The much-awaited fifth season of The Crown has finally arrived on Netflix. The ten-episode season travels through the trials and tribulations of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘favorability’ to stay as monarch in the British public’s view. It also draws parallels of the Queen’s reign with the HMS Britannia, a royal yacht that Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) was deeply attached to. However, due to its expensive repair costs, it is suggested to the Royal Family that the yacht be retired. Prince Charles (Dominic West) gears for a ‘modern’ monarchy and a ‘progressive’ mindset as his marriage to Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) crumbles. The only time you see him truly happy is when he is around the real love of his life, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams).
As the noise around the show and British royalty play around each other, the show now has a disclaimer saying it is a ‘fictionalized portrayal based on historical events’. But given that the public had especially hounded Diana’s life religiously, the gaps between what the public saw in real-time versus what The Crown shows are painfully evident. The viewer then realizes that the show isn’t about Diana anyway – rather, she is a figure (a prominent one, no doubt) in the drama that surrounds the crown itself. The protagonist continues to be Queen Elizabeth and the significance of the Crown itself in that respective time.
Season 5 may not have many major historical events to play around with (some choice ones are Windsor Castle burning down and of course, Charles and Diana’s marriage falling apart). Still, it keeps the momentum with tense personal moments. It looks at Mohammed and Dodi Al Fayed and their relationship with the British establishment. It also focuses a lot on Charles himself and his ambition to be King.
Regarding Diana, Debicki does her best and succeeds in it as much as possible. Given the past ‘renditions’ of Diana, Debicki possibly comes closest to the portrayal. She laughs and cries easily, the awkward head-tilt becomes more of a natural reaction than a thought-out gesture, which makes Debicki appear more genuine than the previous actresses who have attempted to play the Princess of Wales.
Charles and Diana’s floundering relationship is one of the key points of The Crown’s emotional arcs, and they deliver beautifully. A scene where a candid conversation occurs between Charles and Diana post their divorce shows you exactly how far apart they were as people and as a couple resulting in both being incredibly unhappy not just for each other but for everyone around them.
Pakistani actor Humayun Saeed plays the role of Dr. Hasnat, Lady Diana’s love interest from 1995-1997. It’s curious that the show only covers that from Episode 07 (No Woman’s Land) to Episode 8 (Gunpowder) with a few scenes alone. While those scenes are wonderful and warm, one does wish we could see more of this relationship which was reportedly the only time Diana was truly happy. It is also said that Jemima Khan (a longtime friend of Diana and ex-Pakistani Prime Minister and ex-cricketer Imran Khan’s ex-wife – Imran and Hasnat were related) had stepped away from consulting for the show because she felt that Diana’s later years weren’t depicted accurately.
Could it possibly be because Dr. Hasnat’s character was reduced, and Dodi’s was increased? As per a report in Vanity Fair in 2013, it was Hasnat who was Diana’s true love. Her relationship with Dodi was extremely short and ended with her death in Paris in 1997. She and Hasnat went out (rather, stayed in Kensington Palace) for two years, and she called him ‘the one who would never sell me out’ and her ‘Mr. Wonderful. She even traveled to Pakistan and mingled with Imran Khan’s sisters to get closer to Hasnat’s family and understand it all better.
There is a childlike quality in Humayun’s depiction of Hasnat that showcases just how innocent and untouched that life was for Diana – and probably one of the many reasons why she was instantly attracted to him when she met him. Humayun appears vastly different from the swaggy avatar he frequently sports in Pakistan. Hasnat appears as a bit of a nerd but disarmingly beautiful and ‘normal’ because he doesn’t become a different person around Diana. His scenes with Debicki are the high points of The Crown and leave you wanting more.
Imelda Staunton takes the mantle from Oliva Colman adeptly and you see the gait, the accent and the tense severity in expressing herself carrying on and perhaps even solidifying more as age grows. But despite age, Imelda’s Elizabeth is still kind and emotional. In a moment where PM Majors tells the Queen the divorce between Charles and Diana is finalized, she turns away and barely sniffs. But that slight sniff is pregnant with emotion and Staunton makes it more palpable than if someone was weeping in a fit of tears.
Season six is reportedly more focused on William and Kate and with the demise of Queen Elizabeth, it remains to be seen how they will handle the show’s final season. One thing is for sure: it will be a season to remember, just as much as this one.