The fifth season of The Crown is streaming on Netflix, two months after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Imelda Staunton, who follows Claire Foy and Olivia Colman playing the long serving British monarch, presents a sterner, colder queen, mired in the past, unable and unwilling to entertain any suggestions that she, and the royal family in general, is out of step with her country and, indeed, the world. Decisions she made in the past – forbidding her sister, Princess Margaret from marrying the already married Peter Townsend – come back to haunt her. In 1992, she endures her “annus horribilis,” watching all three of her children in failed marriages while a massive fire seriously damages Windsor Castle.
Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, and Dominic West as Prince Charles
It’s impossible to watch the recreation of Princess Diana’s BBC interview, where she talks about her depression and how her calls for help to those around her were rejected by the royal family, and not think about Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey where the duchess’ more recent experience was similar, causing her and Prince Harry to leave Britain for California. In episode eight, Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) requests a meeting to give the queen a heads up on the BBC interview. The queen demands to know why Diana didn’t come to her for help before deciding on the interview. Diana says she asked numerous times for a meeting and was turned down. Elizabeth’s explanation, that she was so busy she hardly had ten minutes to spare, seems insincere and, yes, cruel. We might assume that Netflix has dramatized this interaction, if not for Markle’s account.
Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana
Elizabeth’s relationship with Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) becomes strained when he befriends Penny Knatchbull, Lady Romsey (Natascha McElhone), the mother of his godson, after her daughter dies of cancer. The elderly prince and the young woman share a love for carriage racing, something Elizabeth has no interest in pursing. Although Elizabeth knows the relationship is not sexual, she resents the time Philip is away pursuing his hobby and she’s dismissive and rude to Penny when she comes to visit.
Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles and Dominic West as Prince Charles
Surprisingly, Prince Charles – now King Charles III – comes off better than expected. While his “tampon” conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles is included, he manages to weather the following storm very well. Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) sticks up for her brother, pointing out all the good work he does with the underprivileged youth in Britain. A scene where he (Dominic West) dances with the young people hammers the point home. The scenes between Charles and Camilla (Olivia Williams) are actually sweet and touching. It’s easy to see that earlier relationship was the one that should have happened, rather than the arranged marriage with Diana.
Other episodes of The Crown drag, but they do fill in some of the history surrounding the monarchy. We learn more about Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) who will become Diana’s lover and die along with her in that Paris car crash. And as Princess Margaret, Lesley Manville (who seems to be everywhere these days – in BritBox’s Sherwood and PBS’ Magpie Murders) and Timothy Dalton as Peter Townsend, take the lead in episode four where they rekindle their relationship. Watching these two pros at work is fabulous.
The Crown is now streaming on Netflix.
Top photo: Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana
Photos courtesy of Netflix