THE CROWN. Is season five REALLY that bad?
The fifth season of The Crown is being released on Netflix at a significant time, as it comes just two months after the death of its main protagonist, Queen Elizabeth II. It is also the first season to air after the death of the monarch’s spouse, Prince Philip, on April 9, 2021. We will be able to see their on-screen incarnations for some time to come. The creators of The Crown have already announced season six.
In the fifth season of the series, we enter the 1990s. For the Queen (this season played by Imelda Staunton, known for her role as Vera Drake in the abortion drama of the same name or Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series, takes over the reins from Olivia Colman) they are anni horribiles, the “terrible years” in which she has to face the breakup of her family. The marriage of Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Charles (Dominic West) is now just a facade, and in practice the spouses lead separate lives and are on the straight path to separation and divorce. Prince Andrew (James Murray) and Sarah Ferguson (Emma Laird Craig), Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison) and Mark Phillips are separating. The romances of the royal family and spicy details of their lives – topless photos or phone calls full of erotic suggestions – come to light. Diana is interviewed for Andrew Morton’s famous book and later for the BBC, revealing what her life was like in the world’s most dysfunctional family. Putting honor and a sense of duty on a pedestal, the queen does not have it easy. Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) and Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) also hold a grudge against her.
Although there have been accusations that The Crown in its fifth season has become a soap opera, there’s an impression that this is a direct result of the condition of the British monarchy at the time. Let’s be honest – since Elizabeth II took the throne, the monarchy gradually lost its importance, becoming a kind of a cultural curiosity attracting millions of tourists every year. It was the high-profile marriage scandals of the 1990s that largely contributed to this, with the public far less interested in the Queen’s diplomatic encounters and far more in the romantic adventures of her children. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s these love and matrimonial themes of the monarchy that come to the fore in the fifth season of The Crown, with Diana and Charles’ emotional lives being dissected in detail. It seems that a little for this reason, too, the series has to slow down the pace of the narrative, as a result of which it seems a little long-winded or chaotic.
Not spicy enough
The Crown, then, has its weaker moments. Over and over again, like a mantra, there are recurring slogans about how “the monarchy is the system,” that a sense of duty is more important than true happiness and being oneself. All this has resounded strongly enough in previous seasons. The apparent perfection of the characters is also a bit irritating. In the series created by Peter Morgan (screenwriter of such films as The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Other Boleyn Girl) everyone is a little bit good and a little bit bad, no one can be faulted and everyone can be excused. I understand this choice, of course; a sharper outline of the conflicts or a more forceful portrayal of the flaws of the mostly still-living characters would probably have hiccuped the creators. However, one could have given The Crown a little more spice.
As we’re already on characters, it’s impossible not to mention the series’ greatest strength – the cast of actors. This has been its most electrifying aspect since the beginning of The Crown. Elizabeth Debicki is absolutely sensational in the role of Diana, thus becoming the best performer of the role of the late duchess. Charming, playing with a soft voice, and recreating Diana’s mannerisms and her haughty looks, she brings Lady Di to life on screen. Also great is Olivia Williams playing Camilla, Charles’ sweetheart, or Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret. A surprising casting curiosity is actress Haydn Gwynne, who played Princess Camilla, Charles’ wife, in the mockumentary series The Windsors (which is also available on Netflix), which parodies the royal family. In the fifth season of The Crown, she plays one of Elizabeth II’s courtesans, Lady Susan Hussey.
It’s Debicki’s partner Dominic West, in the role of Prince Charles, who seems a completely wrong casting choice. He’s too confident, too charismatic, too… let’s be honest – too handsome to play Prince Charles. It’s a definite change for the worse from the third and fourth seasons, where the younger Charles was played by Josh O’Connor, perfectly mimicking the mannerisms and behaviors of today’s king, bringing out his shy vulnerability. Dominic West doesn’t even try to imitate Charles, which is why his creation is so hard to believe. Despite these minor shortcomings, the new The Crown still maintains the level of previous seasons. It’s an engaging, series, perfect for a long November weekend.