In its sixth and final outing, Peter Morgan's opulent television show The Crown fails to compensate for the overall deficient season 5, and film critics working in major outlets around the world rated this first part with no more than two stars out of five. The consensus caught me by surprise as I'm a loyal fan of the Royal epic drama and I was eagerly anticipating the new season, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, after watching the first four episodes, I must admit that I have to agree with the harsh criticism and even though the show still possesses some merits, chiefly derived from the lush production values, it finally crumbles under the weight of its own directorial approach and anemic screenplay.
The beginning episodes of this season focus exclusively on the last few weeks prior to Princess Diana's death, her controversial dalliance with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), the reaction of the Royal family with respect to the Princess's ever-expanding influence on the common people and the media, and her eventual death in a car accident on August 31, 1997. In the first scene of the commencing episode, we watch as a Parisian walks the city's streets with his dog and stumbles upon the paparazzi car chase that caused the fatal crash. We don't see the collision; we only hear the screeching sound of metal clashing against the tunnel's walls. This sequence is the first in a series of dialogue bits and incidents foreshadowing Diana's death with the audience inescapably feeling exasperated from the mere repetition. We all know what happened to the Princess of Wales and what we expected from a fictional representation is to introduce an innovative angle from which we could potentially perceive the protagonists and the events in a new light.
We follow Diana's final steps after the fallout of her legendary interview with Martin Bashir for BBC's documentary Panorama on November 20, 1995, which instigated the chain of events that led to her divorce from Prince Charles. The late Princess is portrayed as a saint-like figure determined to eradicate pain on a global scale, leading an international anti-landmine campaign and raising vast amounts of money for charity. It was the time that people around the world, not only the British, learned to love the woman within whom they saw sincere benevolence and naked vulnerability. In one of the first scenes featuring a dialogue between Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel), he says: "When Diana talks the world listens", thus providing a pithy summarization of the people's admiration for the Princess of Wales.
Elizabeth Debicki puts on a gamely performance and her commanding presence onscreen is one of the show's most formidable qualities. Debicki absorbed Diana's mannerisms and her depiction authentically reflects the character's fragility and lachrymose disposition, the outcome of her drama-addicted personality. Yes, it's true that she tends to assume a particular body stance, tilting her head down while raising her eyebrows, but this is not the actor's responsibility. It's the director's. The facial close-ups reveal the young actress's immersion in the role and there are times that the viewer forgets that she is watching a fictional representation of "Shy Di". The impeccable work by the show's make-up department has striking results and complements Debicki's unblemished portrayal of her role. The sequences set in Dodi's yacht with Diana wearing patterned swimsuits and contemplating her life and next moves while sitting at the edge of the vessel's springboard are a treat to watch but, sadly, the interactions between Diana and Dody verge on the soapy. The sleazy dialogue spoils the beauty of the cinematography and hurts our ears. Plus, the cartoonish characterization of Dody's oppressive father, Mohamed (Salim Daw), as the villain, a schemer and manipulator who doesn't hesitate to ask his son to act as love-bait for Diana in order to acquire leverage for his negotiations with the British government, is so preposterous that adds another nail on the coffin of the show's concluding season.
Diana dies in the finale of the third episode and the following one focuses on the aftermath of the tragic event and the impact that the accident had on the people closest to her, with the screenwriters prioritizing Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Diana's children, William (Rufus Kampa) and Harry (Fflyn Edwards). The miscast Dominic West has his strongest acting moment when he sees his ex-wife's body lying lifeless on the morgue's table with his tearful face distorting his features, radiating genuine pain. However, his overall performance in the role of Charles remains feeble as the actor was unsuccessful in his mission to accurately communicate the mentality of a renowned egotist whose overwhelming sense of entitlement marked his behavior and actions. While Morgan dwells on Elizabeth's qualms regarding Diana's funeral, preferring a closed-type ceremony instead of a royal one, and Charles's response to her decisions, he loses sight of the children's reaction to the news of their mother's demise. Overlooking this aspect is a cardinal sin as it would add dramatic tension in an episode that was supposedly meant to elicit emotional antiphon from the audience.
Imelda Staunton has less screen time in comparison to the previous cycle and her reception of the tabloid news related to Diana's shenanigans with Dody can be aptly encapsulated in her soft-voiced exclamation "Oh, that girl" during the second episode. Staunton's rendition of her role is consistent and nuanced; however, her performance lacks the spark that made her predecessors (Claire Foy and Olivia Colman) earn the respect of both critics and audiences. The other members of the cast simply have no room to breathe in these first four episodes and I suppose that we will see more of them in the compilation of the last 6 episodes airing on December 14, 2023.
What is most irksome is Morgan's superficial approach to the real-life persons and events that results in reducing Princess Diana to an one-dimensional personification of benignity and the ultimate example or embodiment of altruistic kindness. The direct implication of such a representation is that a woman like her wouldn't ever manage to survive the public scrutiny and rigorous protocols of her family life. Moreover, he insists on typifying Queen Elizabeth as a draconian matriarch and a stickler for the rules, traditions and etiquette imposed by her royal status. Perhaps, the creator of The Crown has spoiled the audiences a bit too much in the first four seasons in which the lavishness of the photography and the settings was complemented by top-notch values regarding all facets of the production. Most importantly, Morgan omits to address the issue of Diana's legacy which is inextricably linked with her perception by the public. It is by no accident that people dubbed the Princess of Wales as "the most popular woman in the world" as her reach into the minds and hearts of the British population was so immense that threatened to tear down the whole concept of monarchy in the country. I would like to see more of the effects of Diana's actions over the lives of the average man.
The Crown reaches an all-time low in the fourth episode in which we see the unthinkable: the apparition of Diana appearing to Charles and the Queen, confessing her feelings and giving them advice on how to be more humane and approachable. This is the cherry on the pie for the worst set of episodes since the show's first airing back in 2016. I will definitely watch the following 6 episodes marking the series finale, but Morgan's freefall into mediocrity makes me weary and forces me to lower my expectations.