THE CROWN: Review of the finale of the Netflix series

Arguably, the most intriguing element of the final series was the point at which the plot reached its conclusion.

Tomasz Raczkowski

18 December 2023

One of the more interesting streaming projects in recent years, a fictionalized saga spanning three cast ensembles depicting the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, has finally come to an end. One might say – at last. The last two seasons heavily strained the trust earned by the creators through earlier series, and Season 6 looked like a forced extension of the story without much substance (the classic Netflix split into two premiere blocks didn’t help either). The end of The Crown was eagerly awaited in the sense of “finish it and let’s move on.” However, it is worth examining how Peter Morgan and company concluded their story.

Arguably, the most intriguing element of the final series was the point at which the plot reached its conclusion. Would the creators once again delve into the social issues of Britain – this time, those more vivid in memory? After the initial hysteria that questioned the completion of the series, would they use the coincidence to close the story with the highly publicized death of the queen? That would probably be too bold. The closer The Crown got to the present day, the less narrative flair was felt in the series, replaced by the intrigues of Buckingham Palace. Therefore, instead of reaching the present day and exploring, for example, Prince Harry’s departure from the court or Brexit, Peter Morgan chose to dwell on the safe, already less exciting wedding of then-Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (in 2005). The script left nearly two decades of Crown history untouched, sparing itself negotiations with the Palace press office and comfortably perpetuating outdated images of Charles, William, and Harry as a new, fresh generation of the royal family.

Is this a criticism? Not necessarily. As mentioned earlier, The Crown has clearly lost its edge, so, frankly, I don’t believe the creators could have interestingly depicted, for example, the 2012 Olympics, let alone the Meghan Markle controversy. My doubts were confirmed by the final episodes of the sixth series. For instance, an episode where the dramatic axis revolves around Elizabeth’s struggle with the popularity of the Labour Prime Minister Blair painfully illustrates the qualitative decline the series suffered – earlier storylines related to successive prime ministers were an intriguing political intrigue, shedding light on the backstage of English politics and offering interesting perspectives on characters, not only Elizabeth but also her surroundings. Now, it all boils down to the clash between the principled queen and a cynical, slippery politician, culminating in an ostentatious moral contrasting their charisma. There is a complete lack of the wit and finesse that The Crown once provided in the sad and hermetic setting of Buckingham Palace.

In the first part of the sixth season, the storyline of Princess Diana was concluded, depriving the series of its narrative engine that had driven it since Season 4. In its place, the focus shifts to Charles’s relationship with his sons, mainly William, in the context of Lady Di’s tragic death. Again, a comparison arises between this narrative line and the earlier one about Philip and Charles or Anne. Especially since the creators consciously – almost shamelessly – draw an analogy here, recalling previous plots and even reaching into the archives with the previous cast. It’s not surprising which series comes out on top in the comparison. Reaching into the past and attempting to resurrect memories of the conflict between Philip and Charles, using them as a framework for the later generation’s relationship, is part of a broader strategy that Morgan prepared for the grand finale of his project – evoking viewer nostalgia and sentiment for what was and is now departing. The exceptionally unsubtle concept is poorly executed in The Crown – an inundation of contemplative looks into the distance, solemn music, and dialogues reduced to “ah, remember…”. What Tony Soprano once defined as the lowest form of conversation.

At certain moments, the finale of The Crown feels almost grotesque – cruelly drawn-out shots, longer segments devoid of clear dialogues, replaced by nostalgic reflections… that’s my main memory from the viewing of the six premiere episodes. Each episode drags on mercilessly, despite theoretically having enough plot material. However, the creators treat the events superficially, preferring to focus on the blatant elicitation of emotions through tacky close-ups of the characters. Imelda Staunton, suddenly restored to the protagonist’s role, tries to give the series character with a final effort but doesn’t receive the script to do so. Reduced to a background role by the previous 1.5 seasons, she simply loses connection with the previous portrayals of Foy and Colman and becomes almost a cosplay of the late queen. Nonetheless, the actress deserves credit for at least trying, which cannot be said for Jonathan Pryce, who evidently only showed up on set for his paycheck, Dominic West, reconciled with the fact that he was tragically miscast, or the negligible supporting cast, blending into a uniform mass. It’s a bit disappointing for Ed McVey and Luther Ford, clearly lost in the directorial chaos, not receiving clear direction on how to portray Diana’s sons. The subplot of William and Kate Middleton’s meeting looks like a hastily written reprisal from Season 3 of the young Charles’ dilemma; the entire sixth series looks like a forced addendum to a much better story that concluded with the farewell of Olivia Colman and her on-screen companions in the lead roles.

This is probably the best summary of The Crown as a whole – a series defined as consisting of three different parts, with the first two merging interestingly, while from the third, there is a fundamental rupture. And it’s not about the change of cast, because the actors from seasons 5-6 generally manage, and when they don’t, at least they try. The problem is the qualitative decline of the script. Perhaps the proximity of events and stronger restrictions from the court played a role. Perhaps the fact that Morgan had to process previously exploited plots more often, making it harder to approach them creatively. Or maybe the creator, riding the wave of freshness breathed into the image of the royal family by his own series, became too enamored with the characters themselves and lost the psychological insight that allowed The Crown to succeed. Personally, I think everything contributed a bit to the failure of the final seasons. It’s a shame because, in a way, the poor ending drags down the entirety, and the early series were genuinely fascinating at times. Even if I didn’t always agree with the overt royalist sentiment and clear Tory sympathies of the creators, I can’t deny The Crown the ability to provide an interesting perspective on the recent history of Great Britain through the lens of an increasingly anachronistic court. One can lament that this spark was lost in perhaps the most intriguing sections and abandoned before things got really heated, but one can always say that the glass is 2/3 full.

Tomasz Raczkowski

Tomasz Raczkowski

Anthropologist, critic, enthusiast of social cinema, British humor and horror films.

See other posts from this author >>>