TV Review: The Crown (Series 6 Part 1)

The first four episodes of the final series of The Crown prove melodramatic nonsense – Princess Di fan-fiction given the luxury treatment

“You’re either in or out”

As The Crown reaches its sixth and final series, Netflix in their infinite wisdom have decided to split the release in two, dropping the first four episodes this week with the remainder to follow on 14th December. I understand the reasoning, in wanting to spread what they hoped was the joy and maximise its impact, but it is a very curious choice in terms of the subject of those episodes. For whilst The Crown is nominally about the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, she is barely a bit player in the first three of these instalments as Elizabeth Debicki takes centre stage over Imelda Staunton.

For the year is 1997 and the focus is almost entirely on Diana, Princess of Wales as she establishes her life outside of the Royal Family, whilst still occupying their every thought according to writer Peter Morgan. As she sits on yachts, and walks through minefields, and sits on more yachts, she relishes playing the perfect divorced mother – spoiling William and Harry with Mediterranean sunshine and casually lapping up the lavish lifestyle offered by the besotted Dodi Fayed and dishing petty revenge on Charles and Camilla wherever possible. But as Windsors glower in Balmoral, a fateful path to Paris is revealed.

But that makes it sound much better than it actually is. The writing of The Crown has been heading markedly downhill the closer to the present day it gets and here it is just nothing but melodramatic nonsense, Princess Di fan-fiction given the luxury treatment. Earlier series seemed genuinely interested in a socio-political examination of the role of the Royal Family in an ever-evolving British society but that has diminished over time and here, we’re just left with a tawdry retelling of recent history that wears its frequent uses of dramatic license painfully obviously.

It is drama of course, not a documentary, but it is just so trashy now. And with a huge ensemble cast like this, with so many great talents wasted (Lesley Manville’s Princess Margaret is particularly underserved), this early heavy focus on Diana and the Al Fayeds for three episodes does feel misjudged. The fourth, ‘Aftermath’, finally lets the show click into gear as the focus finally falls onto the Queen and the difficult choices of the week after Diana’s death but even then, visitations of Diana and Dodi from beyond the grave move us closer to tasteless than tasteful. Grim watching.

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