Netflix’s new season of “The Crown” continues to build off of its many seasons of success, introducing to the world some of the British monarchy’s darkest years through a new and more intimate lens. Season five follows the further deterioration of the marriage between the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles (Dominic West, “The Wire”) and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki, “The Great Gatsby”), and the subsequent decline of the monarchy as it’s faced with a never-ending wave of scandal and public disapproval. This season’s storyline is grounded in landmark historical events, such as Princess Diana’s groundbreaking interview with now-disgraced journalist Martin Bashir, the bestowing of sovereignty onto Hong Kong, the release of the “Camillagate” tapes and the debut of Diana’s iconic revenge dress. Apart from the famous moments, the show crafts a narrative that aims to fill in the blanks and lift the royal curtain to showcase the behind-the-scenes of the royal family’s life in a dramatized and fictionalized manner — one the show has become quite famous for.
The show breathes life into Princess Diana’s tumultuous relationship with her husband as they embark on a family holiday to try and salvage their marriage, an attempt that quickly falls apart in an apt characterization of the miscommunication and mistreatment that “The Crown” presents as a hallmark of their relationship. The dramatized narrative of “The Crown” also fleshes out Prince Charles as his own character beyond just the villain in the royal story, highlighting his passion and drive for reform in the monarchy as he forms new charities and public programs and crafts elaborate and modern proposals for a youthful takeover of the monarchy. The show thoroughly and devotedly explores a plethora of stories outside of Charles and Diana’s marriage, which can tend to create a feeling of disjointedness at times. However, in attempting to widen the scope of the show’s focus instead of playing into the overdone tales of doomed royal romance, “The Crown” ensures that it does not cross the line and venture from historical to merely disrespectful — a distinction that needs to be made now more than ever.
With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the release of this new season of “The Crown” has opened itself up for more scrutiny than any other season prior. Though season five was filmed before the death of England’s longest-serving monarch, the fact that it was released so soon after her death, and perhaps because her portrayal by Imelda Staunton (“Downton Abbey”) is most representative of the Queen Elizabeth we are most familiar with today, has caused plenty of displeasure from viewers and royals alike. Even former Prime Minister John Major, portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller (“Elementary”) in season 5, lashed out at the season for its fictionalization of events. This seems to be the primary complaint for many, though after five seasons of consistent dramatic storylines it seems highly unlikely that writer Peter Morgan will change his ways anytime soon. For better or worse, “The Crown” has stuck by its storytelling and will likely continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as seasons and history progress. The only thing left to do about it is sit back, watch and perhaps criticize as “The Crown’”s version of events continues to unfold.
In spite of the many faults of “The Crown” and its dramatized history, the show’s writing team elected to make a variety of interesting choices that provide an unexpected narrative, markedly different from how the audience may have imagined the story would be told. One such choice that adds depth and intrigue to an often shallow show is the characterization of Charles. Though one could not reasonably argue that The Prince of Wales was painted in a favorable light — his adulterous relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and his ill-treatment of Diana are certainly highlighted in the show’s new season — the writers certainly made an attempt to enhance his portrayal from a mere caricature to a developed character. In season five, Charles spends much of his time campaigning for a modern monarchy, stating his desire to connect with the constituency and rework the royal family image. This progressive and idealist version of Charles presents an interesting contrast to the villainous representation a viewer might have been expecting, and his concerns for the environment, the political state of the nation and his work with underprivileged kids even make him seem downright likable. Although the intensely novelized plot of “The Crown” has garnered the show some deserved disapproval, at least their dynamic depiction of fictionalized characters gives viewers of “The Crown” something to celebrate.
As far as the writing and storytelling of season five of “The Crown” goes, nothing has changed. In the real world, however, everything has. While the fictitious nature of the show and its poor timing alongside global events have given many viewers and critics plenty of ammunition against the show and its new season, a staunch dedication to character development, nearly perfect casting and an overall surprisingly well-done and respectful take on difficult historical events provide some unexpected points in “The Crown’”s favor. Amid both tragedy and controversy, “The Crown” has produced a new season of storytelling that is decidedly neutral in all aspects, and that, I think, is impressive in itself.
Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at email@example.com.