Netflix’s The Crown is creator Peter Morgan’s third, most ambitious and frictious foray into chronicling the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who was crowned in 1952 (he’s also written a film and a play about Britain's beloved queen). Oliver Dowden, now the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, had retorted in the past that The Crown needs to carry a fiction “warning” so that people are made aware it is not based in fact. (Judi Dench is amongst those who raised objections as well.) The Crown has always wrung controversy among both fact-checkers as well as apologists of monarchy. (In season 2 for example, the show portrayed Queen Elizabeth making an audacious international relations move simply because she was jealous of Jackie Kennedy being thinner and prettier.)
Morgan has never claimed the series to be a documentary — it is categorised as a drama by Netflix — but a lot of effort is clearly taken in everything from research to make up, to ensure the audience marks the real-life parallels. Actual historical events and real names are used to depict the story of an institution that is waning into irrelevance but remains popular despite being ornamental. Even as it sometimes gives in to sexist presumptions, The Crown has regularly shown wrinkles of truth, like a mouse scurrying in the background as Elizabeth makes a phone call, or Princess Diana’s eating disorder. These are not subtle rebukes, but indictments against a decaying institution, and they go a long way in making this show a binge-watch favourite.
Here’s what you need to know before diving into the first part of season 6.
Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) gave her infamous interview to BBC’s Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah), which was obtained from her on duplicitous and shady grounds. Diana and Charles (Dominic West) had already been living separately, but her interview proves to be a breaking point with her talking about the oppressiveness of living within the monarchy, her doubts about Charles’ ability to be King, and a disclosure of his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams). The facade of the princely couple’s good partnership is effectively demolished.
Mohamed Al Fayed (Salim Daw) and Dodi Al Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) had already been introduced through the course of the season. At the end of the last episode, Mohamed invites Diana to a Mediterranean vacation, where Dodi is likely to join them. In reality, the trip happened a month before Dodi’s and Diana’s car crash in Paris.
The first part, already available on Netflix, consists of four episodes and focuses on the events up till Diana’s and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed’s car crash in a Paris underpass in 1997. Actress Elizabeth Debicki had remarked in an interview that filming the scene was “completely bizarre”, and it was a “horrendous experience to find yourself in”. (There are those who firmly contest that the paparazzi was the cause of the accident.)
At the time of the accident, public dismay at the Queen’s lack of outward grieving quickly festered into hostility, with even pro-monarchy newspapers bashing her for a delayed response. Daily Express put out this headline: “Show Us You Care!” The Queen delivered a televised special address to the nation — for only the second time in her reign, the first being at the start of the first Gulf War. Her message, which some construed to be disappointingly restrained, acknowledged Diana as a mother and as “someone who made many, many people happy.”
The second part, consisting of six episodes, will be released on December 14. It is expected to include Queen Elizabeth’s golden jubilee in 2002, the death of Princess Margaret, the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and the early stages of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s courtship at St. Andrews College.
Imelda Staunton (Queen Elizabeth), Elizabeth Debicki (Princess Diana), Dominic West (Prince Charles), Jonathan Pryce (Prince Philip) Lesley Manville (Princess Margaret), Olivia Williams (Camilla Parker Bowles), Claudia Harrison (Princess Anne) and James Murray (Prince Andrew) will all reprise their roles.
The new cast members include Rufus Kampa and Ed Mcvey, as the younger and older William respectively. Fflyn Edwards and Luther Ford will similarly portray Prince Harry. Meg Belamy has been cast as Kate Middleton.
Morgan had earlier made a 2006 film about Diana’s death, and the public mourning that followed afterwards. The film was titled The Queen and starred Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth. Mirren won the Oscar for best actress for her performance.
Directors for this season are Alex Gabassi, Christian Schwochow, Eric Richter Strand and May el-Toukhy. Stephen Daldry, one of the executive producers of the series, has directed the series finale.
The series is only likely to foreshadow the exit because Morgan has claimed that at least “a decade’s distance” is important when attempting to carve insights and analysis from public incidents. He has confirmed season 6 will not delve into Harry and Meghan’s misgivings against the institution. Even though the show has six seasons — one more than what was originally planned — Morgan has consistently maintained that he will only chronicle the monarchy till the 2000s.