Netflix’s controversial hit The Crown returns to chronicle Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage breakdown

Home Arts Netflix’s controversial hit The Crown returns to chronicle Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage breakdown
Netflix’s controversial hit The Crown returns to chronicle Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage breakdown

It’s been two years since The Crown last premiered, and the ascension of King Charles III has cast an even brighter spotlight on one of the world’s most-streamed shows.

The fifth season of the Netflix series will be the first to be released after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021.

By way of a catch-up, the last season of The Crown ended with the Queen forbidding Prince Charles from divorcing Diana, with Prince Philip also warning the Princess of Wales against “officially” breaking away from the royal family, saying: “I can’t see it ending well for you.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the new season.

First up, you’ll notice its new cast

Just as there was a changing of the guard between seasons two and three, season five has been entirely recast, so the ageing process is properly reflected. 

Olivia Colman’s time as the Queen has come to an end as she’s been succeeded by Imelda Staunton.

A still of Imelda in a yellow outfit.
Imelda Staunton will play Queen Elizabeth II in the final two seasons of The Crown.(Netflix: Alex Bailey)

If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films, you’ll remember Staunton played one of the series’ worst villains, Dolores Umbridge.

Emma Corrin’s stint as Princess Diana has also wrapped, with Australian actor Elizabeth Debicki playing the Princess of Wales in her final years.

She has previously starred in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.

Elizabeth Debicki wears a blue-sequined dress while portraying princess Diana.
Australian actor Elizabeth Debicki has taken over from Emma Corrin as Princess Diana.(Supplied: Keith Bernstein/ 2021 Netflix Inc)

Dominic West (The Affair, The Wire) has replaced Josh O’Connor in the role of Prince Charles, while Game of Thrones star Jonathan Pryce replaces Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip.

Lesley Manville (Mrs Harris Goes to Paris) has also replaced Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, while Olivia Williams takes over from Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The four actors pose for a photo on set.
Elizabeth Debicki with Will Powell and Senan West and his father, Dominic West.(Netflix: Keith Bernstein)

Meanwhile, a young Prince William and Prince Harry are set to make an appearance.

They’ll be played by two sets of child actors as they grow up throughout the 1990s, with Dominic West’s son, Senan, playing Prince William in his early teens.

The new season is entering a new decade

Welcome to Britain in the 1990s, where the public is beginning to openly question the role of the royal family in society.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip enter an event. Elizabeth wears a blue dress and a sash made of checked Scottish cloth.
Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce have stepped into the roles of the Queen and Prince Philip.(Netflix)

At this point in time, the Queen is approaching the 40th anniversary of her ascension to the throne. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the transfer of sovereignty in Hong Kong presents both obstacles and opportunities.

However, there are other issues happening much closer to home.

This latest season of The Crown will see Prince Charles pressuring his mother to allow him to divorce Princess Diana, sparking a tabloid frenzy.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles meet with Queen Elizabeth II.
Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage breakdown will be the focus of season five.(Netflix)

As media scrutiny intensifies, Diana attempts to take control of the narrative by breaking family protocol to publish a book that exposes the cracks in the palace walls.

The season also introduces audiences to wealthy businessman Mohamed Al Fayed and his son, Dodi, who was romantically linked to Diana when they both died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

Will season five show Diana’s death?

It’s still unclear how close season five will get to covering Diana’s final days.

Series creator Peter Morgan always intended for the show to span six seasons but, in 2020, Netflix announced season five would be its last.

However, months later, there was a backflip and Morgan confirmed The Crown was getting a sixth season.

Diana steps out of a car in a red coat.
Season six will cover the same period of time in “greater detail,” creator Peter Morgan says.(Netflix: Keith Bernstein)

“As we started to discuss the storylines for series five, it soon became clear that, in order to do justice to the richness and complexity of the story, we should go back to the original plan and do six seasons,” he told Deadline.

“To be clear, series six will not bring us any closer to present-day — it will simply enable us to cover the same period in greater detail.”

In season four, the show went to great lengths to recreate Diana’s wedding dress, but stopped short of re-enacting the royal wedding.

Which key moments will we see in season five?

The trailer for season five of The Crown opens with the 1992 fire of Windsor Castle — an event that led to the Queen paying taxes on her income, and to Buckingham Palace being opened to the public to help afford the restoration work.

Of course, plenty of Princess Diana’s most iconic moments will also feature.

The trailer includes snippets of her controversial 1995 Panorama interview, where she uttered the infamous line “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” when she asked about Camilla.

We’ve also been promised some iconic moments in royal fashion, with Diana’s “revenge dress” set to get some air time.

The dress got its name as Diana wore it the same night a documentary aired, wherein Prince Charles confessed to being unfaithful after their marriage had “irretrievably broken down”.

Debicki wears Diana's off-the-shoulder black dress, which has been dubbed "the revenge dress."
The Crown continues to recreate some of Princess Diana’s most memorable sartorial choices, including this off-the-shoulder number known as the “revenge dress.”(Netflix: Keith Bernstein)

Speaking of that documentary, it was part of campaign to rehabilitate the Prince’s image after the 1993 “tampongate” saga, which means that scandal will also feature in season five.

For those unaware, the scandal refers to when the tabloids made public an intimate phone call between Princes Charles and Camilla, where the heir to throne said he wanted to “live inside” her pants. When Camilla asked if he’d reincarnate as “a pair of knickers”, Charles said it would be just his luck to return as a tampon.

Dominic West, who plays Prince Charles, told Entertainment Weekly he feels “extremely sympathetic” to the now King and Queen Consort since re-enacting the leaked phone call.

“I remember thinking it was something so sordid and deeply, deeply embarrassing,” he said.

“What’s really [clear now] is how invasive and disgusting was the press attention to it,  that they printed it out verbatim and you could call a number and listen to the actual tape.”

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The series’ actors Dominic West and Olivia Williams discuss the Netflix blockbuster’s timing of release soon after the Queen’s death.

There have been renewed calls for Netflix to add a ‘fictionalised’ disclaimer

Last month, Dame Judi Dench — who has portrayed Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria in other productions — urged Netflix to add a disclaimer to the series.

In a letter to The Times, she said as the show approached present times “the more freely it seems willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism”.

Actors Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki are wearing suits while portarying Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Dominic West takes over from Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles.(Supplied: Keith Bernstein/ 2021 Netflix Inc)

“While many will recognise The Crown for the brilliant but fictionalised account of events that it is, I fear that a significant number of viewers, particularly overseas, may take its version of history as being wholly true,” she wrote.

Netflix says The Crown is a “fictional dramatisation”, inspired by real events.

“No one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than I, but this cannot go unchallenged … the program-makers have resisted all calls for them to carry a disclaimer at the start of each episode,” Dame Judi wrote.

“The time has come for Netflix to reconsider — for the sake of a family and a nation so recently bereaved, as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people so dutifully for 70 years, and to preserve its reputation in the eyes of its British subscribers.”

Look out for this specific scene which has drawn criticism

According to reports, the fifth season of The Crown includes a scene where Prince Charles speaks to then-prime minister John Major as part of a plot to get the Queen to abdicate.

In a statement to the Daily Mail, Sir John Major’s office called the scene a “barrel load of nonsense” and denied any such conversation took place.

A production still of John Major sitting in his office.
The real John Major called this scene “a barrel-load of nonsense.”(Netflix)

Dame Judi also referenced the scene, calling it “both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent”.

Some royal commentators have also voiced concern that the impact the show could have at the start of King Charles’ reign.

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