The Crown season 5 review: Netflix's royal drama remains as addictive as ever
The Crown's fifth season retains the show's winning blend of historical intrigue and soapy character drama.
There's a point in the first episode of The Crown season 5 where I started to wonder, "Is this going to work?"
I have to confess, it's a question I had going into the third season too. In changing up its entire cast every two seasons, The Crown is tangled with a form of constant regeneration that would make even The Doctor gawp.
However, as with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies's iteration of the Netflix smash hit, my concerns quickly subsided. This is every bit the addictive, incisive, characterful drama that fans have come to know and love.
The Crown season 5 sees the action enter the 1990s and is set against the backdrop of increasing anti-monarchy sentiment. As Elizabeth starts to face questions as to whether her reign is suffering 'Queen Victoria Syndrome', and if she should step aside for Charles to take the throne, Charles and Diana's marriage is growing more tempestuous and hostile by the day.
As in previous seasons, it's actually in the more contained episodes in which the show really shines. Episode 1 is somewhat clustered, with too much going on at once and not nearly enough focus.
In contrast, an early instalment highlighting duelling and subsequently colliding storylines for Philip and Diana, as well as one dedicated to the life and backstory of Mohammed Al Fayed, are utterly engrossing, getting to the heart of what makes the series so appealing - rich and exploratory character work.
For this, Peter Morgan and his writing team have to be praised. Each year they manage to tell captivating historical stories, some better known than others, and make each season feel like a cohesive whole despite the cast changes.
When it comes to the new cast there is a clear standout - Elizabeth Debicki. Not only does she get Diana's mannerisms, speech patterns and look down to an uncanny tee, she is also the beating heart of the show, in the same way Emma Corrin filled that role last time around. Episode 2 is particularly heart-wrenching, and it's in no small part thanks to Debicki's performance.
Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce and Lesley Manville all similarly excel, with performances which feel like natural progressions of their predecessors' work. Watching conversations between the Queen and Margaret or Philip feels as though you could be watching any of the actors that played those roles before, so is the sense of continuity in their manner.
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It's Dominic West's Charles that proves the most difficult transition. West is not helped by the fact Josh O'Connor gave such a knockout performances in seasons 3 and 4, nor by his own fame and back catalogue of distinctly recognisable performances.
It's not that he's unbelievable in the role. Far from it, West sells everything he's given, whether it's Charles's more solemn moments or his fiery rows with Diana. It's just that it's at first difficult to see him as the man who is now our King.
It's not the most jarring switch-up the show has thrust upon us - Alex Jennings to Derek Jacobi still holds that crown - and most viewers will get there as the season continues. He just takes some getting used to.
Of course, most of the talk surrounding this season has revolved around its perceived lack of historical accuracy, and the drama's self-described nature as a "fictional dramatisation" that has been "inspired by real events".
Naturally there would be some extra scrutiny of the show's creative license with the facts, given that this is the first season to have been released following the Queen's passing. However, for most I imagine the show's fictional flourishes won't be an issue.
The suggestion that the royal family are being irreparably slandered by the drama are not borne out. Yes, the season presents the light and shade of every individual involved, but it doesn't appear to lean any more on the side of fact or fiction than in previous years, nor does it present the royal family with malice.
In fact, it simply does what any dramatisation has ever done when presenting a public individual's private life - draws around the edges.
It's exactly this that has made The Crown such a winning formula over the years, the show's combination of historical examination and imagined inner workings. The Crown has always been part soap opera - it's just set in Buckingham Palace rather than Albert Square.
What this season is slightly lacking in is the political with a capital P. There is plenty of politics on display in the royal household, but while last season saw Gillian Anderson's Margaret Thatcher dominate over proceedings, Jonny Lee Miller's John Major is less prominently featured.
This is perhaps unsurprising given the two figures' real-life personas, but one can't help notice Anderson's absence and wait for Bertie Carvel to make his mark as Tony Blair.
For viewers who have enjoyed The Crown seasons 1 to 4, it is a struggle to imagine many being turned off by this new iteration. It may not have season 4's riveting central concoction of both Diana and Thatcher, nor season 1 and 2's somewhat lesser-known moments in history to draw from.
However, it's fair to say that if season 6 once again measures up to this standard, then the king and queen of historical dramas will be bowing out having had quite the reign.
The Crown season 5 will be released on Netflix on 9th November 2022 and you can watch seasons 1-4 right now. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.
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