“When Diana talks, the world listens…”
At some point, it feels like we stopped listening to The Princess of Wales and, instead, tried to harness her. Obtain her. Maybe we never listened to her in the first place. For some, she gave us her heart and allowed us to share it right back, but there are those who used and wanted her presence to help themselves. The clicking of the paparazzi’s cameras sounds like gunfire. The first four episodes of the final season of Peter Morgan’s iconic series focuses most of its attention on Diana’s final weeks. By honing in on the final weeks leading up to Princess Diana’s death, The Crown is more addictive than ever. It is a somber prologue to a landmark series’ final season.
With some distance from her divorce from Prince Charles, Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana is starting to get her groove back while trying to find where she fits in the world. The world, however, is becoming hungrier for more glimpses of her, and that craving is hitting right at the same time that tabloid journalism is hitting a new peak in the mid-1990s. In episode one, she is spending time on a yacht with Dodi Al-Fayed, and the photographers snap their shots from nearby boats, and they will get closer and closer as these four episodes play on.
One might assume that Netflix wanted to split this season into two parts (one dropping on November 16 while the remaining five episodes follow on December 14) to capitalize on awards consideration, but it’s more respectful than that. These episodes confront Diana’s struggle with loneliness in a completely new way. She now has more freedom being away from Buckingham Palace but she no longer has the same level of protection as she tried to build a life for herself. We see Debicki building an armor the more time she spends with the press, but she does it sneakily, as if she doesn’t want it exposed and splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in the world. Debicki brings back Diana’s desire to be loved, but it’s more cautious now. She has been wrong too many times about people’s intentions and too many promises have been broken. Debicki delivers a performance we will be talking about for years to come.
Characters like Princess Margaret (a watchful Lesley Manville) and Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce) will surely appear more in the second half of this sixth season, and Morgan should be commended for giving Diana’s story the elegance and weight it deserves. He was nominated for an Oscar for penning the story of Queen Elizabeth’s reaction to Diana’s death in 2006’s The Queen, but these four hours balance out the other side. There is unbelievable tension leading up to the accident even though we all know it’s coming–our hearts are still not prepared. In episode four, Morgan presents us with a few conversations that feel are stylistically different than what we are used to from The Crown, but this is new territory. They are conversations about regret, moving forward, and one’s intentions, but they should be given the thoughtful consideration that Morgan has proposed to us.
Dominic West, as Prince Charles, is more controlled in his second outing, and his grief coming to the forefront in such a sudden way makes you appreciate his performance even more. He’s remarkable. Khalid Abdalla’s Dodi is given more space here than the newspapers ever provided in the English-speaking press. Abdalla imbues his character with an flirtatious excitement to be around The People’s Princess, but he is always careful of his father’s presence. Salim Daw, as Mohamed Al-Fayed, shows us a man blinded by his own ambition and eagerness to be seen as an equal with the Royal Family. He has a brief scene in episode four that is truly heartbreaking.
The Crown has never done anything like this before because the world has never felt such immense, collective loss like it did when Princess Diana died. We know this story, but we have never seen it like this. It meets history in a brand new way, and we find ourselves standing at a precipice like never before. Our hearts are scarred after Diana’s death, but like her, we have to learn to stand on our own two feet and face the danger head-on.
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix. The final episodes will drop on December 14.