'The Crown' season 5 review: the show is still a gem for Netflix

The timely return of the hit series rounds off a turbulent and emotional year for Britain's royal family

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There’s been enough drama in the British royal family this year. From jubilee celebrations to mourning the end of an era, it almost makes the return of The Crown for its fifth season too much to bear. With a new cast coming in, led by Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, the jewel in Netflix’s crown is back to cover that most turbulent of eras — the 1990s.

At the centre will be Diana (Elizabeth Debicki, seamlessly stepping in for Emma Corrin), locked in an increasingly unhappy marriage to Prince Charles (Dominic West).

“Don’t rock the boat — ever!” Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) warns her, as rumours swirl that she’s collaborating on a tell-all book with journalist Andrew Morton. Ever determined to tell her side of a painful story, she does just that. The year 1992 — the "Annus Horriblis", as the queen famously termed it — gets its own episode (directed by Danish-Egyptian May el-Toukhy), as Charles and Diana reach a point of no return, other royal marriages implode and Windsor Castle suffers horrifying damage from a fire.

As always, the Peter Morgan-scripted show does a fine job of drawing parallels to now. When the first episode opens, Britain is entering a worrying recession and Ukraine is pulling away from Russia. Prime minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller, perfectly capturing the watchfulness of the Conservative leader) observes just how “dangerously deluded and out of touch” the Royal family is, with the queen demanding public money to repair the Royal yacht, Britannia.

Charles is left obsessing over his accession. He tells one dinner party that it’s like being “stuck in a waiting room” (as ever the show’s timing is impeccable, given he has now — finally — become King Charles). An opinion poll favours him taking to the throne with Diana by his side.

But as everyone knows that fairy tale dissolved into tragedy. By 1997, Diana would be dead, killed in a Paris underpass in a car crash, alongside her lover, Dodi Al-Fayed (Egyptian-British actor Khalid Abdalla), son to the garrulous business tycoon Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw).

The Crown season 5

Stars: Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Jonny Lee Miller, Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki, Salim Daw and Khalid Abdalla

Written by: Peter Morgan

Rating: 4/5 stars

The third episode (titled ‘Mou Mou’) that introduces both Mohamed and Dodi is one of the season’s most elegant, not least as it rewinds to Alexandria in 1946, with the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) and his valet Sydney Johnson, who years later will become a faithful servant to Al-Fayed senior, as he tries to cosy up to the British royals by buying luxury department store Harrods and refurbishing Villa Windsor in Paris. “The mountain is moving to Mohamed,” Al-Fayed says, amusingly, when he believes, wrongly, that the queen is coming to visit.

Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Al-Fayed, left, and Salim Daw as his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed. Photo: Netflix

This season also demonstrates the unchecked power of the tabloid newspapers. Sarah Ferguson and the humiliation she caused her husband, Prince Andrew, is splashed all over the front pages. Worse, Charles’s intimate phone conversation with Camilla (Olivia Williams) is recorded by an amateur radio enthusiast who sells the tape to the Daily Mirror. And of course, Diana and Dodi’s fate will be sealed in Paris by trying to outrun motorbike-riding paparazzi.

While The Crown will always catch flack for focusing on the more controversial aspects of the British Royal family, it is not averse to offering due praise — such as acknowledging Prince Charles’s charitable organisation, The Prince’s Trust, and the millions it has inspired. But for the most part, season five is a sombre affair, given the cracks that are beginning to appear. “The system”, as Prince Philip refers to the monarchy, is in danger of grinding to a halt.

Performance-wise, every actor brings their A-game. Lesley Manville is particularly spot-on as Princess Margaret, here left reflecting on the marriage she was denied years earlier when the former queen’s equerry Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton) reappears in her life. It’s yet another intriguing subplot in this penultimate season, taking it far beyond simply the Diana and Dodi story. Class is permanent, as they say, and that certainly applies to The Crown.

Updated: November 05, 2022, 7:16 AM
The Crown season 5

Stars: Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Jonny Lee Miller, Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki, Salim Daw and Khalid Abdalla

Written by: Peter Morgan

Rating: 4/5 stars

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