Upon its first season’s release in 2016, The Crown introduced to a myriad of viewers, local and international, a challenging, interior take on the British Royal Family. There is no doubt that the show has become ingrained in our culture: we eagerly await the announcement of the new cast; we compare pictures, outfits and mannerisms. It will certainly be hard to leave the mania behind. However, on the back of five consistently well-written, acted and filmed series, is it difficult to hold the final sixth season to the same standard?
Split into two parts released over a month, each set of episodes successfully depicts the hysteria caused by the death of Princess Diana, as well as the changing dynamics of English attitudes towards monarchy in a changing political landscape (a young Tony Blair, impeccably played by Bertie Carvel, paired nicely with this). The narrative as a whole in season six was adequate, and interesting enough to keep you until the end. A standout episode which showcased how talented the writer and creator Peter Morgan truly is was Episode 8, ‘Ritz’; our final goodbye to Princess Margaret, played by the incomparable Lesley Manville. We see an adventure of the young sisters upon the end of WWII, paired with cuts to the older Margaret, whose health is slowly declining. This episode is true to the heart of The Crown; bittersweet, compassionate and, unsurprisingly, sisterly. As I watched, the sense of sisterhood—one of the most compelling elements of the show—was consolidated for me, each pair of actors who played Elizabeth and Margaret nestling themselves in the emotions of everyone who watched (especially those of us with sisters ourselves). I applaud the writers for this episode; a baring of humanity on two people who were rarely granted that luxury.
It is a shame then, that this attribute was not consistent throughout the other episodes of the season. At times, the writing felt rushed and seemed to lean too heavily on the aesthetics of the characters and the scenery. For example, whilst Imelda Staunton looks eerily similar to the Queen Elizabeth we knew, her dialogue and character-centric episodes felt like a slog; I felt as though I was searching for that ‘tug-on-the-heartstring’ moment I felt so consistently with Claire Foy in the first two seasons. Even in the final episode, depicting how the Queen was troubled with talks of her funeral, it still felt incongruous with how the writing has been over the past decade. I felt somewhat emotional, but not moved the way I have been—and what a waste this feels, of such an incredible, iconic performer. In my opinion, Staunton did a beautiful job with what she was given. Also, it is hard to not mention the return of Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, two powerhouse actresses who certainly left their mark on us in their run as the infamous matriarch. However, their cameo didn’t impact me all that much; although I do love an Avengers-type guest star, I’m not sure how well this fits with the milieu of The Crown, and unfortunately, it felt like bait for social media discussions.
This criticism aside, as I watched a much-loved, and rewatched, show come to an end, I was struck by this dichotomy that has run through the series as a whole—this constant back-and-forth between impression and embodiment. This is a show full of real people, who we have known and (maybe) loved, who we have crazed over, and criticised, who we’ve watched get married and have children—it is extremely hard to remove this context when we watch. I think the most impactful example of this would be Princess Diana, the People’s Princess. We know all of her mannerisms; the head tilt, the eyes, the soft-spoken ‘alright’—many can even whip out an impression over a game of ‘Who Am I?’ But to play her, to embody her, is an entirely different category. Elizabeth Debicki, for me, did this perfectly and emerged as the star of season six. She carried Diana so close to her in the performance, but it didn’t feel like an impression or a caricature, it felt like a real woman, trying to live a normal life just months away from her fatal accident in Paris, and perhaps this is why I felt so moved at the end of Part I. Merely watching Debicki greet her on-screen sons at the premier earlier in November tells us all we need to know about the passion behind this performance.
Wonderfully, a newer actor also made the season shine further. This is 24-year-old Ed McVey, playing a university-age Prince William, thrown amidst romance, grief and responsibility. Yes, the resemblance is uncanny, but I think McVey had such a delicacy around his mannerisms, not just impersonating the Prince but giving us a rare insight into his personality, his flaws and his humanity. As I watched, I felt this was a standout performance for such a young actor amidst so many notoriously talented people, and, strangely, I grieved the fact we wouldn’t get to see more of him in this role.
Upon reflection, whilst some parts of the final season felt somewhat lacklustre, and the momentum of the writing level seemed to dissipate, I think that the many astonishing performances of seasoned and newly emerging actors propped up whatever discrepancies arose from the sometimes unnecessary dialogue, and the attention to detail in costumes, dialects, sets and locations come together to wrap up the final season of a wonderful series. Safe to say, I still adore the show, and Foy, Colman and Staunton deserve every second of awards buzz and critical praise they have received.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-FIlm & TV Editor