Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Crown has been one of this generation's most successful television shows. It has won many Emmy Awards for Best Drama Series, and its actors have also won for their roles. Right now, the royals are all over the news but back in the eighties and nineties, they may have had one of their most famous members ever: the Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer. She was even more popular than the Queen herself. That's saying a lot. The fifth season of this award-winning show might be its best yet.
This season delves deeper into the lives of several of the royals, specifically Diana Spencer (Elizabeth Debicki). She has taken over the role from Emma Corrin in season four. Her disenchantment with her husband, the Prince of Wales, Charles (Dominic West), has grown to a fevered pitch. But she remains a figure of great reverence by the British public, the BBC, and the rest of the world. She literally can't go anywhere without secret security tracking her every move or talk on the phone because her phones are being tapped. What goes without saying is the paparazzi are a nuisance to her nonstop as well. This is one of the greatest instances of violation of privacy the world has ever known, and it's a shame. The show captures it all impeccably.
Several other episodes of this season focus on the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville, previously portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter and Venessa Kirby). Once again, she is depicted as a woman who feels lost in her sister's shadow and left out regarding the love of her life. Who wouldn't be upset if they couldn't love and marry who they wanted because their sister said no?
Another episode features the Queen's husband, Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce, previously portrayed by Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies). He is trying to have a good life on his own because he has passion and interests that don't align with the Queen, her majesty. Like the Queen's sister, he feels like he shouldn't always be in his wife's shadow — a shadow she casts very largely.
One episode focuses on Prince Charles (Dominic West, previously played by Josh O'Connor), who — of course — is not in love with his current wife, Diana. They have irrevocable differences that separate them. And he's in love with Camila Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams). Who we all know he marries. This relationship in the show is depressing because of how it all happens. What seemed like a beautiful marriage at first turned out to be a nasty debacle for all involved. And it's all happening all over the news every day.
The biggest recasting, also for the second time in the series's history, is The Queen of Winsdor herself, Queen Elizabeth II. This time she is portrayed by Emelda Staunton (previously portrayed by Claire Foy and Olivia Colman). Staunton is unmistakable as the Queen, but I can't get her role as Professor Dolores Umbridge out of my mind when I look at her. Even though she isn't as mean or nasty as Umbridge, she seems a bit crusty in her old age, as portrayed by Staunton, towards her family, specifically Diana and Charles.
The supporting cast, notably Johnny Lee Miller as Prime Minister John Major, plays a major part in the show. Of course, there are always moments when the Prime Minister visits with the Queen for counsel and so forth, but in episode nine, "Couple 31," he has a much more active role in dealing with the divorce of Charles and Diana. He was very good in a different, more normal role rather than playing Sherlock Holmes or opposite his stage-acting companion Benedict Cumberbatch in a production of Frankenstein.
This era in the lives of the royals is quite tumultuous. Peter Morgan, the show creator, has been able to get to the heart of these people. Fans have been waiting to see this era come to life, and as far as I'm concerned, it's worth the wait. Specifically, Elizabeth Debicki as Diana gives a tour de force performance. She embodies this woman from top to bottom — all her pain and suffering at the hands of these people, mostly her husband. In separation, they find more in common with each other. As an outsider, Diana would never overshadow the family with this huge shadow that covers everyone. Debicki gives the performance of her career as this tormented woman who can never be happy. She is the driving force of season five of The Crown.
This season of The Crown is a mixture of episodes but has a through line on the marriage and divorce of Diana and Prince Charles. From the beginning of this season, the relationship has divided the country, mostly in favor of Diana and not in favor of democracy. The performances by all are fantastic, with a weird eye towards Staunton as Her Majesty the Queen. Debicki is by far the standout of season five. The look of the show, as always, is terrific and never overlooked by the filmmakers. The writing is once again first-rate, with episode nine a favorite of mine, as well as episode one. They both focus more on Diana and her part of the family. I'm sure more Emmys will be in the future for this show, Debicki, and Netflix.
The Crown streams on Neftlix beginning November 9.