Last week, the first four parts of the last and most anticipated season of The Crown series were released. As journalist Holly Thomas wrote in a column for CNN, this time the queen did not take care of the lack of sleep of fans of the series.
The undisputed star of the sixth season of the royal drama The Crown – or at least the first four episodes that saw the light of day this week – is the late Princess Diana, played by Elizabeth Debicki. The episodes, which cover the weeks leading up to Diana’s death in 1997, show how everyone is irresistibly drawn into her orbit, the CNN column says Holly Thomas.
The episodes flow into each other, and the “monster of the week” formula is abandoned, as the parts build together to the coming climax. According to the columnist, the break with traditions is thus a metaphor for history, and at the same time it is also extremely appropriate that the season, which many critics attributed the cause of the destruction of the entire series, also tackles the biggest disaster that threatens the institution.
One of the many things that captivated viewers when The Crown hit the small screen in 2016 was the cinematic dimension of the series. The huge budget of the first season was reflected in each episode, which worked almost like mini-movies. The fourth episode (“Act of God”), which depicted the catastrophic London smog in 1952, had a unique aesthetic, as did the eighth episode (“Pride and Joy”), in which Queen Elizabeth II. and Prince Philip embarked on an exhausting trip around the world.
In contrast, the first and third episodes of the sixth season cannot be demarcated. The dominant themes are all the same: Diana, as always, overshadowing her husband’s family; jealousy of Prince Charles seeking public approval for Camilla Parker-Bowles; the resistance of older members of the royal family to modernization and attempts Mohamed Al-Fayed, to make his son Dodia formed into a new Spencer. Images of Diana jumping on Al-Fayed’s yacht in a bathing suit, with paparazzi chasing her, could be played in almost any episode. It may be deliberate chaos, but still chaos, writes Thomas.
The series’ fondness for metaphors, which in the opinion of the columnist was already excessive in the first parts, exploded in the sixth season. Remember the harrowing second episode of the fourth season, when the young Princess Diana was tested at Balmoral Castle and Margaret Thatcher? In this work, Diana, along with Prince Philip, chased and eventually killed a deer, an allegory for her eventual fate with Charles. The sixth season so far is similar, but several hours long.
The celebrity paparazzi hired by Al-Fayed to break the news of his son’s new romance with Diana is an uncomfortable contrast to the devoted Scotsman, who nibbles on biscuits while waiting for his heavily staged photographs of the royal family. Diana is portrayed angelically as she advises Dodi to step aside from his domineering father, while at the same time unable to slow down her many charitable commitments.
The anticipation of her final phone call with her sons is so exaggerated that it overshadows the heartbreaking point: that it was a real conversation, as they William and Harry she later recalled, fleeting and superficial. And given how impossible it would be to portray this historical period in a way that pleases everyone, there are a surprising number of elements in season six that no one likes.
The inclusion of spiritual, posthumous visions of Diana and Dodi has received a lot of criticism, but the series is arguably lighter than it could have been to the royal family’s response to Diana’s death. In one or two scenes, the queen does not want to publicly show her mourning, and then succumbs to public pressure. But if people are going to be angry anyway, why not go all the way, asks the CNN columnist.
Creator of the series Peter Morgan could claim to have covered this area before, in 2006’s The Queen. Given how often the series has sparked controversy by featuring lesser-known or imagined royal failings (think Prince Charles’ lobbying for his mother’s abdication in fifth season), it seems odd that so little time is devoted to an event that is widely known to have been a PR disaster.
Instead, in season six, the scapegoat is Mohamed Al-Fayed, who plays him Salim Dau. In the series, Al-Fayed’s relentless campaign to get his son Dodi and Diana engaged and secure British citizenship is almost as much to blame for their deaths as the accident itself. Diana’s last night in Paris is depicted as the fateful climax of Al-Fayed’s planning of their relationship and his pressure on Dodi to propose to her.
In real life, Al-Fayed, who died this year, denied any involvement in their relationship, and his former spokesman reiterated this after the series aired. Television dramas are not bound to offer a mirror image of history, and artistic license is not only allowed, but often necessary. But when the true story is already so well documented, adding an obviously fictional narrative is like throwing a match into hell. In one sense, at least, the Crown still seems to have followed real life in dealing with Diana’s death: she was completely incapable of dealing with it.