You could say the Netflix series The Crown is a soap opera and it is. A very fine soap opera, as it happens.
I came late to the party and shunned the series for several seasons while my wife watched it on her iPad. I prefer documentaries on the subject, which I have watched ad nauseum. I love this royal stuff and I’m not ashamed of that. Put it down, in part, to my colonial background – I was raised in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony and my father was born in outer London so I am half Pom.
And I admire the monarchy, warts and all. King Charles is, in my estimation, doing a great job. I have had respect for him ever since I found out he was a fellow fan of The Goon Show.
In the last week Netflix released the first four episodes of series six of The Crown, which we have just watched, and in it Charles is dignified and empathetic when his former wife, Princess Diana, dies in that tragic car accident in Paris. That was on August 31, 1997, and I think most of us will remember where we were when we got the terrible news. Her death and funeral make up the finale of episode four.
We were living in Spring Hill in inner Brisbane when Princess Diana died and I remember sitting in our tiny living room (it was a worker’s cottage) trying to take in the grim news. We were as devastated as the countless millions of others who mourned her shock passing.
It was actually hard to watch this latest iteration of The Crown (as I said, four episodes, with more to come in December) because we had to live through it all over again. It surprised me how upsetting and moving this was, both of us sniffling, me getting up to make a cup of tea when it became too unbearable.
It’s a tribute to the script and the acting that it all seemed so real. I have, as I said, watched countless documentaries about all this, some of them pretty out there – you know the ones about the conspiracy that was supposedly behind her death. Watching documentaries is, however, a step removed while The Crown immerses you in a way that a documentary cannot, which brings me to another point.
This is a drama, a fictionalised creation based around real events. We don’t know if the people involved said what they say on screen in intimate moments, although admittedly some of their private moments did become quite public. So, it is not holy writ and should not be taken as such.
It’s this that turned me off initially. Eventually I relented and watched the last series of The Crown and that got me hooked. I was loath to watch this one though because I knew it would be emotionally gruelling and, besides, hadn’t I seen this part of the royal saga before in that excellent 2006 film The Queen? Well, yes, I had, but even The Queen, as measured and moving as it was, didn’t have the same emotional impact as this latest series of The Crown.
It helps that the cast is amazing. Imelda Staunton is incredible at Queen Elizabeth II and Jonathan Pryce is nothing short of masterful as Prince Philip. Dominic West is excellent as Prince Charles and Khalid Abdalla is also excellent as the doomed Harrod’s heir Dodi Fayed and Salim Daw, as his dad, Mohamed Al-Fayed is also very good.
Then we have Australian actor Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana. I’m almost lost for words trying to describe her performance. Radiant? Poignant? Exquisite? Tragic? All that and more.
She is, to quote Tina Turner, simply the best.
She first came to my attention when I watched that excellent BBC series The Night Manager. If you haven’t seen it do yourself a favour.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her a few years ago when she starred in The Kettering Incident, that spooky Aussie sci-fi series filmed in Tasmania. She was great in that too.
But as Princess Diana she is other-worldly good. It’s a performance that Dame Edna Everage would describe as “spooky” and she haunts the screen at times. I won’t say any more about that in case you haven’t seen it yet but just let me say that in episode four, the final of this tranche, things get very interesting.
There has been controversy about this and other elements. There has been some vicious criticism but ignore the critics. I say this because I’m a difficult audience and it takes quite a bit to get to me, in an emotional sense. But I was rocked to the core reliving this tragedy and watching those thousands of people weeping and lining the streets as the carriage bearing Princess Diana’s coffin paraded down The Mall with her sons bravely walking behind it. Heart-breaking stuff and the effects of this tragedy are still reverberating in the Royal Family,
I found the portrayal of Charles around this event utterly believable. Dominic West conveyed his immense grief and regret and his dignity. Forget about what the tabloids might say, Charles is a man who thinks and feels deeply.
So put ideology and carping criticism aside and watch these recent episodes, if you can bear it. When it all gets too much you can do what I did … get up and make a cup of tea.
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