Imelda Staunton dons the headgear but series 5 of The Crown feels like it is damaging the brand
“The House of Windsor should be binding the nation together”
By rights, the second major cast change for The Crown to take us through its final two series ought to have been an outright winner. Bringing in the likes of Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki is a serious statement of intent but it is hard not to feel that Peter Morgan’s writing has gone off the boil somewhat, as the focus turns from what has felt like a genuine piece of socio-historical commentary of the second half of the twentieth century to unnecessary insularity and tawdry gossip.
The immediate case in point is this fifth series’ framing device of the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia, intended to be the route into which we fall headlong in sympathy with the Queen. The matter of timing aside, it still feels like a wrong-headed approach to try and set emotional stakes at such an unrelatable level. Oh your big tax-payer funded boat is being taken away from you? Boo-fucking-hoo. Particularly in a time period which covers her annus horribilis of 1992, where domestic fires (albeit at Windsor Castle) and big divorces in the family took place, the distancing of this framing feels curious.
For we’ve moved away from the geo-politics of the earlier series that I found so fascinating, snippets of history I knew little of, to focus almost entirely on the interpersonal turmoil caused by the rift between Charles and Diana. We even get a whole episode devoted to Mohamed Al-Fayed which just feels weird, when the lives of Anne, Andrew and Edward are barely touched upon, the latter two barely featuring as fleshed-out characters. And I’m not sure that Dominic West ever really feels right as Charles, the arguably generous writing sitting awkwardly with this interpretation of events, Elizabeth Debicki’s pantomime-like portrayal of the dipped-head at every conceivable opportunity also robbing her portayal of depth.
Lesley Manville is excellent as the perennially under-used Princess Margaret, Olivia Williams is eerily good as Camilla and though he’s far too hot in the role, Jonny Lee Miller’s John Major is used well throughout the series. But the continual introduction of minor but significant supporting characters leaves the audience with too much to catch up on all the time – Natascha McElhone’s Lady Romsey a case in point (a woman who would cheat on Elliot Cowan with Jonathan Pryce’s Prince Philip? Madness I tell you!) – while so many of the core cast are left so badly underserved by the script.
Late on, episode 9 ‘Couple 31′ does what the show does best, in relating these troubles to the nation at large, as the tales of several couples’ divorces are laid out alongside the Wales’s, but it is too little too late by that point. Perhaps hamstrung by the increasing closeness to the present day and to the audience’s strongly held opinions of all these shenanigans, the show seems happier to deal in caricatures rather than characters and so The Crown has lost a lot of its lustre.