Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for The Crown Season 6 Part 1.
The Big Picture
- The Crown‘s depiction of Princess Diana’s death feels more focused on shock value than on her life, with scenes inserted to make her death more tragic, which is manipulative and disrespectful.
- Unlike The Crown, the film The Queen portrays Diana’s death in a more nuanced way, focusing on the British people’s relationship with her and the political impact of her death.
- The Crown‘s depiction of Queen Elizabeth II’s public grief over Diana’s death feels less authentic compared to The Queen, which shows her struggle to speak about Diana as a private citizen and her eventual public display of grief.
When The Crown first made its debut on Netflix in 2016, it immediately stood out in comparison to other films and television shows about the Royal Family. Rather than treating the history of Great Britain’s monarchy as a series of facts, figures, and historical recreations, Peter Morgan’s groundbreaking drama series tried to unwrap the psychology of the world’s most overexposed family. The series focused on intimate, human moments that show how the commonwealth’s relationship with “The Crown” itself changed over the course of history.
Unfortunately, this distinguishing factor is something that The Crown would lose as it went along. The show became more dependent on recreating iconic moments in overly dramatic ways, which felt less sincere and insightful. Unfortunately, The Crown’s sixth and final season bungles its depiction of the death of Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). What’s odd is that this is a subject that Morgan has already covered in a much more nuanced way with his Academy Award-winning screenplay for the 2006 biopic The Queen.
Follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.
‘The Crown’ Season 6 Focuses on the Scandal of Diana’s Death
After The Crown’s primary cast had been reset in its fifth season, it was only a matter of time before the series got into the fraught dynamic between the future King Charles (Dominic West) and his ex-wife, Diana Spencer (Debicki). Although the fifth season of The Crown actually balanced the perspectives of Charles and Diana, the show focused on the tension between the late princess and Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton). It’s made clear that Diana broke from the traditions of the Royal Family, and that this disrupted the control that the Queen thought she had over the family. Morgan seemed interested in exacerbating the tension between these two characters, which made Diana’s death in the show’s final season feel more shocking.
To portray an event such as this is to dramatize it in some way or another, and The Crown has often been criticized for its lack of historical continuity. However, the issue with how Diana’s death is portrayed is all in the execution; The Crown is more interested in showing Diana’s death than it is in showing her life. The first half of the sixth season begins with a bystander observing the lead-up to the car accident, and spends its last episode, “Aftermath,” entirely focused on the way that the Royal Family is alerted of the news. Since the show’s audience already knows going in that the series is going to depict these tragic events, these notes of foreshadowing are at best lazy, and at worst disrespectful.
The few scenes that Diana has in the first few episodes all feel inserted to make her death more tragic. The Crown puts an emphasis on her relationship with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), and how the “scandalous” nature of their romance affects her children William (Rufus Kampa) and Harry (Fflyn Edwards). While it is important to show how Diana’s life was in flux in order to emphasize how much of a shock her death was when the news broke, Morgan seems less interested in depicting any of Diana’s charity work than he is in demonizing the press. While there are a few nice moments when Diana, William, and Harry get to act like a real family, their insertion right before Diana’s death feels like a manipulative way to generate empathy for the characters. The Crown had become more interested in recreating scandalous moments like “Tampongate” than actually providing any historical insight into the Royal Family’s history.
‘The Queen’ Shows Diana’s Relationship With the British People
What’s surprising about the mismanaged depiction of Diana’s death in The Crown is that Morgan had already told the same story in a much more nuanced way with The Queen. Although Diana’s death is also the primary focus of The Queen, the car crash that ended her life isn’t hinted at as explicitly as it is in The Crown. The Queen shows the Royal Family and British government’s reaction to Diana’s death through the perspective of the new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The film focuses on Blair’s attempts to heal a wounded country as it reacts to the death of a beloved national figure; although Diana had always prioritized duty over love, she had a relationship with the British people that the rest of the Royal Family had never understood. The tension in The Queen revolves around Blair as he tries to convince Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and Prince Philip (James Cromwell) to give Diana the sendoff that she deserves.
While The Crown seemed more interested in showing the scandals that rocked Diana’s life before her death, The Queen was able to dig into the political minutia of such an impactful event. Diana is never depicted on screen in The Queen, which leaves the film to only discuss how she was observed by the Royal Family and people. This turns Diana into more than a tragic figure. Blair notes how Diana’s kindness and efforts to reach out to “common” people made her into a national hero; the film also spends time showing how people outside of the Royal Family mourned her death. By celebrating what Diana did in life, The Queen offers a more respectful tribute.
‘The Crown’ Changes Its Depiction of Queen Elizabeth II
While both The Crown and The Queen show how Elizabeth responded to Diana’s death, the former felt less authentic. Elizabeth’s unwillingness to sacrifice personal duty for the sake of satisfying her family’s happiness is one of her defining characteristics in The Crown. To see her public declaration of grief in the immediate aftermath felt odd, especially after the show had spent so much time showing how scandalous Diana’s divorce was. Comparatively, The Queen shows how difficult it was for Elizabeth to speak about Diana in public, as she had always considered her to be a “private citizen.” Seeing Blair convince Elizabeth that the British people need to see their leader grieve made The Queen a more powerful depiction.
Although The Crown’s early seasons humanized the Royal Family, the series has become dependent on melodrama. Hopefully, the series will be able to redeem itself with a solid run of final episodes that treat the Royal Family as real people, and not just members of an ongoing public circus.
The first four episodes of The Crown Season 6 are streaming on Netflix.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.