SERIES "The Crown"
WHERE Season 5 streaming on Netflix beginning Nov. 9.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Covering the first half of the 1990s, the fifth season pays special attention to Queen Elizabeth's (Imelda Staunton) "annus horribilis" of 1992 — the one marking her 40-year reign, with the divorce of two of her children, the fire at Windsor Castle, and the leaked phone conversations between Charles (Dominic West), and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Olivia Williams). Meanwhile, Charles and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) separated by year's end. For the first time, viewers also meet Dodi Al-Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) and his matchmaking father, Mohammed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw). Through all this turmoil, the queen needs a shoulder to lean on, and gets two — Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) and Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller).
MY SAY The fourth season may have been the best to date — except to aggrieved Royalists who insisted whole episodes had been fabricated, and personalities distorted beyond recognition. They didn't dispute that the Monarchy was a mess but that the wrong mess got on screen. Special ire was reserved for the portrayals of Charles (Josh O'Connor) and Philip (Tobias Menzies). That both actors won Emmys for their brilliant performances only seemed to have made matters worse. The Royalists were on the warpath: What amends, they wanted to know, would be made?
Well, for starters, how about the entire fifth season, which is effectively one long amend. Olive branches are handed out left and right, to aggrieved parties or simply to those desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint — in one instance, posthumously. The real Duke of Edinburgh died in April, 2021, but not before having witnessed Menzies' caustic ice-cold rendering. By contrast, Pryce's Duke of Edinburgh — albeit a Duke who still has a wandering eye — is a figure of probity and empathy. West's Prince Charles is nearly heroic, as a forward-thinking titan of wisdom, kindness and generosity, who inconveniently also happens to be a cheater.
The fifth episode ("The Way Ahead") closes with an extraordinary title card that reads, in part, "The Prince's trust has assisted one million young people to fulfill their potential …" A generous observation, perhaps, but also another cherry on top that comes off as a calculated attempt to divert criticism from all but the most peevish of Royalists. Few will find fault in this Charles. Everyone else — those who come for the sheer entertainment value of "The Crown '' or further affirmation of their long-held opinions of the new king of England — will have other ideas. West simply doesn't seem comfortable in the role. He's too poised, too adult, too nice.
The fifth season does often walk on eggshells, and it's easy to see why. As her sometimes-Boswell, tormentor and hagiographer, showrunner Peter Morgan has spent the better part of an extraordinary career coming to terms with Queen Elizabeth. Yet through all the Oscars and Emmys, a portrait of the queen has emerged that seems just about right (or at least the way we'd like her to have been). Three months after the queen's death, neither Morgan nor Staunton are about to get revisionist on us, on her. That portrait remains intact here.
This leave's Diana, and for some "Crown" fans, Debicki's performance will be divisive if only because it's so flawless; she's mastered the party trick of impersonating the Princess of Wales but hasn't got all that much to say about what's behind the public facade. Perhaps that's the tragic message of this season: The facade is all that endures, a fading image of a beloved icon, fixed in our collective memory. Debicki doesn't shake that memory, and at times consecrates it. But you too may be left wondering if there's more to Diana — much more.
BOTTOM LINE Compulsively watchable, as usual, but also on the reverential side. This "Crown" has no teeth.