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Is there any other historical drama that has inspired as much histrionic hand-wringing as The Crown? Each new series has brought with it an outpouring of outrage about the Netflix show’s inaccuracies and perceived irreverence — none more so than the sixth and final season, which has already received condemnation for featuring the “ghost” of Diana.
The controversial scenes — which find the recently deceased princess speaking with Charles and the Queen — are likely to only offend those who seek to be offended. After all, these conversations are scarcely less imagined than others in the show or more uncomfortable than the posthumous veneration of Diana as a semi-messianic figure. At worst, these moments are indicative of a series lacking inspiration; all too happy to take emotive shortcuts which externalise the complexity of the royals’ shock and grief.
Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) exists as a spectral figure in the palace even in the weeks before her death. While Charles (Dominic West) vainly mounts a campaign to improve Camilla’s public profile and Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) tries to draw a line under the ignominy of divorce, they are haunted by reports of Diana’s romance with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla). Much of the first three episodes take place on the latter’s yacht and in Parisian suites, where the couple are hounded by the press and Dodi’s father Mohamed, who has his own agenda in pushing for a proposal.
As far as a story about an impressionable man being encouraged by a scheming relative to marry a wealthy, woeful woman goes, it falls short of Killers of the Flower Moon. In terms of capturing the private struggles of the Windsors in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the final episode of this half-season (part two is released next month) feels like a retread of creator Peter Morgan’s 2006 film, The Queen.
But The Crown does remain a burnished, headily perfumed soap full of sumptuous settings, meticulous details and faithful performances. Debicki in particular transcends mere impersonation by imbuing every expression with Diana’s intermingled girlish mischief, maternal love and gnawing sorrow. And while the show is damning of the parasitic paparazzi and unequivocal about their role in the crash in Paris, it also revels in the princess’s outsized charisma. So much so that it clearly can’t bring itself to say goodbye.
On Netflix now. Part two released on December 14
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