British royal drama The Crown has reigned proud over Netflix ever since season one was first broadcast in late 2016, but over the weekend, producers shocked fans of world TV's erstwhile-most-expensive production by announcing that they would abdicate their throne after season five, currently being written and expected in November or December next year, rather than running for the six seasons we had all been promised.
The show's writer and creator Peter Morgan also revealed that Harry Potter and Downton Abbey star Imelda Staunton would be taking on the central role of Queen Elizabeth II, previously played by both Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, in the decades-spanning historical drama.
He said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he had decided to end the show early while in the process of writing episodes for next year's, now conclusive, season five, as he had stumbled across a "perfect" end point that would take the show "into the 21st Century".
Unfortunately for fans, Morgan gave no hint as to where in time this "perfect" ending might find itself. Did he mean literally taking us "into the 21st Century" and no further? Or would we be witnessing every royal event played out on screen up until the show is broadcast next year – the previous three seasons have been praised for their historical accuracy after all.
Given the timescales covered by previous seasons – season three ended with Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee in 1977, having covered the 13 years since 1964 – we can probably, though not definitely, expect season four to end sometime between the late 80s and the early 90s, meaning that Morgan's "perfect" ending point for season five could be anywhere between the end of the 90s and the first decade or so of the 21st century. Where would we pick to close proceedings in the royal scribe's position? Here are some possibilities.
Princess Diana’s death and the Queen’s response (1997)
Surely one of the darkest periods in the royal family’s history, the death of the enduringly popular Princess Diana in a 1997 accident in a Paris underpass, holds the unusual distinction of being equally popular with royal lovers and conspiracy theorists alike.
These events would certainly make for a dramatic ending – Queen Elizabeth's popularity was tested like never before following what was perceived as an uncaring official response to Diana's death, and the various claims of murder, M15 involvement and Illuminati shenanigans have already been the subject of numerous TV shows and documentaries of varying degrees of credibility.
The royal family's attempts to realign themselves with public opinion in the months and years after Diana's demise, meanwhile, have ultimately led to a situation where a key member, Prince Harry, now feels both willing and able to attempt to remove himself from the family's core.
We already know that actress will make her debut as Diana in season four, and judging by on-set shots, could cause a few double takes, but will her story carry over to eclipse Elizabeth herself and conclude season five?
A very busy year (2002)
The year 2002 was full of both tragedy and joy for Queen Elizabeth II. First, her beloved sister, Margaret, died in February, then her mother, Elizabeth, better known as The Queen Mother, also died at the age of 101, in March.
Queen Elizabeth barely time to mourn the loss of these two seminal figures in her life before she had to put on her best media face for celebrations of her 50 years on the British throne in June, with the arrival of her Golden Jubilee, however.
Morgan already has form for contrasting the queen’s inner turmoil with public celebration. Season three ended last year with Elizabeth waving to fans on the streets in celebration of her 1977 Silver Jubilee, even as she dealt with Margaret’s overdose at home.
True love waits (2005)
The eventual wedding of Diana’s bereaved husband Charles to his long-term true love Camilla Parker Bowles offers Morgan a potential dropping-off point almost a decade after the demise of Diana.
Many royal fans fail to understand the attraction between Charles and his belle, but their long-gestating romance certainly raised some interesting questions for the future of the British Royal Family. Significantly, could a future head of the Church of England remarry a fellow divorcee in a church?
The questions of protocol Charles’ romantic liaisons raised had all been covered by King Henry VIII previously, though Charles probably lacked the popularity and power his predecessor had to dissolve the existing religious status quo in Britain and start a new church to suit his needs. The pair opted for a civil ceremony instead.
Prince William’s wedding (2011)
This seems, logically, to be about the latest “perfect” point in history that Morgan could end the events of his epic creation, and still leaves Elizabeth and her brood a respectable breathing space from the present day. In fact, William’s wedding could be described as the perfect “happy ending” to the long-running saga of Royals Inc.
With his betrothal to Kate Middleton, the Royals finally had a TV-friendly "event wedding" between a popular son and an equally popular wife. They would then waste little time in bringing heirs into the world and ensuring the continuation of a royal line that had looked under threat by the unpopularity of William's outspoken father and his unpopular bride, who many royal-watchers still considered somehow unworthy after the death of the hugely popular Princess Diana. It's a wrap, surely?
The uncivil war (2016 onwards)
If Morgan is looking for an “imperfect” point to end the events of his show, on the other hand, why not take us all the way up to the drama of 2016’s Brexit referendum and the events that have followed?
Queen Elizabeth has never stated an official opinion on the question of the UK’s membership of the European Union, as is royal protocol, however it’s certain there have been some conversations over the dinner table.
There’s just one problem with this ending: Netflix has been widely credited with giving a new lease of life to long-form drama with its multi-episode series featuring long-running character development and story arcs, filmed to cinema-level production standards. Nonetheless, surely even Netflix doesn’t have the time, energy, or motivation to bring that particular never-ending drama to the small screen?