The Crown season five review – it’s time for this
bitty, boring show to end forever
Too close to caricature … Elizabeth Debicki as
Princess Diana in The Crown.
Its cast is cartoonish, the plot is packed with dull
speeches and multiple episodes could have been binned entirely. The royal drama
has never been less relevant
Sat 5 Nov
2022 07.01 GMT
ago, when Netflix debuted a plush, true-ish drama about the British royal
family, it was a period saga set in the half-forgotten past, and a production
with a direct link to modern times: incredibly, the woman we saw becoming Queen
in 1952 was still on the throne. Season five of The Crown now arrives as the
first to be shown since its protagonist’s death – and the show itself feels as
if its time has come and gone.
continuing documentation of the late Elizabeth II’s reign – we have reached the
years 1992 to 1997 – is not the issue, since the end of her era in real life
ought to increase the need for a complete dramatisation. Nor should the show’s
increasing proximity to the present day present a problem for its writer, Peter
Morgan, whose reputation pre-Crown was for finding new angles on statespeople’s
recent exploits, the royals included. Yet these new episodes are bitty and
often just boring, with Morgan casting around for side plots to hide the fact
that everything he has to say about the Windsors has already been said.
too, the task has awkwardly evolved. An odd-numbered Crown season means a cast
change, and the new one is landed with embodying the royals as anyone under 50
instinctively pictures them: the Queen (Imelda Staunton) old rather than
middle-aged; Charles (Dominic West) toddling disaffectedly around with his left
hand lodged in his jacket pocket; Philip (Jonathan Pryce) the vigorous
pensioner flapping naysayers away with outsized hands and ears. The temptation
to offer more of a party-piece impersonation than a believable character proves
hard to resist.
best, The Crown is about flawed people coping imperfectly with cursed
privilege, visiting unhappy personal lives upon themselves in the process. But
there are only so many times we can see the Queen, whoever she’s played by,
tell a family member they can’t marry this man or must remain married to that
woman. Charles, Anne and Andrew get the lecture here, as does Margaret (Lesley
Manville) when she revisits her feelings of frustration at not being allowed to
stay with her true love, Peter Townsend.
retreading of old ground feels forced, and this is not the only point at which
a 10-part season is plugged with filler. An episode centred on Boris Yeltsin
and the disinterring of the Romanovs, and particularly a standalone instalment
about cartoonish aristocratic wannabe Mohamed al-Fayed, could have been binned
without disrupting the main narrative too much.
of Morgan’s deviations from the palace action is his depiction of ordinary
couples going through the same divorce court as Charles and Diana, their
failing relationships imagined via short, sad sketches – the point being that
all sorts of marriages end due to differences that in retrospect make the
unions look doomed. However, this only underlines the difficulty season five
has in finding fresh human drama. Near the end, with the decree nisi signed,
Charles and Di’s final barney is the same as all the others: she says he was
inattentive because he loved Camilla Parker-Bowles from the start; he says she
was naive about royal priorities and turned vengeful when her unrealistic
demands were not met. The ordinary people’s anguish is more interesting.
important stuff happens when C and D are apart. The real John Major –
sympathetically portrayed here as a methodical, wise diplomat by Jonny Lee
Miller – has already come out to decry the moment where Charles unsubtly
suggests to the new prime minister that the royal family might also benefit
from a different leader. It’s a just-acceptable fiction, putting into words
something Charles was probably thinking while helping to set up the impassive
Major as a cautious traditionalist who was always going to side with Elizabeth.
But the scene points up that, rather than there being a rolling subtext of how
change threatens the Windsors’ position, now the future of the monarchy is the
main topic of discussion. Dramatically this is a dead end, leading to an awful
lot of dry speeches where characters spell out what would be more effective as
underlying themes. More than once the script resorts to an ageing, increasingly
unviable edifice such as HMY Britannia, the decommissioning of which is the
season’s framing device, being referred to directly in dialogue as “a
The big Di
news, meanwhile, is her consenting to a television interview – Elizabeth
Debicki, another performer leaning towards caricature, nails that coquettish
Panorama head tilt. The fable of the dishonest Martin Bashir’s ignoble
journalistic ambition meeting an unstable Diana’s desire to be heard, with that
explosive mixture being ignited by personality clashes clouding judgments at
the top of the BBC, is vintage Crown, recasting major public events as the
result of relatable private foibles.
though, is a knack The Crown has largely lost. Without it, the show’s relevance
is on Netflix on 9 November.
‘The Crown’ Review: Tempus Horribilis
The fifth season of the Netflix hit, with a new cast
including Imelda Staunton as the queen, depicts the royal family at its lowest
Crown” fatigue set in for you yet? Peter Morgan’s popular vivisection of the
British royal family, back for its fifth season on Netflix after a two-year
wait, has consumed more than its share of pixels, including three feature
articles in this newspaper. So we’ll try to keep it short.
new and final Queen Elizabeth II is Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake,” “Another
Year”), and she is splendid. Playing the monarch in her late 60s, coping with
the 1990s meltdown of the family’s public image, Staunton seems even more right
for the role than her Emmy-winning predecessors, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman.
(The season was filmed before Elizabeth’s death in September at the age of 96.)
It may help
that she is playing an Elizabeth we’re more familiar with, facing tribulations
many of us witnessed. Still, she combines warmth and unforced regality in a way
that makes her the most human of the show’s queens. Her Elizabeth is dry-eyed
and on guard, but the toll of the office is always apparent. Staunton is
stunning in a moment near midseason when, after confronting a woman whose
friendship with Prince Philip is a bit too close, Elizabeth almost lets a tear
doesn’t get nearly as many vital moments as you would like, however. That’s
partly because the season is focused on Charles and Diana, now played by
Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki. But it’s also down to how Morgan, who
scripted the entire season, writes episodes as self-contained morality tales,
emphasizing the construction of complicated metaphors over the mundane business
of building characters.
fades away at times, to the show’s detriment. She doesn’t have much to do in an
episode about outsiders that ties together Mohamed al-Fayed (a highly amusing
Salim Daw); the Bahamian valet Sydney Johnson (Jude Akuwudike), who worked for
both Fayed and the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings, returning in a cameo); and
Diana, who was later romantically involved with Fayed’s son Dodi (Khalid
predilection for allusion and allegory is stronger than ever in Season 5.
Diana’s revenge interview with the shady journalist Martin Bashir (Prasanna
Puwanarajah) is linked, in elaborate fashion, with the Guy Fawkes plot, both of
them attempts to set off bombs beneath the royal family. An episode is
structured so that Elizabeth’s dealings with the Russian president Boris
Yeltsin echo the cold war between her and Philip (Jonathan Pryce).
acknowledges this tendency — when satellite TV is finally installed at one of
her castles, Elizabeth tells her grandson William (Senan West, Dominic West’s
son, who’s quietly excellent), “Even the televisions are metaphors in this
place.” If the somewhat static rewards of this literary approach are your cup
of tea, along with the requisite obsessive attention to details of period
production design, all may be fine.
when you take it on those terms, Season 5 doesn’t have the life, the hard snap,
of “The Crown” at its best. And that’s where Charles and Diana come in.
Debicki are, in different ways, both fine in the roles. West isn’t like the
Charles we know — he’s more charismatic, more obviously commanding — but he’s a
strong, absorbing screen presence, as usual, and you understand why the show
needed that. Debicki, on the other hand, gives an eerily accurate rendering of
Diana’s physical and emotional affect and plays her in a recessive, watchful
manner that holds your interest.
is that Morgan hasn’t figured these characters out, and his writing for them
isn’t as good or as moving as it has been for Elizabeth and Philip, or for
Margaret (now Lesley Manville) and her assorted lovers. (This is obviously a
contrarian view given the acclaim and awards showered on the Charles and Diana
story line in Season 4.)
the high points of the sad story — the scandals, the dueling interviews — with
dramatic intelligence and a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip humor. But the
two characters at the center remain opaque; Morgan resorts to the same shallow,
sentimental notions of love gone sour and family inflexibility that were the
stuff of public mythmaking.
The idea of
practical calculation is floated but rejected with regard to both Diana and her
rival, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), presumably because the Princess
Di story has to be a love story. But even as Morgan is telling us that’s what
it is, it doesn’t feel like that’s what it is. The type of story that would
really make sense of Charles and Diana would very likely have to be a wilder,
harsher, more corrosive story than “The Crown” can afford to be.
telling would probably trigger the supposed guardians of historical accuracy to
an even greater extent than Morgan’s fictionalizations already do. History is,
in general, the enemy of good storytelling, and Morgan can’t be blamed for
putting words in people’s mouths; his characters are his, not ours, and many of
the show’s best moments are those characters’ stirring, wholly invented lectures
on one another’s bad behavior. (He and Netflix have ignored calls to add a
disclaimer regarding dramatization.)
actually interesting, from a historical standpoint, is how the show seems more
fantastical even as it moves firmly into living memory. Given what we have
lived through since the show’s premiere in 2016, the idea that these
characters’ relatively prosaic misbehavior and benign recriminations could
bring down the monarchy feels like a story from a distant and very different