The fifth season of “The Crown”, which premiered two months after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, is being questioned by many other issues. The Netflix series has reloaded with new talent and old problems, but it feels more disjointed than ever. It is an uneven campaign that confirms the Emmy-winning series’ risk of extending its reign for too long.
This theme is a highlight of the new season’s palace intrigue. Prince Charles (Dominic West), who is chafing about his heir’s in-waiting status, openly discusses “Queen Victoria Syndrome” which refers to his mother, Queen (Imelda Staunton), too deeply rooted in tradition and the past to adapt to the changing demands of a modern monarchy.
The season starts in 1991. There’s also the hint that Elizabeth will retain the title for at least three more decades. Charles’ public image is already being damaged by the dissolution of his marriage with Diana (Elizabeth Debicki), whose pensive, slightly sad gaze perfectly portrays Diana’s. She’s not as sympathetic this time, which is a result of her ignorance about the horrors that public speaking about the Royal Family could unleash.
John Lee Miller, the new Prime Minister, feels the discomfort of these public flare-ups. He is more aware of the dynamics than key players and can therefore better understand them. This doesn’t make him any less uncomfortable.
Peter Morgan, the writer/producer, continues to explore all manner of situations in the 10 episodes. This includes the unlikely friendship between Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce), who plays a major role, and Penny Knatchbull, the younger wife of Philip’s godson (Natascha MacElhone). It begins when he tries to console her after the tragic loss of her daughter.
Philip also took it upon himself to criticize Diana for not understanding the institution to which she was married. He reminded her that it is “not a home”. It’s a system.
Despite the attention on Diana and Charles in this decade, digressions seem more pronounced – or in some cases, more questionable – this year. These include the plights of Princess Margaret (now Lesley Manville), whose past is still a mystery, and the extensive backstory of Khalid Abdalla (“The Kite Runner”), Diana’s eventual boyfriend, and his status-obsessed wealthy dad, in whose eyes, the younger man cannot achieve enough.
Add an episode about Russia and the Royals’ sour history around the Revolution and it can sometimes feel like a bridge too far.
Even under the most difficult circumstances, the upper lips are still extremely stiff. Charles confides to his mother about Diana and says, “I did what you asked, mamma.” She responds with a stern, “I’ve tried to make this work,” and she says that being happily married is a preference, not a requirement.
Casting remains a lavish flex at nearly every level. Timothy Dalton also appears in a
small, but significant, cameo. Morgan once again allows the audience to see his version of events behind closed doors. This includes Charles and Diana quietly talking after they have finalized their divorce.
She tells him, “You’ve never felt young even when you were young.”
The Emmy haul for “The Crown”, its fourth season, is proof that it has been great. It’s still quite good. The highs these younger characters achieved, to borrow from Queen Elizabeth, make the current season more of a choice than a necessity.