The British monarchy is on the cusp of a new chapter. Queen Elizabeth II is no longer on the throne and for the first time in seven decades, it will now have a King at the helm of royal affairs. As King Charles III ascends the throne, the fifth season of Netflix’s The Crown revisits the 90s, one of the most turbulent times for the royals, a decade marked by divorce, misfortune and death. In the late Queen Elizabeth II’s own words, 1992 was her ‘annus horribilis’ or year of misfortune.
Even though the relevance of the monarchy is questioned by many, there is no denying the interest in the royals and their lives continue to make headlines. Though the Peter Morgan-helmed series has been criticized by many, including Dame Judie Dench, for being “wholly true” and “unjust” to the royals, it still is a compelling watch of what actually unfolds beyond the gilded guardrails.
The new season is the first to be released after the passing of Queen Elizabeth on September 8, 2022 and her husband Prince Philip in 2021. And we even have a brand new cast on board for the new season. Imelda Staunton comes on board as Queen Elizabeth II, Jonathan Pryce plays Prince Philip, Elizabeth Debicki reprises her role as Princess Diana and Dominic West will be seen as Prince Charles. The series, which saw a spike of more than 500 percent in viewership following the Queen’s death, feel viewers may gain a bit of comfort in seeing the Queen being embodied again and the show may reinforce what she stood for.
“The people who arrived to pay their last respects to her showed the high regard and reverence they had for a woman who kept her promise. The show reaffirms her commitment, and the people’s response towards her amazed me because of how much they admired this woman. We are celebrating a woman who just did the job and not something outside it, she was always very straight on about everything,” said Staunton.
In the last season, we saw the Queen admonish her son Prince Charles from divorcing his wife Princess Diana and Princes Philip warn his daughter-in-law that breaking away from the Royal Family would not end too well for her.
The new season shows the breakdown of the Diana-Charles marriage, his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and the tabloid spectacle that followed. The Princess of Wales’ interview with journalist Martin Bashir on her marriage and separation from Charles made the very private royal affairs public fodder.
So how would the new season be received especially since it once again highlights a period in time that those who lived through it rather not revisit? On Prince Charles, whose life has been one of the most scrutinised and publicised members of the royal family, West says, “This period covers a time when he went through a divorce. There are two sides to a divorce and I suppose the viewers saw or heard one or the other. Hopefully, there can be a bit of perspective now and everyone gets a fair hearing. That’s part of the reason for doing it and I tried to understand him and ended up liking the character, so you either take their side and give them the benefit of the doubt, and this may happen when people see Charles in the show.”
A pop cultural icon, Princess Diana remains one of the most loved members of the Royal Family. In fact, her tragic death in 1997 continues to spark many conspiracy theories. As the show highlights her life post-divorce and her intimate friendship with tycoon Dodi Al Fayed, Debicki opened up about her process. The actor revealed that even though there is enormous source material available on Lady Diana, she took the help of source material that never made it to the public eye.
“I took a deep dive into the archived snippets and unedited raw material to understand and access the character through those little off moments.” However, the actor added interpreting these characters could pose a technical challenge.
“Trying to understand who these characters are behind closed doors and finding that silhouette. What made Princess Diana so interesting with her fashion choices was how she rode the private into the public sphere which was such a non-royal thing to do, so fascinating for people because it was so transgressive and telling of her narrative.”
Jonathan Pryce added that though working in the series may not have changed his perception of the monarchy and their lives, it may have just reinforced it, but playing Prince Philip gave him perspective. “It’s made me much more aware of the tainted man he was beyond the headlines, he spent most of his life getting bad press for saying all the wrong things and it was interesting to explore the man behind those things, and that has changed my views of him.”
Season 5 of The Crown is available to be streamed on Netflix.