The Crown is back for one final season. Season 6 Part 1 focuses on the final weeks of Princess Diana. Here’s our review:
Season 6 of The Crown begins with an unassuming French man walking his dog in Paris, in 1997. The dog is uninterested in doing its business, greatly annoying the man but they keep walking around the city in the hopes that the little mutt will finally pee. Then, a car whizzes past them, followed by several motorcycles, and disappears into a tunnel.
Moments later, a crash is heard.
Princess Diana’s sudden, untimely death was a global tragedy. Diana was universally beloved and her death, even when fictionalised, proves to be compelling, if slightly gossipy, ground for The Crown to mine.
Part one of season 6, with the final six episodes landing later in December, focuses tightly on the People’s Princess, for better and for worse. The first four episodes of the season trace the final eight weeks in her life, focusing mostly on her relationship with Dodi Fayed. Diana’s arc has consistently threatened to eclipse Elizabeth’s; she’s more compelling, more empathetic, but The Crown has always been at its best when digging into the thorny, complex morals of Elizabeth herself.
“I don’t want to be considered unkind, because I’m not,” Imelda Staunton’s iteration of the British monarch says in the first episode. It’s a line that stayed with me throughout the four episodes. The Crown has always maintained a mostly neutral, perhaps mildly positive outlook on Elizabeth and the Royal family, but has also made a point of her inability to show emotion, partly due to her strong sense of duty and partly because she is deeply uncomfortable with displaying her emotions.
But Elizabeth has certainly been unkind in the past, especially towards Diana. The first three episodes render Elizabeth a mere extra in the show that started with her as a young woman rising unexpectedly to power. The Crown has morphed into a very different show from what we tuned into in season one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the closer we get to our own times, the harder it becomes for creator Peter Morgan to present events.
Elizabeth Debicki plays Diana with an almost childlike playfulness. Although the script occasionally reduces her to just a frivolous homewrecker or a saint-like humanitarian, Debicki works miracles with the material. Diana’s relationship with the press, already a big storyline in season five, is under a microscope here, but The Crown fails to offer anything new or insightful about the princess that we haven’t seen in recent documentaries like The Princess or even Pablo Larraín’s fictional Spencer.
The final episode of Part I, titled Aftermath, is the best of the lot. It’s largely a story of grief, but the reignited focus on Elizabeth proves to be powerful stuff. Elizabeth, whose relationship with Diana was complicated and difficult at best and hostile at worst, struggles with the public demand for her to lead them in grief. Staunton’s internalised performance is much more muted than Olivia Colman and Claire Foy’s from previous seasons, but that’s not to be mistaken for lack of nuance.
Part I is largely Elizabeth Debicki’s show, but Dominic West is able to infuse his Charles with a quiet pathos. Dodi Fayed is somewhat underwritten and their relationship feels superficial, but actor Khalid Abdalla is able to bring a lot of warmth to the otherwise thankless role. In fact, most characters feel thoroughly underserved by Morgan’s scripts. Part I offers very little new information or insight into these characters; Charles, now King in real life, feels particularly thin and shallow.
The Crown season six starts off wobbly, but improves by the final episode of Part I. We already know Part II will cover events all the way up to 2005, but will not cover Harry’s relationship with Megan. It doesn’t need to, really. Watching Diana be mercilessly hounded by the press at every turn serves as a reminder that very little has changed and history will repeat itself, over and over again.
The Crown Season 6 Part I is now streaming on Netflix.