Opening with a flashback to earlier in Queen Elizabeth’s reign draws the audience back in as season five of The Crown begins. This scene serves as a preamble to the season as Elizabeth visits Scotland to attend the launching ceremony of the Royal Yacht Britannia; the Queen gives a speech and tells the audience of the name she has decided. She informs the people in attendance of her hopes for the yacht’s future, how she dreams of it serving as a beacon of stability to mirror the monarchy. These moments reconnect the audience with the idea that Elizabeth’s first (and principal) worry surrounding her rule is the public perception of the Crown and all its senior members. This serves as a setup for the remainder of the season as the series examines the Crown’s hypocrisy and entitlement in its differential treatment of certain senior members.
As the season moves into the 1990s, it becomes time to reintroduce the members of the royal family since the actors for the last two seasons have been replaced by new performers to reflect the effects of aging on the family as the decades come and pass. Stepping into the role of Queen Elizabeth II is Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), bringing to life a monarch that has ruled for decades that stubbornly cannot see the true needs of her own family while attempting to project a persona to the rest of the country. At this point in her rule, Elizabeth seems more comfortable in her role Staunton not only embodies the role in the way both Claire Foy and Olivia Colman did previously, but continuously gives the audience moments of clarity when taking a voyeuristic view of the Queen’s life as she builds on what the performers before her established. While Elizabeth hasn’t changed much throughout the show, as she’s been steadfast in clinging to her beliefs, her entitlement has grown through the years she’s been sovereign. Her frustration with her family has grown as she makes attempts, albeit poor ones, to understand everyone around her.
The Queen is not the only member of the royal family that suffers frustration with those in close proximity to them. In fact, at this point in time, most of the senior members of the Crown are dealing with tension in their lives. Prince Charles (Dominic West, The Affair) is nearing wit’s end with his marriage to Diana (Elizabeth Debicki, Widows). The only thing bonding the two of them being their children, the two barely speak, only having real conversations when they’re out in public to manipulate public opinion. Diana has felt trapped for most of their relationship as Charles seeks refuge in his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams, The Father), Diana practically begging to be seen and understood. Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison, Humans) is also facing marital strife with her husband and discusses the issue with her mother. Anne wants to remarry Sir Timothy Laurence, an equerry to the Queen when the two met. Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread) faces dissonance while dealing with the hypocrisy of those around her, specifically the Queen and the choices that altered Margaret’s happiness and life. Margaret takes issue with Elizabeth’s opinion on Anne’s relationship, as Margaret once found herself in a similar situation earlier in her life. While Diana’s suffering is at the forefront of the season, the rest of the family each claim their own issues with how the system that binds them is set up.
The Crown has always benefitted by changing the actors as the seasons go on and the characters grow older. This could be seen as a positive, as new actors every couple of seasons adds novelty to the series by giving the audience a realistic look at effects of time. It could also be said that audiences might enjoy new actors more than seeing the same actors in heavy, aging makeup. Another added bonus is that the new actors playing these characters have the opportunity to see the performers who previously portrayed their characters and having a starting point in their performances while also being able to build on what’s been done. The acting in the newest season is no different with powerhouse performances being turned in by most members of the main cast. Imelda Staunton is a force of nature as Elizabeth, allowing her a grittiness and frustration that is palpable in most scenes, while Lesley Manville excels at bringing to life Margaret’s exasperation in dealing with her own family. Manville also manages to portray Margaret’s sharp sense of humor with ease. Jonathan Pryce and Dominic West are both excellent in their roles as Philip and Charles, respectively, as they both navigate their marriages in different ways. Although not having as much screen time as Imelda Staunton, the real takeaway from the season is Elizabeth Debicki’s stunning, empathetic performance as Diana. Debicki commands every scene she’s in, Diana’s fragility and resilience on full display every time the camera draws in on Debicki. By the time the audience sees Diana in the famed “revenge dress” a few episodes in, Debicki will have cemented in their minds as the Princess of Wales.
The series has explored many aspects of what it means to be part of a monarchy, a system seemingly designed to cause tension between the members, and how this affects every person who has a connection to both the family and the head of the monarchy. Each season reminds the audience the turmoil that these people have gone through, the legitimate pain that they suffer from being part of a system that’s only goal is to uphold itself in the same image as it always has. Showrunner writer, Peter Morgan, has always kept audiences engaged by bringing fictionalized drama from an actual family to life while also bringing moments of levity that draws audiences in as if a close friend was telling them a joke. The dialogue remains precise and effective, concise yet spontaneous. The newest season digs deep into hypocrisy and entitlement that some members of the Crown exemplify by showing the effects of the decisions of the past, bringing to life the consequences of previous choices. Elizabeth tries her mightiest to keep the family together with no problems, but seems to be at the center of the issues this season.
The Crown returns with an emotionally charged new season that investigates a royal family in crisis as it falls apart. With moments of melodrama combined with an increasing tension as each episode passes, this new season stands tall beside the previous entries in the series as another excellent season of television. While the entire cast is exemplary, it’s Elizabeth Debicki’s portrayal of Princess Diana that audiences have been waiting for and will surely feel satisfied with. The Crown reminds audiences of the privilege that the monarchy possesses while also furthering discussions of how toxic a system like that can be. If the last season follows this pattern of excellence, The Crown will continue to reign as one of television’s best dramas ever.
Season 5 of The Crown will hit Netflix on November 9.