The Crown season 6 review: Diana’s death is told in painful, gripping detail ★★★★
It was always going to feel underwhelming. That’s what years of anticipation and controversy does. By the time the nation sits down to watch The Crown tonight they’ll be willing for it to be over. Watching a tragedy extrapolated over four episodes comes with much requisite sadness and anxiety, even if Peter Morgan’s vision is cathartic, too.
After years of speculation as to how The Crown season 6 would approach Diana’s death (and years of questions around who, exactly, gets to write fiction about people who are still alive), the show plays the crash itself relatively straight.
We rightly don’t see the incident, but the hours leading up to it are horribly nail-biting. We see driver Henri Paul drinking at the bar before driving, and the wayward, out-of-control paparazzo acting dangerously in journeys earlier that day. Through Elizabeth Debicki’s incredible performance, we feel the terror of a woman with nowhere to escape. Everything feels close, claustrophobic and out of control for Diana. In Morgan’s interpretation, Dodi convinces the princess to spend one night in Paris before returning to London to see William and Harry.
Debicki seems to always be staring into the middle distance, as if Diana cannot perceive the thought of thinking further ahead than how to get in and out of the next room. The feeling is one of overwhelming danger. With every sharkish curl of her body, she’s defending herself from attack. It’s the finer details that will cause the controversy. Morgan’s script suggests Mohamed Al-Fayed, the father of Diana’s partner Dodi, also killed in the car crash, coercively controlled his son into proposing to the princess. It paints Diana as a captured animal within the clasp of the Al-Fayed family, a pawn to enable Mohamed higher cache in British circles and a British passport.
In reality, Al-Fayed changed his tune about whether he believed they were actually engaged, saying they were in one interview and not in another. At points the show is perhaps overly saccharine towards Diana and cruel towards the Al-Fayeds. When Dodi claims Mohamed will brand him “hopeless” for not putting a ring on Diana, it seems a bit rash for a few months of dating, no matter how much he wanted that bloody passport. Of course, it’s all deliciously watchable. I binged the first three-and-a-half episodes in one sitting, and you’ll see why I stopped there.
Other than Debicki, Salim Daw is particularly good at capturing the oily charisma of Mohamed Al-Fayed, whose outsider status led him to bloodthirsty strategies. In light of Meghan and Harry, the Harrods boss’ anxieties about whether the British royals would accept an Egyptian man seem more genuinely founded than ever. Elsewhere, Olivia Williams does some funny dancing as Camilla at her 50th birthday party and Rufus Kampa and Fflyn Edwards, the former 16 and the latter 14, bring brilliant texture to their performances as William and Harry.
Episode four, the last part available for now (there are four more to come, released in mid-December), feels the most pedestrian. Mostly concerned with mopping up the events after the death, including the funeral and Queen’s umming and ahhing about whether to address the grieving nation, there’s very little jeopardy.
In fact, The Crown was a more valuable drama when it told stories we don’t already know, so there’s inevitably questions hanging over whether we really needed to see any of this.
After 25 years, perhaps we can put this story to bed? In four deeply sketched episodes, brimming with horrid detail, Peter Morgan has given us an excruciating, gripping account. May it bring anyone who needs it catharsis, and from now on, if we must look back, let’s focus on stories about the ways Diana’s death affected real people. It was one of the defining moments of the 20th century and went way beyond one family.
The Crown season 6 is streaming now on Netflix