‘The Crown’ (Season 5)

The engagement and turbulent early years of marriage with its breakdown of Prince Charles and Diana were covered extensively in season four of The Crown. And whilst the eventual outcome is known by every viewer, that particular narrative at the end of the season was seemingly and royally shut down by the indubitable Queen (Olivia Colman) who refused to entertain the idea of divorce for the future king.

The latest and penultimate season, along with ushering in a complete cast change, places the divorce and Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) revenge against the Royal family centre stage as we move into the 1990s and the period immediately prior to her tragic death. It’s a period of high drama for the Queen who not only has to deal with her eldest son and his troublesome wife, but is soon to experience her annus horribilis where the marriages of three of her four children breakdown topped by the destructive fire at Windsor Castle.

But, as Imelda Staunton takes on HRH, there’s a shift in the overall positioning of the series. It’s ‘the system’ that is immutable, not the Windsors themselves. The demands of service determine futures and outcomes. The Crown has shifted its support base. To emphasise this stance, Diana, throughout season five, is portrayed as petulant whilst there is noticeably more covert sympathy for Charles (Dominic West) as his patience with his (soon-to-be-ex) wife as well as his out-of-touch mother comes to the fore.

Yet, The Crown’s most scandal-rich season is sadly somewhat dissatisfying as the episodes bounce between the central royals and key individuals who make up the 1990s narratives. It becomes a quagmire of storytelling as introductions are made, histories revisited. There’s a stoical sense of fair play in season five with more of the royals getting to be heard yet the result is a season teetering on melodramatic soap. The Cairo backstory of Mohamed Al Fayed (an immensely likeable Salim Daw) to his present day ownership of Harrods is important for futures but Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) revisiting her love with Peter Townsend is not. The fate of Tzar Nicholas and the Russian royal family aligned with present day political manoueverings with Russian President, Boris Yeltsin (Anatoliy Kotenyov) is dramatically somewhat dull whilst the portrayal of the friendship through carriage-riding between Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce) and Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone) is unnecessary, verging on gossip. Such episodic stories deflect – the biggest scandal of all, that of the infamous Princess Diana live interview on the BBC with the now disgraced Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah), could have easily dominated season five. That, along with the allegorical retirement of the now passed-its-sell-by-date Royal Yacht Britannia could, and likely would, have created an engrossing season five.

Instead, with its flitting between stories and characters, the depth of character from Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in earlier seasons is missing as Stanton is not given enough rein. It’s the superficial storytelling with its lack of depth that undermine this all too familiar tale.

Rating: 60%


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