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The Crown, season six part one

This week we asked our writers to review the opening episodes of The Crown's final season. Over its previous five, Peter Morgan's historical drama - and evolving cast - have explored everything about the royal family and the late Elizabeth II's reign: from her personal life to leading the Commonwealth, to dealing with nation-felt tragedy.


With each episode, the present day edges closer, as Diana Spencer's story now takes centre stage. With the monarchy, and her sons, still in the spotlight and public speculation - one a future King - this Netflix show's coverage of the late princess has currency.


Is it sensitively conveyed, though? Has this presentation of events anything to say? Our rrramble staff had thoughts:



Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana Credit: Netflix

Tara


Diana is dead, or at least she will be, and I am still watching, expectant.


Three episodes of this collection cover the car crash, culminating in an emotionally hollow finale that deals with the last few weeks of the princess’ life. Yet, The Crown runs itself ragged trying to flag her death. We see Diana slip from yacht to yacht, bathing suit to bathing suit, moment to moment, and every car, every mention of Paris, and every sad apprehensive look feels like a paper cut. It all feels overwrought.


Dominic West's Prince Charles has the non-enviable job of damage control, both in the show and out. It is challenging to separate today's royal climate from The Crown, and Cooper’s charming yet altogether portrayal of our now-King leans a little too far into the fantastical, at least for me. As for the Queen, there’s not much to say as she is barely a presence, more a ghost than Diana herself.


The show isn’t without its bright spots, however. Spotlighting the paparazzi's increasing power pulls an often dry narrative into the modern era - this a precursor to our digital age. Elizabeth Debicki is, as always, excellent as Diana; her sad eyes, flirtatious glances and genuine joy in good times and company make her the most convincing element of these first four episodes. Plus, while I found Charles's storyline lacklustre, episode two creates an interesting parallel between him and Diana, one that explores how the monarchy seeks to manipulate public favour with the very tools they seemingly so abhor.


Still, The Crown runs headfirst into the problem that has plagued it for so long: living memory. It is all very well to furnish and repackage a relatively distant history. It is another to take events still clear in the minds of many and add that soap opera varnish that so many find distasteful.


When Diana finally dies, it is almost a relief, a return to reality, that we think we know what happens next, until we don’t - Diana is trotted out again as a ghost to comfort the Queen and Charles. It’s a choice that could be deemed in poor taste, no doubt offensive for some.


Personally, I’m not offended, nor by the inaccuracies or poor taste of using Diana as a mouthpiece to console those who apparently made her so unhappy. What bothered me is The Crown committing the gravest sin of all: it’s boring. A boring choice and a boring conclusion to characters who never spared the chance to monologue about how Diana, like a wrecking ball, smashed into their lives. She sits and consoles and then is gone. That’s it. A much more interesting approach would have been to have no closure or conversation, no neat little Princess Di bow to absolve and sweep away the last three seasons' strife.


I’ve never understood the Diana-mania that still seems to have an iron grip on the nation. We know the heroes and the villains, we hate the tabloids, and we love Lady Di - the people’s princess - but are we so much better, eagerly awaiting the next corporation to parade Diana out in her next big debut? She lived, we loved her and then she died. Rinse and repeat. The Crown hasn’t worsened since season one. It’s just in a world so different from the year the show began, 2016, that playing the same tricks aren’t working.


I am tempted to say this show has finally lost its lustre, but I think it would be more appropriate to question whether the shiny tiara we’ve been admiring was a cheap party shop imitation all along - as fake and unconvincing as the images on our screens.





Credit: Daniel Escale/Netflix


Elena


The car crash that ended the lives of Diana, Dodi and their driver is observed just out of shot, by a local Parisian on a late night walk with their dog. While earlier seasons of The Crown each spanned years and involved several characters, this first part of its last season belongs to Diana.


There are plenty of moments of joy peppered throughout - a last hurrah perhaps, especially after season five’s strange choice to unabashedly favour Charles. Diana and her boys play football with Tony Blair and his family. They later enjoy the lush luxuries of the Al-Fayeds' Saint-Tropez holiday residence. I enjoyed these lighter moments of escape in this rainy November, the current weather harking closer to the royal family’s here, their skies far different from those of the sunny French coast. There, Diana and Dodi are afforded quieter scenes to develop their bond, one carefully conceived by Dodi’s father who is unsubtly cast as this season’s villain.


As always, the cinematography is stunning - which it better be with a budget this enormous. Yet neither the immense production value nor great performances - well, performance by Elizabeth Debicki as Diana - manages to reach the heights of seasons one and two. This time, Diana’s image is reflected in shiny surfaces from polished countertops to the grand piano, hinting perhaps at how her image has been repurposed in the media and admired by millions - but The Crown doesn’t really have anything nuanced to say about this. Sure, some of its choices impress, but without hesitation it falls into the style over substance trap and wastes its potential.


Subtlety really isn’t this show's strong suit, either. Episode two uncharacteristically begins with confessional-style scenes featuring two photographers: one loyal royal subject, saying the Queen ‘unites a divided country,’ juxtaposed with the crème de la crème of paparazzi who self-describes as ‘killer’ to get the right shot. The change in style for this opening feels strangely disjointed and out of place, just like Phipps’s score that has barely changed in its musical motifs since the first season, and is now paired with pop in an attempt to merge old and new.


It is hard to watch The Crown without feelings about the Royal Family and monarchy colouring perspective. As Diana, Debicki - and Emma Corrin before her - come impressively but uncannily close, but their impressions verge on parody, and so this compromises the vital critical distance that would enable both empathy and questioning - of institutions, its disciples and their actions. The show seems to be too preoccupied with getting aesthetics right. They’re pretty to look at, but beyond this, there’s not much to see.


Seeing the style over substance, my interest has slightly dimmed on The Crown. Lucky for Netflix, I like to finish shows I start.



Review edited by Tom



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