Another series of The Crown has landed this November and with season 5 comes a whole new cast and new storylines. It always amazes me how much of a hold such a show has over its audience and this season certainly did not come without drama. Of course, HRH Queen Elizabeth II died just in September and it created mass outrage that Netflix would think it would be a good idea to release the next season of the hit show, in the wake of her death, This and the sought after depiction of Princess Diana, has catapulted The Crown back into the spotlight, but the question is – has it done these two very monumental women justice?
Series five of The Crown focusses on Diana’s exit from her marriage with Charles, his affair with Camilla, the Queen’s struggle at pleasing her kids and sister. the ask for a modern, more progressive royal family and it includes the involvement of the Al-Fayed family. This seasons sets up a lot of content for the next season, sometimes overwhelmingly so but even then, The Crown does not lack stunning shots, expertly dressed characters and fantastic scenery whereby the overwhelming amount of content is given the same amount of detail and care as any other season.
This season sees Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, Jonathon Pryce as the Duke of Edinburgh, Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Dominic West as Prince Charles and Johnny Lee Miller as Prime Minster, John Major MP, to name a few (a more comprehensive list can be found here).
By far the standout performance for me was Elizabeth’s depiction of Diana. It’s something The Crown’s casting team have repeatedly gotten right. She portrays this shy and paranoid woman extremely well and takes the characteristics and physical depictions of Diana from previous portrayals into this performance. Standing at a mere 6ft 3, I was surprised to find out how tall the actress was; I knew from watching the series that she was most likely taller than Diana but did not notice that she towered over the majority of the cast. As a fellow tall woman, I was pleased to notice that the attention wasn’t drawn to this and its a testament to her acting skills and the crews set up that it did not detract from the astounding alikeness Elizabeth managed to convey. If Elizabeth is not up for several awards in the upcoming awards season, I’ll be severely disappointed.
Imelda Staunton’s performance as the Queen was another one I met with admiration. A lot of people seem to be disappointed with her portrayal however I genuinely don’t know anyone else who would have portrayed her quite so similarly. I think with this season of The Crown it’s easy to set Imelda’s depiction of the Queens apart from Clare Foy’s for example, purely because this season is not just about the Queen. Unlike other seasons where the Queen has quite literally and physically been at the centre of the TV show, which gives the actress a chance to explore all the angles of the Queen, this particular season takes a different approach. Yes everything leads pack to her, but Diana’s presence was an effervescent one which competed with the Queen, quite similar to her depiction in the news at the time. Its rare that two lead female actresses don’t get pinned against each other (annoyingly) so in that respect I am not surprised people have a bone to pick with Imelda. However, I whole heartedly applaud what she achieved and think her steadfast attitude mimicked that of the Queen impeccably.
It goes without saying, that the costume department in particular needs to be applauded for their fantastic work. When you’re playing people who, for the most part, are still with us and/or have such a vivid place in the audiences mind, clothes are one of the easiest ways to form an attachment with a person. In fact, it’s probably one of the most recognisable items connected to members of the royal household. Diana’s revenge dress, her red puffer jacket and cycling shorts attire were all featured in the series and helped the actors embody the people they set out to portray. Without them, their appearances would be diluted and the believability of one of the most documented families in history would be, at the very least, underwhelming.
Similarly, the use of hair and makeup, particularly with the two leading ladies helped transform them into two of the most talked about figures in history. Diana’s iconic haircut which acted as a shield from the limelight was copied and helped embody the natural characteristics of such a woman and Staunton of course was transformed into the well known face of Queen Elizabeth, with her petite frame and iconic hairstyle. I am continually amazed every time the show comes out, just how much they are able to transform these actors and envisage them as totally different people.
Of course, with getting the looks spot on, there comes the danger of people viewing the show as accurate. But The Crown has never said it was, it depicts largely what we know and envisages what could happen behind closed doors. What The Crown isn’t is a documentary series and I think largely in most peoples criticism, they forget this.
Now we have addressed the important characterisation of the Royals, I want to hone in on one of my favourite episodes, episode 3, to jump on the bandwagon of what has been a very well received portrayal of the Al-Fayed family and the infamous butler Sydney Johnson. It amazed me how far Mohammed Al-Fayed went to, to get close to the Royals and to emulate what was seen as a very classic British lifestyle. From buying Harrods to get closer to the Queen at a polo match to taking on Sydney who was the attendant for Edward VIII so he could live like a monarch. It fascinated me that such a story even existed and how such a man who had lived a life full of prejudice, could feel such a way to Sydney to begin with. Episode 3 juxtaposed the storyline quite considerably, and you can tell its placement will hold a tremendous amount of significance for the upcoming season, but as you make your way through season 5, you’ll come to understand that its difference is important.
The season also depicts the press and its role in the attack of the monarchy and Princess Diana. Particularly, the famous Paramount interview where Martin Bashir faked bank statements to get Diana to take part in a ‘tell-all’ expose. I think The Crown positioned the press appropriately – it’s the one force that the Royal Family have very limited control over and in that sense, it seems to rule them, rather than the other way around. It moulds poplar opinion and as long as it is on the side of the monarchy, the monarchy will remain. However, a slight change in opinion and all hell could break loose. Whether that is through Diana’s interviews or the article on the Queen’s rule and her relevancy, the papers are one of the only outside threats to the crown that could do irreversible damage. In respect of this, I am glad that this was given much more prominence this season as the undue stress and anxiety faced by many of the family, was firmly brought to the forefront.
Compared to previous seasons, season 5 has been met with several negative reviews and questions over its relevance. However, it was always going to be set in place that Diana’s story was going to be told and the evolution of the royal family was going to be portrayed. Yes that may include rather stagnant conversations on divorce and HMY Britannia but to state that it lacks entertainment would be, in my opinion, incorrect. Like most series, I can envisage that this was more of a set up for the next season, which yes, can be annoying but it would be wrong to jump to the finale without setting the groundwork first.
To answer my initial question, I believe that both Diana and Elizabeth were not favoured more equally or portrayed in a better or worse light – they both showed faults, which largely they recognised, and in doing so it highlighted the human qualities of being in power. Its tremendously important given current events, that one does not come out of the show better than the other, and I think in that sense they did that correctly.
Did season 5 capture my attention as much as previous seasons? No, I can’t say it did but I would not slap on the words ‘bad’, ‘underwhelming’ or ‘irrelevant’ in my perception of it. It was just ever-so-slightly different but as is the cast, the narrative and the world we live in since the last seasons release.
What did you think? D you think The Crown will stand the test of time? Let me know below!
You can watch every episode of The Crown on Netflix.