Roush Review: A New Cast Inherits ‘The Crown’ in the Queen’s Twilight Years

Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce in The Crown

The Crown

Matt's Rating: rating: 4.0 stars

We now know how (and when) her story ends. This doesn’t render the telling any less compelling, as The Crown enters Queen Elizabeth II’s twilight years in its penultimate fifth season with sensitivity and empathy, humanizing these iconic figures during one of their most challenging times. It’s also one of the monarchy’s most publicized periods of turmoil, making the dramatist’s job particularly dicey.

As we re-enter their lives, a 1991 newspaper poll suggests the monarch has “Queen Victoria Syndrome” and is out of touch with a modern world. Her restless son and heir, Prince Charles, agrees, even as his popularity plummets amid the scandalous dissolution of his marriage to the beloved but damaged Princess Diana.

Creator/writer Peter Morgan distracts us from his sometimes loosely fact-based drama with history, echoing Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the 1917 massacre of the Romanovs (the Czar was first cousin to Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V). He also lays on the symbolism rather thickly, likening the queen’s situation to that of her treasured royal yacht Britannia, in disrepair and in danger of being decommissioned. “Even the televisions are metaphors in this place,” she sighs, as doting grandson William (Senan West) fiddles with her ancient TV set’s reception, urging her to join the satellite age.

Anticipating what’s to come, Morgan devotes much of an episode to the back story of Egyptian magnate Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) and his son, Dodi (Khalid Abdalla), whose future association with Diana will end in tragedy. Do we need this much detail? Some would argue this sort of detour slows down the pace, but in a series that often zigs where you least expect, the Al-Fayed story provides an illuminating glimpse into the ambitions of outsiders who would do anything — including buying the iconic Harrods department store — to gain access to the royals’ inner circle.

'The Crown' Season 5

Keith Bernstein/Netflix

Amid all of the tumult, Imelda Staunton (inheriting the crown from Emmy winner Olivia Colman) brings a grave dignity and composure, plus a steely spine of imperious resolve, to her Elizabeth, well matched by Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, growing more distant yet never wavering in his support. The very busy Lesley Manville (currently seen in Magpie Murders on PBS and Dangerous Liaisons on Starz) is pert perfection as her seethingly resentful yet loyal sister, Princess Margaret.

Dominic West (The Wire) is perhaps too robust in expressing Charles’ many frustrations, but it’s the uncanny Elizabeth Debicki who steals the show as a coy, wounded Diana. Manipulated by book authors and TV journalists to share her darkest thoughts to a greedy audience, she only manages to isolate herself from those she loves.

A climactic scene between the long-separated couple begins with tender regret and ends in bitter recrimination as soon as Charles brings up his place in the royal hierarchy. As usual, the crown and its duties have a way of making everyone miserable.

Except, of course, for the rapt viewer.

The Crown, Season 5 Premiere, Wednesday, November 9, Netflix