Hang on to your orbs and prepare once more for the spectre of the poisoned sceptre — The Crown is back.
The fifth series of the Netflix hit seems as determined as ever to depict the Windsors as the most appalling family in the history of history, a dastardly royal dynasty of lunatics and Dementors who make the Borgias look like Beanie Babies.
‘We destroy anyone who is different,’ bawls Prince Andrew (James Murray) in episode four. To prove his point, he lists the virtues that first attracted him to his wife Sarah before everything went toes up.
‘Modern, relatable and buckets of fun,’ he enthused, perhaps unaware that someone once said exactly the same thing about the Hindenburg.
Meanwhile, after the luminous idealism of Claire Foy’s Young Queen followed by the arid pragmatism of Olivia Colman’s Middling Queen, now we have Imelda Staunton’s Late Life Queen, introduced here as a kind of seaside landlady complete with a myth-busting corn plaster. Queen Imelda even worries about postmenopausal weight gain and is looking forward to her holidays.
Hang on to your orbs and prepare once more for the spectre of the poisoned sceptre — The Crown is back
‘One last day cutting ribbons on Morecambe, then its feet up for the summer,’ she says. As if.
In scene after scene she is an absolute Tiggywinkle of tweedy constipation, a woman at the mercy of her own emotional shortcomings who is frequently puzzled by the passions of others, particularly those of Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville).
In one barmy scene, Margaret storms around an overstuffed living room, pours herself a drink from a corgi-sized crystal decanter and starts roaring on about not being allowed to marry Peter Townsend 37 years earlier.
‘Without sun and water, crops fail, Lilibet,’ she tells her sister, as whisky tears spill on to her sable jacket.
‘What?’ says the Queen, on behalf of us all. I loved every moment, even if poor Lesley does get some stinker lines. ‘Out of the acorn of simple kindness, an oak tree of happiness will grow,’ she simpers at one point.
Speaking of acorns, Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin won awards for their respective portrayals of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in series four, but they are no match for this season’s A-team: Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki.
The fifth series of the Netflix hit seems as determined as ever to depict the Windsors as the most appalling family in the history of history, a dastardly royal dynasty of lunatics and Dementors who make the Borgias look like Beanie Babies
West drops tiny hints that this newer, older Charles might have shallows beyond the usual cufflink-twiddling Gromit, his mouth set in a rictus of huff as he complains about the state of his marriage and Diana’s girlish love of shopping.
Or perhaps this is just the rose-tinted potency of the great national Dominic West uncrushable crush, a pash that blinds lovestruck viewers (me) to any lack of dash?
For even while playing Prince Charles in a double-breasted blazer visiting the royal stables, and calling Imelda Staunton ‘Mummy’ as she brushes a horse’s bottom, Dominic is still hot.
One understands how Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison) felt at Pladda Lighthouse on Arran in episode two, when her own search-beams rake over handsome Tim Laurence for the first time. ‘New equerry?’ she asks her mother, with the kind of hungry interest a royal owl might show in a new vole.
Debicki is the best thing of all in the new series, capturing not just the voice and mannerisms — although these are uncanny — of the late princess, but something of her eldritch blend of strength and fragility, too.
As the storyline inches onwards to the tragedy of the death foretold — the Paris car crash that comes in the next series — Debicki’s Diana burns up every scene like a cool flame.
There are longueurs, lots of them. An entire episode is devoted to Mohamed Al-Fayed, who is depicted as a sweet Egyptian businessman with a rascally side.
Meanwhile, after the luminous idealism of Claire Foy’s Young Queen followed by the arid pragmatism of Olivia Colman’s Middling Queen, now we have Imelda Staunton’s Late Life Queen, introduced here as a kind of seaside landlady complete with a myth-busting corn plaster
In the world of The Crown, he is allowed to be both rich and nice because, unlike the ermine vermin of writer Peter Morgan’s imagination, he is kindly and benevolent. The type of millionaire who administers medicine to his dying valet and wistfully strokes his empty slippers when he dies.
‘The mountain really is moving to Mohamed,’ he cries, when it is announced that the Queen is coming to visit him. Only she doesn’t because she is a royal rotter and a snob, just like all the rest of them — except Diana, who is nice.
The production values are sky high while big scenes are delivered with verve and style, stuffed with extras and a determination to get every period detail correct: from pearls to cars to an impressive Norma Major lookalike doing Highland reels at Balmoral.
The cast is first class. No question. Even former 007 Timothy Dalton pops up in a standard-issue Crown trenchcoat to play Peter Townsend with a terminal diagnosis. No, he doesn’t want to water Princess Margaret’s crops for one last time, thank goodness, merely to share discreet but sexy memories about who did what to whom in the Crimson Room at Windsor Castle. Stop it.
Agreed, this is not in the best possible taste, but what the hell is in this sprawling, soapy epic?
In its lust for pomp and circumstance, The Crown shows little in the way of tact and circumspection as it dabbles in the souls of both the royally recently departed and the very much still alive.
As the storyline inches onwards to the tragedy of the death foretold — the Paris car crash that comes in the next series — Debicki’s Diana burns up every scene like a cool flame
We’re now 50 episodes down and even the royals themselves are beginning to make offstage noises of complaint at the endless punishment beatings.
Yet one might argue that approval or consultation is never sought from the luckless subjects featured in real-life dramas such as this, those whose best and worst private moments are served up as entertainment for the viewing public.
From Tampongate to the messy royal divorces, why should the Windsors be afforded courtesies and privileges rarely afforded to other families?
The answer, of course, is that they are not. Which leaves everyone in the lurch, wondering if the Windsors were really this bad and so unremittingly awful all along.
Or if it is fair to make such sport of their lives, embellishing events with white lies and exaggerations, while piling on scenes that never occurred and quotes that were never said?
‘She is a floating, seagoing expression of me,’ says the unlikely Queen Imelda, as she contemplates the scuttling of the Royal Yacht Britannia. But she could have been talking about The Crown itself.