The Crown



It is far from the most controversial scene in The Crown, Netflix’s epic royal drama that ends this week, but it will raise a knowing smile among the home crowd.

Prince William, a student at St Andrews, is at Balmoral for Christmas. In a chat with granny, aka Queen Elizabeth, he mentions a fellow student he’s keen on.

“Is she Scottish?” asks the monarch.

“I’m not sure there are any real Scots at St Andrews,” says William. “She’s from Berkshire.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” quips the Queen. “It’s where we keep most of our horses.”

The Crown has always been at its best when slightly naughty. It’s only when it speculates on the stuff of people’s souls that it lands in trouble. The final part sees a welcome return to form after the woefully misjudged Diana instalments. While one cannot guarantee the final part is free of spectres, the drama no longer resembles a lost Rentaghost episode.

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The curtain opens with William and Harry’s return to school after Diana’s funeral. On William’s first public engagement, the crowd goes wild, as if greeting a member of a boy band, or Diana herself. “The whole thing has a distinct feeling of deja vu,” says Camilla to a concerned Charles.

The same could be said of the closing episodes, with Morgan replaying some of his biggest hits. There is another two-hander featuring the Queen and Princess Margaret (Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville), this one set on VE Day when the two young royals mingled incognito with the celebrating crowds. Morgan is not the first to wonder what happened that night, though I don’t recall anyone else imagining the future queen jitterbugging.

The action flits from VE night to Mustique, where Margaret is enjoying the last of her good health before infirmity comes calling. This is the beginning of a period of loss for the Queen, with more departures among her nearest and dearest than arrivals. It is a theme to which Morgan will return, with bells on, at the end.

Before that, there is fun to be had from two standout episodes featuring the Queen and Tony Blair, and the meeting of the future prince and princess of Wales at the University of St Andrews.

St Andrews comes in for some affectionate teasing, with its dinner party circuits and wall-to-wall posh sorts. It’s a splendid advert for the place overall, and will no doubt bring more visitors to walk the streets where Kate and Wills are seen jogging, him with his bodyguard and her looking like she’s in a shampoo ad.

Likely to be less enamoured of this episode is Kate’s mother, portrayed as a social-climbing former trolly dolly who engineered the match from the off. There is even a scene, wholly invented, where 15-year-old Kate and her mum, in London for Christmas shopping, see Diana and William selling the Big Issue. Mum pushes Kate forward, teenage eyes meet over the cover, and a lightbulb switches on over Carole’s head. It’s a metaphorical lightbulb, though you can never be sure with The Crown. It would not be the first time the drama has abandoned all subtlety. Later, there will be clunky, captain hindsight stuff with various bods worrying about Harry’s future and the brothers’ scorching rivalry.

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The worst pasting of the final run, of perhaps the entire series, is doled out to Tony Blair. A magnificent Bertie Carvel all but slithers into the room for his audiences with the Queen. She is portrayed as envying Blair’s popularity and grudgingly asking for his advice. He suggests modernising the monarchy by taking an axe to many of the weird and wonderful jobs there are in The Firm, such as the Queen’s Herb Strewer and the Warden of the Swans.

The Queen ultimately rejects the advice, deciding that the public likes the spectacle. It is clear which side Morgan, once a staunch republican, comes down on in the end. Or is it? He has appeared to swither at times. In the final episode, covering the marriage of Charles and Camilla, he has Phillip declaring that “the party’s over” for the monarchy.

While the question is left open, the Queen takes her leave, with past Elizabeths, led by Olivia Colman and Claire Foy, coming back to have their say (slightly more successfully than Diana and Dodi’s ghosts). The Queen walks through an empty Westminster Abbey, her figure growing smaller as she gets closer to the exit. A lone piper plays Sleep Dearie, Sleep, as happened at her funeral.

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It is an elegant and thoughtful end to a landmark chapter in television history. Sixty hours of mega-budget drama, stretching over half a century from 1947 to 2005, winning awards and generating media storms as it went.

Never mind the monarchy, will we ever see the likes of The Crown again?