The Crown 5×02 “The System” continues the wild storytelling of the season premiere. This time, the spotlight is on Diana and Charles in the waning days of their marriage, and arguably the first of many bombshells. The show is incredibly sympathetic to the characters of both Charles and Diana. This doesn’t always work, and sympathy is not always earned. The second episode also really doubles down on the dysfunction of the final stretch of this marriage. Ultimately, the story may sometimes be unfocused, but there are absolutely some gems to focus on.
Happily, viewers get to spend more time with the absolute unit that is Jonathan Pryce’s version of Phillip. This character is extremely kind to Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone), which seems like quite a deviation for a man who was always known for his bluntness and crassness in real-life. However, the character of Phillip clearly has a deep and personal understanding of grief and loss. He’s not just trying to distract someone who’s just suffered a profound loss. Instead, he’s inviting her to experience the ordinary beauty around her, even when it’s impossible to see.
Imelda Staunton continues her beautifully understated portrayal of Elizabeth II. She is still likely the least relatable of all previous versions of this character. The effect that this creates is incredibly effective. Rather than seeing her as warm, personal, or otherwise “just like us,” she’s portrayed as distant, cold, and aloof. In a strange way, this makes the character more understandable, even if she’s unsympathetic. This makes a terrible character who is frankly easy to cheer against. She also displays her naivety when discussing marriage, and speaks to incredibly dated values and expectations.
Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) is the focus of The Crown 5×02 “The System,” however. As Phillip points out, she’s no longer a novice to this dangerous game being played. While Philip correctly identifies that the entire royal family is a part of a system, he fails to recognize that Diana has become that system’s center, with a merciless gravitational pull. Unfortunately, the series so far holds back in showing the full effects of this dynamic. It’s too bad because Debicki is clearly up to the task of unleashing the chaos Diana so often embodied.
The Crown 5×02 “The System” also introduces the game-changer that was Andrew Morton’s biography of the maligned princess. The episode walks through the process of how Diana actually provided information to the former royal watcher turned biographer, and plays it like a very sad thriller. The character of Diana clearly had a need to get her story out into the world, after keeping so many secrets for so long. Whether or not you agree with her methods, it’s hard not to feel for this version of Diana, with a palpable restlessness that feels like it needs to go somewhere.
Relatedly, the characterization of Andrew Morten is interesting. The show does seem to be showing a lot of nuance with this character. He is both genuinely trying to help Diana tell her own story on his own terms, while absolutely playing up the benefits to himself when facilitating this particular brand of anarchy. These shades of grey make this a potentially interesting character to follow. The jury is still out, if this character is ultimately taking advantage of an unwell woman, or if he is in the right to get this woman’s story out into the world so that others don’t feel so alone.
The second episode doesn’t quite have the same strength that the premiere did. The Crown was always going to have a difficult time portraying real events that a lot of people can recall vividly. The season is clearly taking its time in letting the bombshells detonate, rather than allowing events to be shown in rapid succession. This can be a very effective way to give the audience a chance to really sit with these revelations and what they mean. If done poorly, however, it can become a royal slog.
Other Royal Thoughts:
- Andrew Morton’s glasses are just so distracting in the best possible way. If this writer didn’t have such a small face, the massive glasses would be out all day every day.
- As an avowed horse girl, all the pretty horses make this writer’s heart smile.
- Dominic West is still too pretty to play Charles. Still said what I said.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.