The Crown kicks off with the drama dialed up to 11, with 5×01, “Queen Victoria Syndrome.” From the title, it would have been reasonable to expect a constant stream of comparisons between the two monarchs. Instead, the premiere sets the tone for each character, and what fans can expect as they binge the penultimate season of a show chronicling one of the world’s most dysfunctional families.
While this season has been billed as a closer look at the final chapter of Charles (Dominic West) and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki), they’re actually not the most interesting characters so far. When we left these two at the end of last season, the marriage was already over. It was clear that there was no mechanism to continue in the dysfunction that surrounded them from all sides. Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin captured these characters when there was possibly still hope left. In the latest version, there’s no question that these two are absolutely wrong for each other.
When looking at the character of Charles, O’Connor’s version was almost loveably pathetic. He was played as someone no one ever took seriously. West takes the character in a different direction. Not only is West far too attractive to play the reigning British monarch, but he’s also just too nice. His rudeness and dismissiveness, which the real man has been known for at various times in his life, never comes across in this character.
This version of Charles is incredibly underhanded right out of the gate, which may be more of a reflection of reality. It’s a bit of a strange direction for The Crown 5×01, ‘Queen Victoria Syndrome’ to take, to show him essentially planning a coup. There was never any mechanism for Elizabeth II to abdicate the throne in favor of her son. Although this has always been the subject of jokes, the show doesn’t handle this storyline with any hint of reality. It makes it very difficult to buy in.
Debicki’s Diana is incredibly perceptive. It would be interesting to know how much insight Diana had into the marriages of her in-laws, whose marriages also collapsed. The restlessness seen in this episode is incredibly effective. It makes one listless just watching her. She is clearly ready to bolt at any moment. The balance between naivety and savviness is a tricky one to make work. It’s probably a good thing that the focus isn’t entirely on this character, and the attention that she demands every moment she’s in the spotlight.
Jonny Lee Miller does a surprisingly enthralling John Major. Seriously, if anyone actually remembers Major’s premiership, or has seen footage of the same, you’re liable to be shocked by just how good this character seems. Maybe this is the best way to play this version of the real man, to have him essentially stand around silently and observe. When he finally does open his mouth, the truth bombs are devastating. It’s incredibly validating, to hear him rip this version of the royal family to shreds, and call out the fact that even the most likable are alarmingly out of touch with reality.
The comparisons the premiere episode does make between Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II are apt. However, The Crown 5×01 “Queen Victoria Syndrome” sets up a pointed political commentary and never quite delivers. Perhaps it’s too much for a show that, even though it points out the royals’ flaws, always comes back to showing them in their best light. It was disappointing that there wasn’t a deeper exploration of Elizabeth II’s deeply Victorian values.
Finally, the royal yacht is a fascinating plot device. It’s also a perfect opportunity for Imelda Staunton to show what she’s capable of with her version of Elizabeth II. On one hand, the audience is made to feel sorry for Elizabeth II, and the fact that her beloved yacht is being decommissioned. What would have been incredibly effective is if the show had transposed these scenes of complaint with the hardship of regular people, and how hollow yacht-related problems are.
The Crown doesn’t so much start with a bang as it does…WTF? This energy can great when used correctly. With an entirely new cast, there is a lot of potential to tell a story that people have seen fragments of on the news and read books about. Combine this with the 1990s, a particularly chaotic decade, and there is potential to make this season to leave heads spinning.
Other Royal Thoughts:
- Jonathan Pryce’s Prince Phillip is hilarious without being overtly offensive…yet. His comedic timing is just what this show needs.
- Little Leonora is so freaking adorable, and spoiler alert if you know the real story, but oof…my heart.
- Seeing Claire Foy again is always fantastic. It’s too bad that her cameos are never fully used, to show the passing of a torch. Instead, it feels like the show is trying to remind us that she is the best version of her character.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.