Louche, laboured and libellous: that’s The Crown series 5 then

Right, The Crown Series 5 then. As a humble freelancer, Netflix only gave me a media pass 48 hours before general transmission but I’ve waded through all ten slightly laborious episodes and here’s my initial thoughts.

Kicking off in the first post-Thatcher year of 1991, the first episodes of Crown 5 are rather slow-burning, and that‘s putting it mildly. They‘re ostensibly scene setters for the more combustive later ones where, in the notorious annus horribilis of 1992, the great fire of Windsor and the divorces of the Queen’s three oldest children Charles, Anne and Andrew threaten to engulf the monarchy’s very survival. 

Despite the laboured, protracted plotting, there are some excellent, perfectly nuanced portrayals, particularly Imelda Staunton as HM. Staunton has a screen presence and poise that’s very convincing, and looks and sounds much more like the older Betty than brown-eyed girl Olivia Coleman did as the middle aged previous incarnation.

They spend the first episode making references to the Queen’s increasing weight yet bizarrely they’ve cast the stick thin Marcia Warren as the Queen Mother, who to her dying day was always a gin-swilling porker. 

Despite the lavish budget, the scriptwriters seem to have forgotten that fat suits are now a thing, and that in their own first series the Queen Mum was the big boned butt of this joke, hilariously conveyed by the abdicated Edward VIII:

“Why do I call her Cookie? Because she’s fat, common, and looks like a cook!”

Thick or thin, she doesn’t come out of the whole thing too well, and the writers have cheekily tapped into her private albeit much documented colonialist xenophobia by describing the British handover of Hong Kong as “the great Chinese takeaway” and so on and so forth.

The dead can‘t sue, of course, but there is some distinctly libellous stuff when certain notables are still actually alive, not least of which is the now new King Charles III, who attempts to conspire with both the new Prime Minister John Major (a steadfast Jonny Lee Miller) and in ep 10, his modernist replacement Tony Blair, to quietly encourage the Queen’s abdication in favour of ole Sausage Fingers.

Having worked with Dominic West on Burton & Taylor, I know he’s a solid, dependable actor, and he plays the jug-eared fool with conviction, though of course not nearly ugly enough. Major recently stated that no such conversation ever took place and the scene was “a barrel-load of malicious nonsense.”

That the Prince of Wales is even seen asking HM “when?” he will be sovereign is, well, outrageous is my word du jour.

Asking when his own mother is going to die — whether he said it or not — and being aired so soon after her actual death is, naturally, a rather uncomfortable one, even for an avowed republican like me. “This job is for life,” he is told in no uncertain terms. But he knew that anyway, as did just about anyone except Edward VIII.

The former Lady Romsey Penny Knatchbull is still alive though, so how she will react to her screen self having a torrid affair with Prince Phillip is anyone’s guess. Despite the louche sensationalism, she’s played imperiously well by Natascha McElhone (the shop girl with the attitude in the “we’re a specialist gallery” scene of AbFab) anyhow.

Overall, a decent if slightly plodding series that reflects an angry, divided and confused Britain on a budget (gosh, that sounds familiar) with some excellent acting and some questionable dialogue. The line from Charles to Liz, “You can’t be blamed for living a long life” is a squirmy, unnecessary one, however invented. That the whole shebang then ends with Princess Diana and the two-timing coke-snorting Dodi al Fayed about to have their lives cruelly cut short in a Paris underpass is a cruel one. 

And the less said about that bloody yacht the better. Sniff.

6.5/10

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Steve Pafford
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