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Is The Crown losing its luster?

It’s still ‘watchable’ but….

The Crown official poster from Netflix


Credit: Netflix/YouTube

The much anticipated fifth season of The Crown has arrived and has us salivating over what the show’s creator Peter Morgan has up his sleeve. For the past four seasons, viewers were glued to his series about the British monarchy under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The Crown offers a riveting look at the private lives of the residents of Buckingham Palace. Exquisitely written and perfectly cast and acted, The Crown has converted non-royal watchers like me into obsessed fans.

Of course, I know much of the show is fiction, but it does showcase some of Britain’s important historical events. Thus it’s both educational and gossipy. Before Season 5’s debut on Netflix, a number of British luminaries expressed their distaste for the show, which is being streamed just a few months after the Queen’s demise.  Not a few have scolded Netflix for not reminding subscribers that The Crown is fiction. That’s just what Netflix needed:  free publicity.

Unless they’re making a documentary, filmmakers are licensed to amplify certain situations in a person’s life for the sake of expediency and entertainment. For instance, when Catherine Zeta-Jones played screen legend Olivia de Havilland in the miniseries Feud, the real De Havilland sued. A particular scene had miffed her—when Zeta-Jones says the word “bitch.” The 100-year-old De Havilland claimed she has never used that vulgar word. She lost the case.

Like De Havilland (she played the Queen Mother in a TV movie about Charles and Diana), Elizabeth II and her family are fodder for the likes of Peter Morgan. And thanks to Morgan, we peasants are given the chance to be flies on the wall of the opulent homes of British royalty.

Morgan has given the Windsors a lot to worry about, since Season 5 covers the events that happened in the 1990s.  For starters, the marriages of three of the queen’s children are on the rocks. And there’s the steamy phone conversation between Prince Charles and his mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles, and the no-holds-barred TV interview with Diana on BBC.

The Crown dwells in those scandals, sporadically. In between are lengthy, talky scenes involving the queen (now played by Imelda Staunton) and Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce).  The scenes are supposed to be intimate and poignant, but they don’t resonate with viewers. They go on for too long, and we don’t really care because we aren’t sure if that conversation really took place.

A similar scene happens with Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). Newly divorced, they meet one last time and discuss what went wrong with their marriage. Again, for a scene that may not have happened, it goes on forever.

The show has too many talky scenes

As it happens, the show has too many talky scenes. We have the Crown Prince making speeches about modernizing the monarchy.  It begins to sound like propaganda. Then there’s Prince Philip extolling the joys of horse carriage racing, which is so boring it should give the queen grounds for divorce.

Morgan includes at least three scenes that were probably inspired by the 1989 romcom When Harry Met Sally.  The movie is notable for showing various couples relating how they had met and fallen in love. The Crown presents the opposite: We see couples in court arguing why they should be granted divorce. It’s a telling comparison—ordinary couples having the same problems as royalty. But to feature three couples is too much. They could have just done the same with Princess Anne and Capt. Mark Philips. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s spat would have been the icing on the cake.

As with previous seasons, Peter Morgan spices Season 5 with historical intrigue. This time it involves Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the tragic Czar Nicholas and his family. But the issue is easily resolved. We’ve been baited to follow a side story that doesn’t rate an episode. It’s only because Prince Philip’s DNA confirmed the identity of the recovered remains of the Russian royal family. Also, the back story on Dodi Al-Fayed is handled the way a miniseries based on a Judith Krantz novel would.

Rest assured The Crown is still watchable and well-mounted. It just that everything is presented perfunctorily. Even that brief scene of Diana in her revenge dress is treated as if it was a matter of obligation.

Season 5 lacks the sparkle of the previous seasons.  The show was often enthralling. Who could resist watching the amusing rivalry between the queen and Jacqueline Kennedy?  The queen’s scenes with Margaret Thatcher were brilliantly presented.  Also compelling were the episodes on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And of course, the show peaked with Diana’s rise to international stardom.   Charles and Diana dancing to Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was a memorable highlight.

The show belongs to Elizabeth Debicki, who transforms herself into the princess

The new cast for Season 5 is excellent. The show belongs to Elizabeth Debicki, who transforms herself into the princess with just a little help from the production’s fairy godmothers. Her artistry and physical assets do most of the work. She has the voice, the look, and the height.  A staggering 6’3”, she’s five inches taller than Diana. Since Season 5 is all about Diana coping with her unhappy life, Debicki does the shy and sullen look. She does it perfectly. I felt I was watching the real thing.

The rest of the cast do well, particularly Jonathan Pryce and Imelda Staunton. I did have a slight problem with Staunton, though. She’s flawless even if she doesn’t seem right as Elizabeth II. She comes across as stern and crusty even when she’s supposed to be vulnerable. I expect her to pick up the queen’s rifle and blast the head off anyone who dares annoy her.  Staunton playing Her Majesty the Queen is like Nova Villa getting cast as the late President Corazon Aquino. The venerable, versatile comedienne can probably pull it off, yet we’d still feel she isn’t the right fit.

I could be nitpicking because Season 5 is all about the decline of the monarchy in the 1990s. “Annus Horribilis” was how the queen herself described that terrible year (1992) when everything was falling apart.  Hence, the morose character of the entire season. The queen’s beloved yacht, the Britannia, is used as metaphor for the monarchy. The luxurious vessel required major repairs, but the government wouldn’t foot the bill. It was eventually decommissioned. The metaphor, shoved on us from Episode 1 to 10, may well describe The Crown’s fifth season. Let’s just hope the writers restore the show’s gleam in the next season.

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About author

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He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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