The greatest spoiler, if you will, of a review of this fifth season of the hit series The Crown on Netflix is real life. Real life. After a long life where she has reigned not only over a Commonwealth but over a multi-faceted family and the vicissitudes of time, Queen Elizabeth II, holding fast to the railings with her gloved hands as she would the railings of the Britannia, died a much-loved, much-revered, and yes, much-understood queen. And she is the main character of this now long-running series, the biggest jewel of The Crown.
But that is getting ahead of the series, which ends with Queen Elizabeth still in fighting form despite her annus horribilis. But real has overtaken reel, and what we will see in this very engrossing, binge-worthy drama about a real-life family born to untold riches and unimaginable responsibility, their triumphs, trials and tribulations, is more of a revisiting of the fairy tale — with reality more potent than the fictional witches in storybooks. A revisiting that purportedly takes place behind closed doors. A look into many royal peepholes. And don’t we love that, especially since what takes place behind closed doors is unadulterated drama and history. As I said, real life has already shown viewers how the Charles-Diana-Camilla triangle unraveled — unless you’ve been living under a rock all these past 40 years.
Based on real people, The Crown also takes advantage of the creative license bestowed on art. The main characters are photogenic. Often lovestruck. The dialogues are crisp and quotable.
In 2021, when The Crown was on its fourth season, Prince Harry was quoted by Variety as saying in an interview that aired Feb. 25 on CBS’ The Late Late Show With James Corden: “Of course it’s not strictly accurate. It gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle is, the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that.”
But, he also pointed out, “I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family, my wife or myself.”
That was a boost to the accuracy of the series, created and principally written by Peter Morgan.
Debicki’s expressions, the chin-down, downward-gazes and then the sideways glances when she finally made eye contact are spot-on Diana.
Season 5 has the petite Imelda Staunton (according to online sources she is 1.52 m. or 4’11”) as Queen Elizabeth II (who was said to be 5 ‘ 3” in her nineties). Though her acting is good as expected of a Laurence Olivier-award winning thespian, she does not possess the regal bearing of Claire Foyin the first two seasons, or Olivia Colman in the last two and certainly, not the real Queen Elizabeth as I saw her on television. Her demeanor reminded me more of a much-beloved headmistress or a cheerful cook in a manor like Downtown Abbey, someone who always has scones and pies ready for children who come to visit. She is cute, though Harry Potter fans remember her as the villain Dolores Umbridge. That she can essay different roles and be remembered for them speak of her acting chops. Still, I would have preferred more of the Olivia Colman type as Queen Elizabeth, or someone with the expressive eyes of Claire Foy, who need not talk to convey a thousand words.
The closest resemblance physically to the character they were portraying would have to be the resemblance between the late Princess Diana and Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, though the latter is taller and slimmer (Diana was reed-thin only at a certain troubled period in her life.) Debicki’s expressions, the chin-down, downward-gazes and then the sideways glances when she finally made eye contact are spot-on Diana. Even the voice and the controversial Panorama interview she gave to Martin Bashir (then with BBC, and who later was the subject of an investigation for the means in which he obtained that scoop with the vulnerable princess), was like watching the real thing.
According to Entertainment, Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton said he was “left breathless” by Debicki’s portrayal of Diana. “It left me breathless, and it took me back all those years,” Morton was quoted as saying in a Good Morning America interview. “I mean, I don’t say this very often, but I was shaken.”
Charles was portrayed by Dominic West, who I believed lacked the charm of the real Charles (I do think Charles has his redeeming personality traits.). Still he effectively essayed what was NOT charming about the then-heir to the throne. Prince (now King) Charles was portrayed in such a way that it was Diana, not him, who received the world’s sympathy — including mine. (And it didn’t take the series to put me on Team Diana from the very start.) Royal watchers remember how Charles answered “Whatever in love means,” when he was asked if he and his blushing fiancée Lady Diana Spencer must be very much in love. She was said to have had her self-esteem reduced in half with that remark. Season 5 just reinforces what we saw in Season 4 and what we have read in tabloids and unauthorized biographies.
I once thought that the “Tampon-gate” involving Charles and Camilla was his downfall. The recording was re-enacted vividly in Season 5. At the time the Tampon-gate happened, I thought that Camilla would never ever be accepted by “The Firm,” or “The System” or even the children of Princess Diana.
But even without watching Season 6 of The Crown, said to be premiering next year, we already know what has come to pass.
Season 5 just reinforces what we saw in Season 4 and what we have read in tabloids and unauthorized biographies.
Queen Elizabeth has endured, and was laid to rest with love, dignity, and an outpouring of admiration the world over. Camilla is now Queen Consort to King Charles, as the Queen herself had expressed preference for during her final year. Is it a triumph of true love between Charles and Camilla that is the redeeming quality of this hurtful episode in the real lives of the Windsors? Love wins against all odds and everyone has the right to be happy? That there is only one constant in this world whether prince, pope or pauper. Change? And that there is only one way to cope with change. Acceptance?
Will history and the real-life ending of The Crown teach us more things about the saving graces of time and sometimes, the unfaithfulness of time? Will Diana be eventually forgotten as an unhappy episode in the happily-ever-after of Charles and Camilla, or will she always be an enduring presence because the next king is her son and the next king or queen (who knows?) is her grandchild?
And that, dear readers, is an ending no one yet knows. Stay tuned to… history.