How “The Crown” lost its glory (review)

After four stellar seasons, Netflix’s The Crown’s streak of brilliance has reached a disappointing end with season five.

By Flora Haberman – 10th grade and El Haberman – 5th grade (illustration)

Credit: Netflix

The Crown, a historical drama Netflix series first released in 2016, always managed to create an exhilarating illusion that made watchers feel as though they were peering into the tumultuous but fascinating lives of the British royal family through a familiar, relatable lens. Paired beautifully with its striking cinematography and orchestral soundtrack, writer Peter Morgan was able to entwine the individual plights of characters in a clever, meaningful way and was deft at displaying the many wondrous and, at times, disturbing complexities of royal duty throughout the show’s first four seasons. 

Season four, which highlighted tensions between Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, also began following Diana and Prince Charles’s developing relationship. Viewers were left blown away and highly anticipating the next season to come, but when season five was finally released in the fall of 2022, instead of being the exhilarating encore we had all been waiting for, the new episodes were a huge letdown.

 Lacking essential energy from a miscasted group of characters, season five certainly paled in comparison to the vibrancy and wit of previous seasons. Dominic West, casted as the Prince of Wales, simply did not fit the role and was not honest in his depiction of Charles’s character. Portrayed as a “forward thinker,” embracing progressive ideals and burning with an irritating desire to take his mother’s place on the throne, Charles was written almost like a promotional figure for today’s modern royal family, which is certainly convenient considering his recent succession to the crown… 

Diana presented as purposeless

One scene even felt like watching a badly made infomercial advertising for the Prince’s Trust that included a gag worthy segment of breakdancing. It was so grossly unlike the regally high level of class maintained by the show that it provoked a cheap, laughable quality while watching. Even more shocking though was how the scripts turned a blind eye to Charles’s disgraceful behavior both before and during the divorce, meanwhile intently focusing on presenting Diana as clingy, lonely, hysterical and somewhat purposeless. The writing in season five, along with Elizabeth Debiki’s inability to portray the warm and nurturing nature that Diana always possessed, did not do justice to the reality of the Princess’s profound love of people and her dedication to connect with them. Morgan instead chose to script a gullible character who turned to her young children for emotional support and lacked the independence to rely on her own strength after divorcing an abusive husband. Just as repulsive is the fact that Charles’s blatant and continuous adultery was somehow justified throughout the season in the name of love. He and Camilla Parker Bowles were essentially made to be “victims” of an unfair system and their sickly scenes reeked with a repugnant desperation for sympathy from the audience. 

Though I wish I was able to draw at least some positive aspects from the latest season, even Queen Elizabeth II, played by Imelda Staunton, was a dull presence on the screen. With the focus primarily on her dismay, once again, at her husband’s infidelity, and the uncertain possibility of a renovation for the royal yacht Britannia, the Queen’s role was devoid of anything remotely interesting. Recycled themes were used that depended solely on her stiff, emotionally closed nature and her struggle between acting as sovereign or as a family member. It is also only fair to point out that the fatal flaw of season five lies not so much on the shoulders of the actors but more so on the poor quality of Peter Morgan’s writing. His lack of any objectivity did a major disservice to the show considering the crucial time period that the season covered. 

When the sixth and final season of The Crown was announced, instead of feeling overjoyed as I once would have been before being subjected to the unforgivable failures of season five, I could only muster a doomed sense of apprehension. Though the damage of season five is irreparable, with any luck, the season to come will at least spare me the urge of wanting to rip my eyes out. Given Morgan’s painfully obvious capitulation to pushing narratives rather than remaining faithful to the delicate art of historical fiction, there is no doubt in my mind that audiences of all generations will walk away from the series with a tarnished perspective of a deeply important royal era.

Princess Diana by El Haberman – 5th grade

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