Warning – This article contains spoilers
The fifth and penultimate season of the Netflix hit series launched on November 9, with a brand new cast depicting the royal family at a crossroads between tradition and modernity.
Set in the 1990s, this is the season everyone’s been waiting for. The royal family is at its boiling point. In-between tabloid turbulence, breakdowns of several marriages and various other scandals, it feels like everything is about to explode. And, to an extent, it does.
Tradition at war with change
From the start, it becomes obvious that the main villain in this season is the media.
Already in the first episode, Queen Victoria Syndrome, we see a poll come out in The Sunday Times. “Queen Should Abdicate in Favour of Prince of Wales,” reads its headline. “Half of British Public Agrees.”
Although this isn’t exactly what happened in real life, this poll suggests that the public – and, in the show’s arguably most controversial creative choice, also Prince Charles (Dominic West) – has started questioning the monarchy’s purpose. The monarchy is said to be behind the times, pretty much archaic. Because the British public craves modernity and Charles reflects just that, The Crown‘s Queen Elizabeth II’s (Imelda Staunton) popularity began declining while Charles’ popularity started ascending.
Peter Morgan, The Crown’s creator, produced a metaphor around the Queen’s decreasing favour by paralleling her to Britannia, the Queen’s beloved yacht. At the start of the season, a young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) describes Britannia as “dependable and constant, capable of weathering any storm” – like the monarchy, it’s a source of stability. However, after decades of service, time has come for the yacht to be decommissioned.
While I appreciated the symbolism and thought it was an interesting touch, I felt that the mirroring between Britannia and the future of the royal family was a little drawn out at times and was part of the reason why the finale, Decommissioned, fell a little flat. I think I expected a little more from the finale, but I understand that more is yet to come in season six. My favourite scene in the finale has to be the beginning, when Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) “votes no for a monarchy” at least a thousand times. It was daring, and quite funny!
Other than the last episode, though, I loved the whole season. One of my personal favourites is episode three, Mou Mou.
Stories told from different perspectives
Episode three pauses the royal drama to introduce Mohamed Al Fayed (Salim Daw), Dodi Fayed’s (Khalid Abdalla) father, and his attempts at gaining access to the royal family only to be met with resistance at every turn. Until he meets Diana. I also liked getting to know Sydney Jackson (Jude Akuwudike) and his story as the Duke of Windsor’s personal valet. It was an unexpected plotline, but a fascinating one. It was particularly significant to learn about because of the discriminatory hiring policies that the royal household had in place until around the 1960s.
A major plotline this season, a continuation from season four, is the deteriorating relationship between the Prince and Princess of Wales, with Princes Harry and William caught in the crossfire this time. There is a lot happening behind the scenes, but the curtains weren’t going to conceal it all forever. Not in the digital age.
Technology is at the forefront of this season with secret tape interviews, new TV channels (which Elizabeth doesn’t seem to like) and phone tapping incidents leading to a few royal scandals (looking at you, Camilla and Charles) – or certain BBC interviews.
Throughout the season, Diana fears that her phone might be bugged. Her paranoia of being spied on grows and comes to a head in Tear Down the Temple and Gunpowder when Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) preys on Diana’s worries to secure her interview for BBC’s Panorama. That interview was one of the most anticipated events for me this season, and it did not disappoint. The cutting between scenes of shooting the interview and fireworks going off for Bonfire Night was marvellous.
I found it interesting watching the BBC Panorama Interview unfold primarily through Martin Bashir’s perspective, as well as some of BBC’s board of directors, Duke Hussey (Richard Cordery) and the Director General, John Birt (Nicholas Gleaves). Even within BBC, a battle between portraying a traditional monarchy, that being Queen Elizabeth, or someone more modern, like Diana, was shown. Showing this event from Bashir’s and BBC’s perspectives provided the important, deceitful context of the interview. It made me feel really sad for Diana. She had no idea about any of the lies.
Elizabeth Debicki portrays Princess Diana brilliantly. This casting choice deserves a standing ovation, for she absolutely nailed Diana, from facial expressions to her voice and mannerisms. On the other hand, while Dominic West is a good actor and did a great job, when I looked at him I did not see Charles at all. Except for maybe the breakdancing scene at the end of The Way Ahead, which actually did happen in real life (and I’m very happy they chose to include).
Overall, I found the season to be exactly what I expected it to be: full of drama, wonderful Martin Phipps scores, stunning cinematography, and incredible acting. I can’t wait to see what The Crown‘s sixth and final season will bring.
Featured Image Credit: IGN