TV Critic Ilina Jha reviews the fifth series of Netflix’s hit royal drama, praising the performances of the cast in a plot-weak season
The fifth season of Netflix’s smash-hit show The Crown was released on the 9th November 2022. Set in the 1990s, this series follows what was certainly a tumultuous decade for the Royal Family: the breakdown of the marriages of Charles (Dominic West), Anne (Claudia Harrison) and Andrew (James Murray); the fire at Windsor Castle; the involvement of Mohamed and Dodi Al-Fayed (Salim Daw and Khalid Abdalla) with the Duke of Windsor’s (Alex Jennings) Paris property, and Mohamed meeting Diana (Elizabeth Debicki); Diana’s famous book, Charles’s famous interview, and, of course, Diana’s even more famous interview.
The casting and performances are, as ever on The Crown, fantastic. Debicki absolutely nailed Diana’s voice and mannerisms, while Jonny Lee Miller gave an assured performance as Prime Minister John Major; indeed, I think the show would have benefited from more of his presence. As usual with The Crown, no expense has been spared in the production – the locations, scenery, costumes, and music are all big, bold, and exciting. They work well to heighten the drama of the show.
The main problem with this series is the plot and the stories it chooses to tell. There is much attention paid to the development of the book Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton; however, there is no real attention paid to the fallout from its publication. Instead, we get an entire episode dedicated to Mohamed and Dodi Al-Fayed. Yes, they undoubtedly have importance given their later involvement with Diana; but a whole episode dedicated to Mohamed’s attempts to break into the upper echelons of British society, plus his son’s filmmaking ambitions, seems unnecessary. Another episode introduces martial tension between Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) and Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce), but then far too quickly resolves it. Such drama should have been properly developed if it was going to be introduced at all.
Characterisation is mostly good – for example, Charles is portrayed in a much more balanced way. Instead of the monster he seemed to become towards the end of the previous season, Charles this time around is a complicated, flawed man stuck in a difficult situation, which makes for a more interesting exploration of his relationships with Diana and Camilla (Olivia Williams). The character of Queen Elizabeth II, however, is far less appealing than in previous series. One of the main themes throughout this season is the question of whether the Queen is outdated and out-of-touch. Unfortunately, this really is how the Queen appears to be throughout the season. While duty over personal issues is an important part of the Queen’s role, she sticks so stubbornly to tradition, rules and Christian law that she seems to lack the emotional and empathetic side of her younger versions in the show, and thus it is much harder for us to empathise with her. This is not to say the character is meant to be perfect – far from it. But I felt frequently frustrated with the Queen throughout this season, rather than rooting for her as I had in previous seasons.
The historical accuracy of The Crown has long been debated. As usual, viewers need to take care to remember that the show is a fictional dramatisation and imagining of what might have happened behind closed doors. In terms of ethical responsibility, I personally feel the episodes dedicated to Diana’s Panorama interview could have done with disclaimers and explanations by Netflix. We can see Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) fakes the receipts used to secure the interview; however, Puwanarajah plays Bashir’s faked sincerity and sympathy so well that it can be easy to forget the duplicitous measures he took. The Crown sometimes includes information about the real events that took place at the end of an episode; there was nothing at the end of the Panorama episodes. It would have been useful to explain to viewers that a recent investigation revealed the false measures Bashir used to obtain the interview. While many UK viewers will probably be aware of this, some international viewers may not.
Although still a good drama with excellent performances, this season of The Crown feels somewhat disappointing compared with previous seasons.
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