The Crown



After seven years, many awards, and countless rows over accuracy, Peter Morgan’s royal drama begins its last hurrah.

Dealing with the last days of Diana, Princess of Wales, the sixth and final series was always going to be controversial. Undaunted, Morgan goes all in with a heck of a gamble.

It does not pay off.

He begins routinely with a man taking his dog for a walk. Could be any man, anywhere, except the Eiffel Tower is up ahead. We know what is coming.

The viewer sees and hears what the man witnesses - a speeding car heading into an underpass, followed by the crunch of metal. With that the director cuts away to eight weeks earlier.

Well, that was done tactfully, I thought. No ghoulish scenes with close-ups. Worst fears unrealised. If only it had stayed that way.

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It is 1997. Charles and Diana (Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki) have been divorced for a year. She wants a formal role in public life but the Queen (Imelda Staunton) won’t have it. Charles, meanwhile, is going full steam ahead with “the campaign for Camilla’s legitimacy”, part of which is throwing her a birthday party.

Diana accepts an invitation from Mohamed Al Fayed (Salim Daw) to spend the summer on his yacht. “Mou mou”, as Diana calls him, summons his son Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) to woo the princess.

So the die is cast. The fates align. No-one goes as far as wearing a sandwich board declaring the end is nigh but we get the message - this will end in tears.

When a picture of the couple kissing is published, Charles retaliates with a photo of him and the boys at Balmoral. Morgan enjoys using contrasts to make his point. Here, a sleazy paparazzo, Mario, is juxtaposed with a fine upstanding Scottish photographer from Ballater, Duncan Muir (well played Forbes Masson).

Muir, as far as I can tell, is a fictional creation. It’s a bending of reality of the kind The Crown has dabbled in for the sake of a better story. Now we are all researchers, with the truth only ever a Google search away.

William and Harry (Rufus Kampa, Fflyn Edwards) split the summer between the Med and Balmoral. “Your beloved Scotland with its rain and dead animals, I don’t know how you can stand it,” jokes Diana. Later she describes the country as “wet, cold and full of midges, just how you like it.”

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By the end of episode three Diana has had enough of Dodi and wants to go home. She tells a friend that Dodi wrote a poem for her that was “very sweet but slightly misjudged and completely over the top”. He had it engraved on a silver plaque. “Everything rhymed,” says Diana, saving the most withering line of her review for last.

After much ado in Monte Carlo (there’s a whole convoluted section about the buying of a ring), the couple arrive in Paris to more media mayhem.

Diana phones her sons. They ask if she is going to marry Dodi. Emphatically not, she tells them. You can almost hear the boxes being ticked as Morgan puts his version of history on the record. She did not love Dodi. She did not want to marry again. Her world was her boys.

Just like that we’re back with the Frenchman and his dog.

Phones ring around the world. Al Fayed rushes to Paris, where his son lies in a morgue. He pulls back the sheet, kisses Dodi, and sobs over the body.

In Balmoral, the royals are informed. In the opposite of the opening scene we see the news being passed on but hear nothing.

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This, presumably, was someone’s idea of restraint. No rubber-necking inside the underpass, but if you fancy watching a father tell his son that his mother is dead, The Crown can get you a front row seat.

Should such private moments have been dramatised at all? Of course not. It was a sickening intrusion into grief.

What follows is ludicrous, with the ghosts of Diana and Dodi turning up to give Charles, Al Fayed, and the Queen advice. There’s a long and noble tradition of using ghosts in plays and literature. It was good enough for Shakespeare and Dickens, after all. But I don’t recall Banquo’s ghost rocking up and declaring “Ta-da!” as Diana’s spectre does here. Cringeworthy doesn’t come close.

Contrast this grotesque pantomime with the first series of The Crown, in which a young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) becomes Queen. That was the epitome of elegance and restraint. This was the opposite.

Diana emerges from the fray sanctified, her reputation enhanced. Others fare less well, and in the case of the late Mohamed Al Fayed, are treated cruelly. It is not worthy of Morgan, or his drama overall.

One can only hope the finale’s second act, arriving December 14, saves the day.