to have kept locked away, including the lowest point of Charles and Diana’s relationship, the books revealing intimate details of their private lives, and even her famous interview on the BBC.
Amid denials, backlash and claims from the British government and those close to the family that what is being depicted is not accurate (as has happened at the start of each season), viewers will nevertheless devour this new installment knowing that even if part of it is fiction, the reality has always trumped it, anyway.
A season that sets the scene for the fatal finale
The Crown heads the list of the Netflix series with the biggest budgets. It’s been suggested each lavish season on the British monarchy costs the streaming service about $130 million. It’s an exorbitant figure but one that ensures each episode is a majestic visual experience.
In this batch, viewers will join Charles and Diana on their “second honeymoon” aboard a yacht, be walked through the spectacular grounds of castles, enjoy horse-drawn carriage races, and gain entry to cathedrals, castles, palaces and secret chambers that in real life they would probably never be able to access.
And it’s all as if a chessboard in which the pieces are being set up for the final checkmate. That is the magic of this pivotal season and something the previous ones lacked. Until now, viewers had watched this drama out of a certain curiosity about the British monarchy, a desire to learn about an era of history, and due to their lack of familiarity with the tales being told.
In season five, however, viewers are watching for a different reason. It’s no longer due to unfamiliarity because it covers the time when the royal family was arguably more accessible than ever and recounts various events that were already public knowledge. And yet, these episodes hold intrigue for those wanting to understand every little detail and to reach their own conclusions about an ending they had never really comprehended.
Lady Di steals all the glory
Lady Di was the top-billing star of the royal family from the moment she married Prince Charles until the day she died. Similarly, this season she steals the limelight from Queen Elizabeth II, who until Diana entered the fold had been the focus of the show.
This is only natural given Lady Di’s magnetism. Both in real life and in fiction. Of all the members of the British monarchy in recent times, she has been the most different by far. The feeling of being an ‘outcast’ and – as she herself saw it – of being held to ransom and sidelined by the royals, created a craving in her for connection. And it was only with “the people” that she found it.
Those “people” who had felt far removed from the monarchy, found in Diana the first royal keen to talk to them. To share. To open the gates of the palace and let them enter any part of it and even into her interior. And she became their greatest confidant, the royal in whom they could trust.
That’s why she’s such a powerful character in The Crown. Because while the rest of the family shares just the superficial layer of their lives, in each appearance Lady Di can be relied on to confide more of her secrets, of intimacies and dramas that the others would have liked kept under cover. That’s why she steals the thunder from Queen Elizabeth, someone who for five seasons now has simply been too hard to warm to. And the contrast with Diana only confirms it.
The highest compliment for the new cast
One of the biggest thrills of each new season of The Crown is finding out which actors will embody the characters this time and observing the skill with which they do so.
And season five is one of the best (if not the best). Imelda Staunton manages to make her Queen Elizabeth feel as cold and detached from reality as we remember her during those horrible 90s which she presided over.
Elizabeth Debecki takes the cake for the way she presents Princess Diana as somewhat naive on the outside and about to self-implode on the inside. It’s like once again seeing that fragile young woman as she makes the decisions that will mark a watershed for the world’s monarchies.
At the same time, Dominic West tones down his appeal and makes it hard to empathize with a distant Prince Charles, while Jonathan Pryce brings out the Duke of Edinburgh’s jovial side.
It may not be the season in which the cast bear the closest resemblances to their real life counterparts, but you soon forget their appearances as you get caught up in their storylines. And there’s no better compliment for an actor than that.