The fifth season of The Crown, which premieres today, is one that will probably have people talking and debating for weeks—and possibly stir up even more controversy than it already has.
This season of the critically-acclaimed Netflix show is a unique one. Fans have been patiently waiting for it for years, but it’s also the first season that’s released after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. On top of that, this season seems to have already stirred up the hornet’s nest even before its release. Former prime minister John Major and Dame Judi Dench have voiced their feelings about the show, which in turn have just made people even more excited for the fifth season. We love drama, whether it’s TV show drama or drama about the TV show drama.
But after watching the entirety of the fifth season, it seems that Major and Dench’s concerns weren’t exactly unfounded. In fact, right after the very first episode, I was reminded of the immediate aftermath of the real Queen’s death and how production on the fifth season halted “out of respect”. Peter Morgan, the show’s creator, also stated that the show was “a love letter to her”.
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Just after watching the first episode, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was truly out of respect or whether Netflix, Morgan, and the production team had to have meetings on whether they were going to actually release the fifth season because right from the start, The Crown doesn’t pull any punches.
The Crown Season 5 Review
A family in ruins and a monarch in decline
The fifth season covers the first part of the ’90s and sees the royal family in utter disarray. Divorces are happening left and right, with Charles and Diana’s own marriage hanging by a very thin thread. Everything seems to be changing, and it seems that the monarchy can’t keep up with it, which prompts the question of whether monarchies should still be a thing. In the midst of all this is Elizabeth, now seasoned in her role as queen, who tries to continue doing her duty despite the chaos all around her.
I’ve mentioned in another article that as a Potterhead, it’s hard to not look at Imelda Staunton without thinking of Umbridge. I thought it would be difficult to look past that, but Staunton’s performance of an Elizabeth that knows how to carry herself and is well-versed in the machinations of the monarchy is top-notch. At the same time, however, Staunton follows in her predecessor’s footsteps in showing the Elizabeth behind the crown. This time around, however, it’s a mother who’s trying to keep a family together despite the family doing anything but.
I felt though that this season featured less of Elizabeth than before. After all, the show does revolve not just around the monarch herself but those around her i.e. the royal family. It’s certainly a challenge to ignore Diana and Charles’ bitter separation, something that’s played out in its entirety in this season.
Charles and the controversy
Dominic West’s Charles is perhaps the first sign that this is indeed fiction because, well, he just looks too good as Charles. And while I wasn’t entirely sure if he would be able to follow Josh O’Connor’s fantastic performance, he certainly hit it out of the park. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana is yet another testament to the show’s masterful casting, not only in terms of physical likeness but also in how she embodies the late princess’ warmth and anguish. Both West and Debicki shine in their own right, but their scenes together, especially a significant one towards the end of the season, are a masterclass.
It’s no wonder that this season would stir up so much controversy, and it’s probably just going to be exacerbated now that the season is out. From the get-go, the show gives us a Charles who gets as close as he can to scheming about how to replace his mother. He drips with exorbitant narcissism and surrounds himself with people who chant religiously that he is the future of the monarchy. Despite the fact that he makes good points and seems to want to make good changes to the institution, it’s all overshadowed by his being so absorbed with himself.
In the midst of all this is not just his divorce from Diana but also Diana’s pain of feeling alone and at the same time being the centre of attention. The show does a terrific job of portraying what the real-life Diana may have gone through, and Debicki pulls out all the stops. However, it also means not showing Charles or the rest of the family in a positive light.
See how all this could cause controversy, especially since the real-life King Charles III just came to the throne?
Distance from reality
This may be a negative for some, but I felt like this season was the most removed from reality that the show has ever been. It’s more evident in this season than ever before that the writers are trying to give audiences a glimpse into the intimate moments that we have absolutely no records of. They’re filling in blanks more than they are reading between the lines. This season made it clear to me that this truly was fictional drama, but my gosh is it delicious drama.
The season in its entirety does a great job of slowly cranking the tension without making you overtly aware of it. However, there was one episode that threw a wrench into its rhythm. It was an odd choice for the writers to decide to make that episode, and it put a lull on the otherwise stellar season.
Season 5 ends with a lot of uncertainty despite the fact that we already know what’s going to happen, and that’s a testament to the show’s impeccable writing. However, I’m afraid it may be overshadowed by all the debate that’s inevitably going to come about on what’s true and what’s not. It was obvious to me that this is all fiction, but clearly, others take the show at face value. And with a plot line this explosive, anything can happen.
This review was originally published on Lifestyle Asia Bangkok