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“The Crown” Season 6 Review: A Wistful, Restrained Send-Off to Princess Diana

“The Netflix drama returns with four episodes chronicling Princess Diana’s romance with Dodi Fayed and the couple’s tragic death.”

“The second episode of The Crown’s new season opens with the introduction of a new character. It’s the summer of 1997, and Italian photographer Mario Brenna is preparing in his studio for another day of work as a paparazzo. ‘Everyone wants pictures of celebrities,’ explains Brenna (Enzo Cilenti). ‘The right shot is hard to get. You have to be like hunters. Killers.’ In a few days, he’ll charter a boat and use a telephoto lens to snap photos of Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) on a yacht they thought was private.

About 1,600 miles to the north, a mustachioed gentleman named Duncan Muir (Forbes Masson)—a professional photographer and ‘proud Elizabethan’—stands patiently in a press line in the Scottish countryside, quietly snapping pictures of the Queen (Imelda Staunton) as she unveils a plaque on a stately brick building.”

“These two worlds—the claustrophobic chaos of Diana’s life as paparazzi prey and the controlled, comfortable bubble of Queen Elizabeth’s existence—collide violently in the sixth and final season of Netflix’s The Crown. Chronicling Diana and Dodi’s brief romance and shocking death in a Paris car chase, Peter Morgan’s historical drama takes a wistful, careful, and restrained approach to one of the modern-day royal family’s most momentous tragedies.”

The Crown - Season 6

“Nearly one year after her divorce from Prince Charles (Dominic West) was finalized, Diana remains one of the most famous women in the world—second only, perhaps, to her former mother-in-law. Despite her success raising money and awareness for various charities, the Princess of Wales confides in Prime Minister Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel) that she feels adrift without an official role. Queen Elizabeth remains unmoved by Diana’s concerns. ‘As a divorced woman and no longer an HRH, Diana is now learning the difference between being officially in the royal family, and out,’ she notes. Nonetheless, everything the princess does still impacts The Firm. During a family briefing, the royals are informed that Diana’s ‘friendship’ with Dodi could aid his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), in his quest for British citizenship—though the Queen has no interest in granting the flashy Egyptian businessman the societal approval he so clearly craves.”

As for Prince Charles, his charm offensive aimed at getting the public to accept Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams) is lacking one key supporter: Mummy. After Princess Margaret (Leslie Williams) scolds Elizabeth for declining to attend Camilla’s 50th birthday party, the Queen is fretful. “I don’t want to be considered unkind,” she huffs to Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce). “Because I’m not.” It’s a clear bit of foreshadowing to the public criticism she will face again — on a much larger scale — after Diana and Dodi’s death.

Morgan and his team have done a lot of legwork leading up to this new season to assure viewers that The Crown will handle Diana’s final days — and the crash inside Paris’ Pont de l’Alma tunnel that killed her and Dodi — with sensitivity and dignity. I’ll not dispute that here. The accident itself happens off-camera, and though in real life some ghoulish paparazzi infamously took photos of Diana as she lay dying, here the Princess’ body never appears on screen. Morgan drops the audio for the brief, early-morning scene in which Charles informs his young sons, Princes William (Rufus Kampa) and Harry (Fflyn Edwards), that their mother has died — the least he could do out of respect for their still-living counterparts.

The Crown - Season 6

Perhaps the most notable way The Crown honors Diana in these episodes is by avoiding the temptation to turn them into hagiography. The princess is portrayed as both hunted and restless, a woman driven by impulse and an “addiction to drama” — as stated bluntly by her therapist, Susie Orbach (Kate Cook), during one of their ship-to-shore phone calls. Diana and Dodi are drawn to each other as fellow people-pleasers who’ve spent a lifetime seeking approval from their withholding fathers. That said, it’s a little distressing how casually The Crown presents Mohamed as a manipulative and selfish villain who cares nothing for his son’s happiness until it is too late. (The real Mohamed Al-Fayed died in August at the age of 94.)

Morgan paints Diana and Dodi’s relationship less as a great romance and more as a loving, laugh-filled friendship — a refuge for two lonely people beset by extraordinary outside pressures. Abdalla and Debicki inspirit Dodi and Diana’s bond with their warm and affectionate chemistry, which also permeates their many moments of tender vulnerability.

The Crown’s biggest misstep comes in episode 4, “Aftermath,” which spans the six days after the crash. As the country reels from the news of Diana’s death, Britons flood the streets around Buckingham Palace to grieve and place thousands of flowers in her memory. Yet for the royal family, the People’s Princess is not yet gone. Diana — her memory? her spirit? her ghost? — appears to Charles and later Elizabeth for brief and heartfelt conversations, offering consolation and guidance, though not quite absolution.

It’s an odd flight of maudlin fancy for a series that’s handled most events in the royal family’s lives with a grounded — if fictionalized — realism. But I suppose no matter how many times we say goodbye to Princess Diana, it never gets easier, and maybe Morgan hoped these spirit-visits would provide viewers with some kind of closure. Instead, the emotional climax comes one episode earlier, during Diana and Dodi’s final dinner together at the Ritz in Paris. Alone in a suite with no cameras in sight, the friends speak their most uncomfortable truths, challenging each other to face their weaknesses and make much-needed changes to their lives. It is a moment of serene and healing peace in the midst of a relentless media maelstrom — and the happy ending Princess Diana deserved.

The first four episodes of The Crown season 6 premiere Thursday, Nov. 16 on Netflix. Episodes 5-10 premiere on Thursday, Dec. 14.

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