When Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller) Carefully Suggests in Netflix’s Fifth Season Premiere The crown That the British Royal Family might consider paying for repairs to their aging yacht out of their own coffers, rather than asking taxpayers to foot the bill, Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) is pushing back with a personal appeal. “When I came to the throne, all my palaces were inherited. Windsor, Balmoral, Sandringham – they all bear the stamp of my predecessors,” she tells him. “Only Britannia have I been able to really make my own.”
It is a striking statement in several respects. First, the phrase “all my palaces” conjures up levels of privilege unimaginable to most. On the other hand, it suggests that the Queen herself is struggling with a system designed to protect her role at the expense of her individuality. And if even Her Majesty feels badly served by this creaky, expensive establishment, who exactly? is doing it serves?
It comes down to
As cunning and empathetic as ever.
It’s a question lurking on the fringes of The crown since the beginning, but that’s getting closer and closer to the midpoint as season five moves into a new decade with an all-new cast. But as in years past, the heart of the series remains creator Peter Morgan’s disarming compassion for the human souls within this lofty institution. In his hands, it’s possible to mock the ignorance of a hunting money request during a global recession – and at the same time feel a whiff of sympathy for a woman increasingly sidelined by a world she helped build.
In part, the growing sense of disillusionment is a function of time. The crownThe story began in the 1940s, recreating incidents that most viewers would have heard of only from historical accounts. Now it has been moved to the 1990s and covers events that are not only in recent memory, but are again criticized when Prince William or Duchess Meghan or King Charles III are back in the headlines: Tampongate, the “annus horribilis” – speech, the Martin Bashir interview, the divorce. The royal missteps depicted in The crown seem more immediate and relevant than ever because they are temporary.
The latest batch also centers more than usual on the Windsors’ internal dramas, primarily the controversial split between Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Charles (Dominic West). Conspiracies that take a broader view of the family’s role on the global stage still exist — such as a story of Elizabeth’s soft negotiations with newly elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin (Anatoly Kotenev) over the remains of the Romanovs — but are the exception rather than the rule. . And thus The crown largely becomes a front-row seat to the Windsors’ propensity to self-harm, in the service of an organization that has already twisted them so much and against the drumbeat of public polls that increasingly cast the entire enterprise as irrelevant and unattainable .
But at a time when seemingly every tabloid saga of the past half-century is being turned into an Emmy-bait miniseries, The crown distinguishes itself by doing what it always does best: combining clear empathy, perceptive commentary and a refreshing intellectual curiosity in ten elegant one-hour episodes. There are no obvious heroes or villains – just people who can’t or won’t escape from a gilded cage that, thanks to paparazzi’s ubiquitous scrum, is starting to look more and more like a fishbowl.
Chief among them is Diana, who, as it should be, can’t help but attract the lion’s share of attention. (Season five may be the first in which the Queen feels more part of the ensemble than the main course, especially since Staunton delivers an Elizabeth whose glamor and fire have faded considerably over time.) Debicki’s Diana is more brittle and jaded than that one. of Emma Corrin. But she too captures the contradictions that made the princess so captivating – she is both fragile and formidable, disarmingly candid and strategically reserved – turning an enduring symbol into a woman of flesh and blood.
If Diana is the most lovable figure of the season, Charles is perhaps the most complicated creation. While West bears little physical resemblance to his predecessor Josh O’Connor or to the real-life Charles, he manages well to continue the irritating combination of sensitivity and coldness established in previous installments. Armed with Morgan’s scripts, West constructs a Charles smart enough to recognize that the monarchy must evolve, but oblivious enough to believe the chorus of support from his sycophants (“You’re a criminally wasted resource, sir!” ) is definitive proof that he is the man for the job.
The crown makes a few stumbling blocks this outing, most consistent when dealing with race. The issue is touched upon briefly in storylines involving two British Pakistani men, journalist Bashir (Parasanna Puwanarajah) and Diana’s friend Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed), and more substantially in an episode-long detour past Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) – father of future Diana boyfriend Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) — on his journey from working-class Egypt to the chicest circles of lily-white European society. In each case, The crown seems unsure of what it means to say about the themes of assimilation or discrimination it evokes, let alone how to say it.
But The crownThe semi-episodic structure is forgiving, and by the next hour his curiosity has taken him elsewhere. One of the season’s most captivating digressions is in the halls of the BBC, where two leaders repeat the same old guard versus new guard arguments that play out in Buckingham Palace. The station’s chairman (Richard Cordery), who happens to be married to one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, states that “it’s part of the British character, for better or for worse, to have a monarchy.” Its director-general (Nicholas Gleaves) insists Britain could be “a new Britain, another Britain” without a monarchy.
No definitive conclusion can be found in their debates, as evidenced by the fact that they have continued into the current reign of King Charles III. (And there are some who may find the asking of these questions a mockery, if royalists’ dazzling headlines are any indication.) But The crownThe fifth season makes it clear that it’s worth a conversation – not by denouncing the royals as incomprehensible monsters, but by offering them the grace to see them as just human.