Film: Netflix: THE CROWN SEASON 6
Director: Christian Schwochow and Alex Gabassi
Cast: Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville,Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Williams, Khalid Abdalla, Salim Daw, Bertie Carvel, Lydia Leonard and Andrew Havill
Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, it’s difficult to assess a full season based on just a few episodes. But as Netflix decides to drop the most anticipated and tragic chapter in royal history and confines itself to streaming just four out of 10 episodes of the sixth and possibly final season of Emmy winning ‘The Crown’, you can understand the rationale behind it. The focus in the entire runtime is majorly on Lady Diana. And that is why perhaps the ‘standalone’ first part works.
The very first episode takes you to the dreadful moment and then goes back to moments which literally created a ‘royal splash’. The princess’ affair with Dodi Fayed (the rather likeable Khalid Abdalla), we all know, grabbed headlines and captured people’s imagination like nothing before. But to those not so up to date with the royal diary, it’s indeed astonishing to learn how the photograph of the famous kiss of the couple was ‘staged’ and leaked by Dodi’s manipulative father Mohamed Al-Fayed. Interestingly, the photograph not only set the newspapers on fire but was purchased for staggering amounts. The second episode called ‘Two Photographs’ even draws a comparison with a photograph of the reckless Diana with one of the seemingly caring parents, Prince Charles.
But by the time the four-episode Diana story climaxes, the directors and creator writer Peter Morgan’s empathy for both Diana and her divorced husband is more than obvious. The villain here is Dody’s father Mohamed Al-Fayed. As the series would have us believe, it was he who propelled their union and inadvertently also became responsible for their doom. Surprisingly, however, after the infamous car crash in which the couple died, while the world’s attention was on Diana’s demise, the makers humanise Fayed’s character. Our heart goes out for the grieving father, credit for which must be given to the actor Salim Daw for fleshing out the Egyptian businessman’s part with conviction. Indeed, all actors are in excellent form but one that shines more than others is Elizabeth Debicki.
As Diana, Debicki is luminous, enigmatic, vulnerable, intelligent, caring and, above all, a loving mother to her two sons. The series also puts on record that Dodi and Diana were not engaged and marriage was certainly not on her mind, a fact that was corroborated during an inquest into the couple’s death 10 years after the tragedy struck.
That is not to say that every moment in the series is accounted for. Whether Prince Charles truly felt as devastated as portrayed is for royalty watchers to debate. As a viewer, his emotional outburst after Diana’s shocking death does appear a little out of character. Is it in deference to his now exalted stature of the King? Of course, Queen Elizabeth II’s (an impressive Imelda Staunton) cryptic remarks both when she is invited to Charles’ love interest Camilla Parker Bowles’ (Olivia Williams) 50th birthday celebration and her reaction to the passing away of Diana are totally believable. As is her change of mind to show up in London where millions were grieving for a woman they adored. Flight of fancy or factually on point, we also learn it was Charles who understood the pulse of the country. Why, he even has a ready explanation for Diana’s popular appeal. As he says, “Diana gave people what they needed, even it was confirmation that great pain and sadness does not discriminate and comes to those with beauty and privilege too.”
Writing, the backbone of the series, though not as sterling as in the past seasons, grabs your attention. And if there have been countless reasons to experience the royal resplendence so far, there is no reason you should miss out on the first bit of the last outing. The fine ensemble of actors, excellent musical score (Martin Phipps) and wondrous cinematography (Adriano Goldman) make the retelling of Diana’s last days a truly watchable affair. The teaser of the next instalment promises more on December 14. For now, you can get a fair sense of how the paparazzi drove Diana to an untimely fatal end and how her story is not of salacious details but one that demands compassion.