THE CROWN: S5
November 9, 2022 / Netflix
Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Jonny Lee Miller, Dominic West
It’s a new decade, and the royal family are facing what may be their biggest challenge yet: proving their continued relevance in ‘90s Britain. As Diana and Charles wage a media war, cracks begin to splinter the royal foundation.
Written by Darren
Rating 2.5 out of 5
The Crown returns for a new decade with a brand new cast, and while the right casting decisions have been made, what was without a doubt the most dramatic decade within the Royal Family is reduced to writing that fails to capture any of the drama or interesting insights into their inner workings.
For four seasons, The Crown has consistently delivered some of the best television of the last decade. Whether it be the outstanding performances from its talented cast, the inside look it provided of the working of the Royal Family, the unique perspective it had on historical events, or the tabloid drama of the Royal Family, it has been riveting television to say the least. And with the fourth season lighting the fuse on the Prince Charles and Princess Diana drama, the fifth season should have been yet another addictive binge worthy season. However, there is a massive decline in the writing quality this season that created a rather frustrating experience.
Given the drama within the Royal Family in the 1990s and many calling it one of the first moments during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign where the monarchy was in trouble, this season should have written itself. It was plastered across newspapers, ranging from Prince Charles referring to his mistress as a feminine hygiene product, to Princess Diana’s revenge dress, and the infamous BBC interview. But, the season merely conveys these dramatic moments as facts, failing to capture the drama around them or providing any insight to the individuals involved. At the same time, there is very little coverage of world events which had been a staple of the previous seasons. And while it’s not doing any of these two things right, it manages to sideline the characters audiences have come to love.
Princess Margaret, apart from her episode, is barely seen. Prince Philip is in the background for the majority of the season, and even Prince Charles and Princess Diana do not have a ton of screen time despite the collapse of their marriage being the focal point of the entire season. Queen Elizabeth herself feels absent for a good portion of the season, despite being the show’s main character, merely appearing for a couple of scenes each episode before fading into the background. Instead, we spend a lot of time with the Fayed’s and a flashback to the Romanoff’s during the First World War, which while I can appreciate the significance of these two families in the story of the season, it’s a perplexing choice as they are not the Royal Family that the show is centered around nor the characters that the audience want to spend time. It truly is a devastating decline in quality from the previous four seasons which managed to balance individual character stories, world history, and the inner workings of the monarchy with great simplicity to create some of the most fascinating television. I really hope there is an improvement in the sixth and final season, making this season a minor blip in what is otherwise one of the finest television dramas I have ever seen.
No blame can be placed on the new cast, because they are all perfectly cast. Aside from Dominic West who I could not wrap my head around as Prince Charles as he was far to fit to be the skinny, and frankly sniveling, man who nearly took down the monarchy with his affair, every role has been passed onto the right actor. Imelda Stauton transforms into Queen Elizabeth in front of your eyes and captures the resoluteness of the monarch who led the United Kingdom for decades. At the same time, Staunton fails to capture the spirit and energy of the woman herself that Claire Foy and Olivia Colman did so wonderfully in the previous four seasons. It’s unclear whether it is the writing or Stauton herself that is the culprit, but that spark behind her eyes that characterized this formidable woman was missing this season.
Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Prince Philip, capturing the energy, protectiveness but also the bravado and force of Queen Elizabeth’s husband. It is truly upsetting that he was not given much screen time this season, because he was one of the best casting choices made this season. Lesley Manville is a wonderful actress and captures the same spirit that Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter brought to Princess Margaret, but aside from the fourth episode where she is front and centre, she is barely given the screentime to become this woman that audiences have fallen in love with during the previous four seasons. While West does not look like Prince Charles, there is no denying that he captures the arrogance and wickedness that the world came to associate him with while he was married to Princess Diana.
Though, the shining star of the season is without a question Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana. Debicki effortlessly captures the tormented princess who felt unloved by the Royal Family and cast to the side, while she searches to gain some control to try and rally the family behind her. While her efforts are in vain, Debicki dazzles at every turn and brings to life one of the most sympathetic women in modern history. While some viewers will never forget the real Princess Diana, there is no question that Debicki nails the performance, especially Princess Diana’s legendary interview where she claims her marriage is crowded because of the three people in it. While I think the majority of the cast will struggle to break into the awards race this year, I have no doubt in my mind that Debicki will be in contention for her heartbreakingly beautiful performance.
As with the previous seasons, the production and costume design is exquisite, which makes the season visually stunning to compensate for the lackluster writing. As one of my most anticipated seasons of television of the year, it truly brings me no joy to report that the latest season of The Crown is dull at best, especially given the heights reached in the series’s fourth season. Despite good casting decisions and a stunning Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, the fifth season of The Crown fails to capture the riveting writing that made this series one of Netflix’s best series in recent years.