The Big Picture
- The Crown Season 6 Part 1 struggles to balance sympathy and speculation, particularly in its depiction of Diana’s final days.
- Elizabeth Debicki’s performance as Diana remains a standout in the cast, conveying her longing for privacy and wistfulness in palpable moments.
- Season 6 feels more like a necessity than a narrative-driven continuation, with events that lack the same relevance and historical distance as previous seasons.
It’s almost hard to comprehend that the end of Peter Morgan‘s The Crown is in sight. There was a time when the Netflix drama series was guaranteed to make a splash during awards season when discussions were being held in the media about whether the show needed a disclaimer of fiction included, and when presences like John Lithgow‘s and Gillian Anderson‘s created strong debate over who was giving the best Prime Minister performance. Now, as the series winds down toward its conclusion — with Part 1 slated to drop this week before Part 2 follows in December — it’s never been clearer that The Crown has shifted further and further away from what once made it a standout in its early seasons.
Some of this slump can be attributed to the events that the final season intends to tackle before the end. Season 6 needs sufficient time to depict the final weeks of Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) life leading up to that fateful Paris car crash (which, to its credit, it navigates as carefully and respectfully as has been indicated in pre-premiere interviews). However, it also has to jump forward to tackle the beginnings of William’s (Ed McVey) relationship with Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) and Charles’ (Dominic West) wedding to Camilla (Olivia Williams), although those episodes haven’t been provided for review yet. Overall, the impression is that the series is trying too hard to squeeze in as much relevant history as it can before wrapping things up for good, but the side effect of that is also feeling like The Crown is simply checking off boxes with each episode.
Follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.
- Release Date
- November 4, 2016
- Elizabeth Debicki, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Kirby
- Main Genre
- Biography, Drama
‘The Crown’ Season 6 Part 1 Teeters Between Sympathy and Speculation
When we pick up with the Royal Family, Diana and Charles have been divorced for a year, after finally agreeing to legally split on the heels of Diana’s bombshell Panorama interview with Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) last season. Clearly, they’ve adjusted as best they can to the concept of co-parenting their children, but if the royals hoped that Diana’s divorce from Charles would successfully tone down the media attention she receives, they’re about to get a wake-up call splashed across the headlines. Charles, in particular, seems to be taking it rather personally when his birthday party for Camilla is relegated to below-the-fold placement in the newspapers, while Diana’s time tanning in Saint-Tropez on Mohamed al-Fayed’s (Salim Daw) private yacht has all but dominated the media. Naturally, the Queen (Imelda Staunton) is less than thrilled about how Diana’s been conducting herself as a divorcee and the mother of a future king, but as Philip (Jonathan Pryce) doesn’t hesitate to remind her every chance he gets, Di’s not an HRH anymore. What she does with her life is nothing they can speak out against, even if Elizabeth all but suggests that her former daughter-in-law might be spiraling into the public eye.
This is where The Crown starts to most obviously toe the line between foreshadowing sympathy and speculation for drama’s sake. When Mohamed orders Dodi al-Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) to join him and Diana in Saint-Tropez, even though his son is already engaged to be married to someone else, it isn’t because he believes Dodi and Diana would be a strong love match. Instead, the show depicts him as attempting to leverage their potential relationship as a way to advance his own societal standing in the U.K. Mohamed’s ambition isn’t unfounded, especially when the Royal Family has done all they can to act as if he doesn’t exist in their view, but it establishes an uncomfortable foundation for a relationship that could very well have been just a genuine connection between two people. It also drops a notable pallor over The Crown‘s depiction of Diana’s final days, which are filmed with a funereal air by director Christian Schwochow — even as the paparazzi’s frenzy around the Princess reaches a fever pitch. There seems to be nowhere that Diana can exist peacefully without being hounded, no safe place she can move to without cameras or intense fans following her, but the season doesn’t afford more time to delve into her deeper feelings about it all. The one person who should be at the center of the story here is Diana herself, and yet she registers more of a nonentity, a chess piece moved around at others’ whims, right up until the end.
‘The Crown’ Season 6 Part 1 Is Held Together by Elizabeth Debicki’s Performance
That said, despite the scripts’ attempts to diminish Diana herself, Debicki’s performance remains a standout within the rest of The Crown‘s cast. The first half of the season doesn’t spend much time, if any, in Diana’s head, but there are instances when her wistfulness, her moments of contemplation, and her longing for privacy are palpable on-screen. Nowhere is this more heartwrenching than a scene in the third episode where Dodi and Diana have diverted their travel plans to Paris and walk into a restaurant to dine together; Diana’s presence alone is enough to bring the place to a screeching halt, so much so that even the piano player briefly pauses at the keys. While the symbolism itself is somewhat heavy-handed, as all eyes are on the Princess at that moment, Debicki’s Diana struggles to keep from breaking down in public, and it’s here that the true tragedy of her story can be felt. This is a woman who can effectively be surrounded by so many people and yet feel incredibly, overwhelmingly alone, and it also serves as a strong tip-off to Dodi that his partner will never be able to experience anything remotely resembling a normal life.
Yet the season also feels its weakest when we’re not spending time with Diana — which is likely just as much of a commentary on how luminous the real Diana’s presence was, and what the world lost in the wake of that 1997 tragedy. Charles’ biggest source of insecurity surrounds the Royal Family’s public approval of Camilla, which the Queen presently refuses to give, and when the Prince arranges a meeting with his mother to seek answers, he finds her doting over one of her sick corgis instead. Again, there are times when The Crown is less than subtle at best, but, this many seasons in, it’s as if the show is rapping us on the head with the reminder of Elizabeth’s inability to lovingly mother her own children when we’re already well-aware of the emotional distance that exists within the family. Fractured familial relationships aside, however, there’s still a strong, sweet candor between Charles and Diana in the few scenes they share, so much so that Debicki and West remain each other’s strongest scene partners in this first half.
Did We Even Need Season 6 of ‘The Crown’?
Ultimately, Season 6 of The Crown feels more like a foregone conclusion than a necessity, made up of events the show is obliged to depict as a consequence of its subjects over anything that holds narrative value. Perhaps it’s because the series was at its most successful when it could still be labeled a period drama, illustrating points of history that today’s society is mostly removed from. Diana’s death and the years that followed are all relatively fresh in public memory, and beyond hinting at what the future holds for Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, there’s not much more territory The Crown can tread into without looking as though it’s desperately capitalizing on the recent upheavals that have taken place within the Royal Family. In Season 5, both the monarchy and the show itself were visibly struggling to maintain any semblance of relevancy, and in hindsight, the previous installment may have been even more of a herald for where the series would end up by its finale. Although there’s still the last half of Season 6 left to weigh in on, it’s more than safe to declare that The Crown has lost much of what initially made it shine.
Part 1 of The Crown Season 6 premieres November 16 on Netflix, consisting of four episodes, while Part 2, which includes the remaining six, premieres December 14.
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