The Pitch: Season 5 of The Crown has a unifying theme that stands out – being king is not a good time. The penultimate episode of the handsome Netflix drama is clearly at the beginning of the end as Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton, successor to Olivia Colman) confronts her old age, Prince Charles (Dominic West, successor to Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki, successor to Emma Corrin) faces her infamous divorce, and Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce, successor to Tobias Menzies) faces…really getting into carriage racing.
As gray and somber as ever, season five continues the series’ march toward the one seismic event that will shake Britain to the core. But it takes time as it further explores both the symbolic power of the royal family and the difficulties of being a part of it.
Seize the Time: You can sense in the shadow of The Crown season 5 the fact that it was originally intended to encompass the entire final arc of Princess Diana’s life. But the decision to split the story into two seasons instead, delaying the inevitable to some degree and leading Season 5 to a somewhat muted finale, works on a creative level.
Relieved of the burden of having to capture so much story, these ten episodes feel like they can really breathe, and in length most last close to 50 minutes – compared to Season 1, which stretches to 60 more frequently minutes. It might seem like a trivial detail, but the increased tightness goes a long way towards making this a smooth, if perhaps relatively understated, narrative.
Each season of The Crown has worked hard to reconcile character stories with larger narratives of global relevance: while the show is never committed to a character-of-the-week structure like the show Lost, for example, the show seems at its best to work when episodes declare a focus on a specific character from the start. So it’s a pleasure to see creator Peter Morgan really embracing that approach this year, with almost every episode highlighting at least one character.
A walking shadow, a poor gambler: Alongside the main characters, Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville, successor to Helena Bonham Carter) also finds herself in the tragic spotlight as a woman who continues to grapple with what her status in life has cost her on a personal level . And the beginning of the end comes in the form of Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) — call him “Mou Mou” — the wealthy Egyptian businessman whose interest in belonging to Britain’s upper class leads his son, Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) in Diana’s orbit.