3 out of 5 stars

Season 5 of the jewel in Netflix’s streaming crown has lost its shine as it approaches a period of turbulent modern history. The first of the true-ish drama to air since Queen Elizabeth II’s death, this once illustrious drama has started to feel a little stale.

The Crown follows the former British monarch from her coronation in 1952, with this fifth season focused on the years 1992 to 1997. The closer proximity to our present-day, following famous faces more of us know about already, shouldn’t be an issue for creator Peter Morgan, who wrote the much-lauded The Queen (2006) about the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana. But this latest season of the show struggles to find a new angle on more recent exploits. Much of these new episodes are dedicated to side plots, perhaps to obscure the fact everyhing to be said about this dysfunctional uppercrust family has already been said.

Being an odd-numbered season means the main players in this long-running tale are once again changed. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) plays the older Queen with a delicate charm, delivering quips with more joviality than one could ever imagine the late monarch achieving. This iteration of the Queen is sadly the most directionless; a hat-wearing bystander in her own story. Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) plays Prince Phillip, appearing to put minimal effort into the transformation. Contrastingly, Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread) is fabulous as Princess Margaret, although there isn’t really enough plot for her to sink her teeth into. She has nothing to do but reminisce about her exes and get drunk at parties, which is a real shame.

Dominic West (The Wire), with his left hand almost permanently lodged into his jacket pocket, lacks the recognisable nuances of the current King Charles III. The lack of satire in his impersonation is refreshing, but West does little to sink into the role. This character could be any slightly angered posh Englishman, as details are sorely missing from his portrayal. Thankfully, Elizabeth Debicki’s (Tenet) take on Princess Diana is almost note-perfect; not just in looks, but also mannerisms, especially her famous coquettish smirk.

The Crown continues to be at its best when dissecting the curse of privilege, handling common issues through the lens of the elite. But season 5 feels like it is treading on well-worn ground. Someone wants to marry a commoner, someone else is having an affair, someone’s getting a little too chatty with the press, and once again the Queen has to step in with firm but fair words.

Mohamed Al-Fayed and his son Dodi Fayed (who passed away alongside Princess Diana in that fateful car accident) receive a polarizing episode dedicated to their family’s rise from the streets of Egypt to owning the Ritz in Paris. Although a refreshing side-step from the monotony of divorcing Windsors, his depiction of being desperate to join the ruling class who once oppressed his people has been met with criticism. There are also side plots dedicated to Boris Yeltsin and the Royal Family’s history with Russia, plus a rather bland episode about Phillip’s love for horse carriage driving!

The Crown has always loved a parallel but the lack of subtlety in many scenes is almost laughable. In the premiere, we meet an ageing Elizabeth and then, minutes later, we meet a worn-out royal yacht that taxpayers are reluctant to pay to repair. She even tells Prime Minster John Major (Trainspotting’s Johnny Lee Miller, who unexpectedly transforms for the role) that the Britannia is a “floating, seagoing expression of me.” In a later scene, Prince William (Senan West, Dominic West’s real-life son who certainly has the look of a young William) encourages the Queen to replace her outdated television set because his father has a newer, shinier one.

The fact the Queen is outdated and malfunctioning, while Charles is shiny new and up-to-date is shoehorned into every metaphor, every parallel, and seemingly every minute of dialogue. It’s like someone missed the show-not-tell day of scriptwriting school. The lack of nuance is an astonishing misstep from a talented writer like Morgan, who also gave us The Last King of Scotland (2006), Frost/Nixon (2008), and Rush (2013).

The Crown also has a Diana problem. Despite Debicki’s genius portrayal of the late royal, the lack of tact towards her perhaps declining mental health feels uncomfortable to watch. The writers make a range of bold and controversial choices about the depiction of Diana, someone who’s still a beloved figure for many. Multiple times the princess is shown in her car, speeding through London, often with paparazzi or fans chasing her. Whilst she did express real-life concerns someone would tamper with her car, the depiction of her in her vehicle when you know her future feels ghoulish. The real-life untimely passing of a mother of two young sons shouldn’t be portrayed like a grand finale to a soap opera drama, gleefully teased through foreshadowing.

Diana was paranoid about her privacy, constantly concerned about her phone being tapped and her home bugged. The show portrays these legitimate concerns with distastefully broad brushstrokes. They also portray the divorcee as being distastefully flirty, making eyes at surgeons whilst her friend is having heart surgery. For a show so focused on the late princess, it’s clear they had no idea how to address her vivacious personality and sadness at her divorce.

The Crown also recreates the infamous ‘Tampongate’ conversation between Charles and Camilla (an underused Olivia Williams). The show portrays the couple sympathetically despite acknowledging the affair was just one of the reasons Charles and Diana’s relationship fell apart. The phone hacking scandal that led to the UK press publishing intimate details about the royals is acknowledged in the show as an invasion of the privacy of two consenting adults. Only by word-for-word recreating this scandal in a show that has been met with controversy over the veracity of the facts portrayed, it feels like the drama is committing the same violation.

This season of The Crown feels more like a soap opera than ever. The performances are less dedicated than in earlier years, with less focus on capturing the essence of these well-known public figures. The whole production feels sloppier with less care taken with the script, the sets, and the costumes. For such an interesting and turbulent part of British history, The Crown has managed to make the whole thing rather bland.

UK | 2022 | 10 EPISODES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

frame rated divider netflix

Cast & Crew

writer: Peter Morgan.
directors: Jessica Hobbs, Alex Gabassi, May el-Toukhy, Christian Schwochow & Erik Richter Strand.
starring: Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Dominic West, Jonny Lee Miller, Olivia Williams, Claudia Harrison, Natascha McElhone, Marcia Warren & Elizabeth Debicki.