An Emmy Award winning Netflix phenomenon, on a roll since it launched in 2016, may finally be nearing its sell-by date. The Crown has a recency problem.
Not because Season 5 has moved the show’s timeline too close to the present, making the viewing all too uncomfortable as the curtain is pulled back on the lives of people who are still alive and in the public eye.
There’s simply nothing new under the sun. The circumstances of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s divorce have been uncovered and analysed with fine tooth combs over and over again by endless streams of books, column inches and Channel 5 documentaries.
The Crown’s great appeal, leaving aside the spot-on casting and exquisite costuming and set design, was bringing to a new generation of viewers a fascinating history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Past highlights included Season 1’s look at Lord Altrincham’s hand in modernising the monarchy and Season 2’s study of Charles’ troubled education in Scotland. ‘Aberfan’ from Season 3 took us back to a significant yet largely forgotten controversy.
The one thread binding these episodes together: the subject matter was something much of the audience were learning about for the first time.
Imelda Staunton shines just as Claire Foy and Olivia Colman did before her in the role of Elizabeth – when she’s allowed to. Writer and creator Peter Morgan appears to have allowed Season 5 to grow into a manifestation of his own obsession with Diana. The real star, the woman who wears the crown, is very much in a supporting role this time around.
Even when the Queen is the centre of attention again in Episode 4, ‘Annus Horribilis’, it is to showcase perhaps the most well-known moment of the latter part of her reign. Staunton takes the stage to imitate that famous speech in true “say the line Bart!” fashion.
The flashpoints of the late Princess of Wales’ final years are beyond well documented. There’s no intrigue in an episode zoning in on Martin Bashir’s pursuit of his bombshell interview with her. No new ground is broken by delving into her romance with Hasnat Khan.
The audience knows exactly what’s coming and when any show reaches that point it’s time to say goodbye.
Season 5 is at its best when it recommits to illuminating lesser known stories. ‘Mou Mou’ covers Mohamad Al-Fayed’s origins, his entry into British high society and the inspiration he drew from King Edward VIII. The episode subtly ties things together by briefly introducing Dodi Al-Fayed as well, a nod towards things yet to come for Diana.
But it is the episode’s titular character at the heart of things. His relationship with Edward’s former butler Sydney Johnson is heart warming amidst a season of cold, salacious exposés.
The Crown’s strength was never in accuracy but it was at the very least a thoroughly entertaining lens through which to learn something new about the British monarchy.
Now we now exactly what’s coming next when Season 6 releases next year. Mercifully, it will also be the show’s final outing.