The Crown Finalé: The Best, the Worst, & Most Subversive
Let’s face it: the best parts were the burning empire
In for a penny, in for a pound — 2023’s guilty holiday binge is a final spin with “The Crown,” Netflix’s soapiest monarch opera, in its sixth season— and a last turn of the royal screw.
The series started six years ago with 19-year-old Elizabeth coming into the throne. It ends: Post-Diana. Prince Charles marries Camilla, Will and Harry grow up (sort of), and the Queen reluctantly plans her own funeral, with imperial ghosts whispering in her ear.
Was it worth it? For its producers, yes — they spent millions per episode, garnered 100s of awards, and upturned the Hollywood hegemony in the process — streaming started snatching the prizes. Culture watchers say there will never be a prestige investment like this again on streaming TV— “the chalice from the palace held the brew that is through.”1
For fans of producer Peter Morgan’s saga, (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) there’s only a small hesitation. We witnessed a slow mercurial decline in the “The Crown” since its bold debut, but hardcore bangers were never going to give up.
Season 1 covered the 1950s when Princess Elizabeth awoke on her honeymoon tour of Africa to — surprise!— ascend the throne, because, well, her Uncle David was too busy with his mistress and playing footsie with the Nazis.
For a young woman so taken by storm, Lilibet, as her family calls her, finds she is “to the manner born” like no monarch before her. The UK history behind-the-scenes was full of intimate surprises, especially for American audiences.
If you’ve never seen The Crown before, Season 6, by comparison, it may leave you dozing— there’s dull slogs that could only retain a full-subscriber.
More puzzling— and unintentionally comic— is the final season casting, as with Dominic West (The Wire) in the role of Prince Charles. I watched with my friend Joe, who did a double take: “That’s generous!” West is so handsome, sweet, and charismatic in the future King’s shoes, it changes history.
Meanwhile, former elitist curmudgeon Prince Phillip (Johnathan Pryce, Glengarry Glen Ross) dispenses family advice in his dotage like feminist therapist Brené Brown. The whole court seem ready to start their own modern grief counseling service.
Reality blessedly returns in the episode of Princess Margaret’s decline, performed to perfection by Lesley Manville (Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris). It proves the most critical relationship of this series wasn’t Di and the Prince, or the King and Queen — it was the tiara-crossed sisters. There has never been a moment between them that wasn’t riveting.
Melodrama finalés are tough, and Peter Morgan does nail the dismount. He brings back young and middle-aged Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy and Olivia Coleman) to have a heart-to-heart with the elder Lillibet (Imelda Staunton).
Their dialog in the royal stables is the best writing Morgan’s penned since season 2. To my mind, it should have faded to black the moment Elizabeth R saddled up.
And Now For the Crown
It’s impossible not to look back at the golden years of The Crown without bestowing a few blood-diamond-encrusted awards.
Whether you’re a Monarchist or a UK Republican, there are star turns to remember!
Best Show Writers
Season 1 was the high water mark, with original fab duo Peter Morgan, the show’s creator, and his second, Edward Hemming. Hemming left mid-way through Season 2 in 2019, and it was never quite the same.
Best Queen and King
Every “Lil and Phil” were superb in their roles— I loved each incarnation. But the young Claire Foy and bad boy Matt Smith (Dr. Who, House of the Dragon) made a special kind of impression. Let’s face it, they were sexy.
Phillip (and the youthful Margaret played by Vanessa Kirby) represented something wild in the Queen, she could never express otherwise. The show made Foy a star.
Best Princess Margaret
Helena Bonham Carter had magnificent meltdowns. Lesley Manville gave a master class in how not to go gently into that good night. But Season 1 & 2’s actress Vanessa Kirby stirred the fire and tragedy of the spare sister like none other.
Bravo to Maggie, and her lovers.
As maudlin as the show became, with its parade of “royals are just like us!” tearjerkers, no gut punch compared to witnessing the outrage of British colonialism in Africa. The absurdity of Imperial empire is laid bare. The way the Royal’s legacy bites them to death in the end is as Shakespearean as reality demands.
Best Non-Royal Character
Salim Daw (“Oslo”) starred as Mohammed “Mou-Mou” Al-Fayed, the billionaire who unwittingly brings Diana and his son Dodi to their final hours in Paris. “Mou-Mou” was the picture of colonial brainwashing gone wrong. Daw’s performance is flawless.
Fayed, true to real life, lost everything in his search for acceptance from bigots who would never accept him. His late-life relationship with his black valet, Charles Johnson— whom he once threw out of the room for his color- becomes one of the few true love stories of the series. Congrats to screenwriter Meriel Sheibani-Clare, gave so much to the Egyptian story.
Best Episode of “The Crown”:
Vergangenheit (Season 2, Episode 6) - The betrayal of the Duke of Edinburgh to Hitler was revealed to his niece, the young Queen. It’s a doozy.
Actor Jonathan Demmings blazed as dear traitor Uncle David, Jared Harris returned as King George, as did John Lithgow playing Winston Churchill and Anton Lessor as Harold MacMillon. Hold my scepter!
Elizabeth’s dilemma and outrage are incandescent. “There is no possibility of my forgiving you— the question is, how can you forgive yourself?”
Prescient today, indeed.
The Court Jester, Danny Kaye’s masterpiece, is better than any royal swashbuckler out there! Perhaps Basil Rathbone’s finest fight. If your entire family hasn’t watched it together, remedy!
My review of The Crown first appeared in a shorter version in the SF Chronicle.
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