In episode 6 of the fifth season of ‘The Crown’, Queen Elizabeth II is dealing with ‘Ipatiev House’ and its aftermath. For the uninitiated, Ipatiev House is the place where Romanovs, her kin, were gunned down. It’s the only episode wherein Imelda Staunton gets the most screen space in the series. Before and after that she is there just for an extended cameo. She is conspicuously missing from the story which is supposed to portray her life and times. And that’s just one of the issues with the new season of ‘The Crown’.
As was in vogue till now, each season deals with one decade in the queen’s life, personal and professional. However, the fifth season seems to have got stuck with just a few years and one single track. It is here where the series starts losing the plot, literally and figuratively.
The ‘War of the Waleses’, the bitter relationship and the acrimonious separation between the then Prince Charles and Princess Diana is the central focus for the majority of the time. If ‘The Crown’ is not dealing with it, then it is telling us about people, things and events which do not matter much in the larger picture. For instance, the Britannia and its decommissioning, Sydney Johnson, the personal valet to Duke of Windsor, Prince Phillips’ obsession with carriages, etc. They have been used as metaphors and audiences are in a way forced to find contemporary context in them.
The writer has spent too much time in the run up to the major events and when we actually reach there eventually, it is all over in a jiffy. Tracks like the much-talked about Prince Charles’ discussing his mother’s abdication, the Panorama interview by Princess Diana stand testimony to it.
For four seasons now, ‘The Crown’ was all about memorable performances, drama, the confrontation between characters and how vulnerable they were as humans. This time all this is missing and how. Instead, you have a docudrama type of treatment of just one issue ‘the royal divorce’. Episode 9 titled ‘Couple 31’ which shows the two getting divorced shows more of the other people going through separation than the royals.
With season 3, Olivia Colman stepped into the shoes of Claire Foy and the progression seemed so seamless. Rather natural. Imelda Staunton has failed to achieve that. As she plays a struggling sovereign she also seems to struggle to fit into the shoes of Claire and Olivia. More so of Olivia. Through her entire body language, her gaze, she pays tribute to Olivia’s portrayal of the queen. Sadly, neither she brings anything new nor adds through her performance.
It is only Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana who steals the show. Debicki’s portrayal of a Diana who has been devastated by her marital tribulations is top notch. So far, we have seen the likes of Emma Corrin and Kristen Stewart essaying the princess’s character. But Debicki takes the cake.
Dominic West does justice to his interpretation of Prince Charles but is completely towered by Debicki, literally. Jonny Lee Miller as John Major, Prime Minister from 1990–1997 in whose tenure the royal ties unraveled, manages to get a meatier role and impresses us.
Otherwise, the series is as usual densely populated and most of the other characters are a blink and miss.
Story-wise Season 5 concludes with Tony Blair taking over as the Prime Minister, decommissioning of the Britannia and Princess Diana holidaying with Mohamed Al-Fayed, Dodi’s father. It is quite clear a lot of her story will continue in Season 6.
Created and written by Peter Morgan, Season 5 had all the ingredients, the revenge dress, the tampongate, the Panorama interview et al. Yet it has managed to conquer new heights of banality thanks to an uninspired story-telling and lethargic direction by Alex Gabassi, May El-toukhy to name a few. It collapses under its own weight of expectations. No wonder it meets its annus horribilis. It suffers from the Queen Victoria syndrome, something which goes on even after it is well past its prime and time.
In tone and texture, Season 5 seems to be completely divorced from its predecessors and unfortunately it does not even stand properly on its own. While this season was eagerly awaited, the fans now may end up watching Season 6, believed to be last in the series, only due to sunk cost fallacy....