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Royal variety performance?

TALA LADKI considers whether the latest Diana-focused season of the royal drama is its jewel in the crown

A man walks his dog late at night; we’re still unsure who and where. A speeding car chased by motorcycles enters a tunnel. We hear a crash. Welcome to the first scene of Season Six of The Crown!

I’ve been an avid fan of The Crown since its release in 2016. The first three seasons focus specifically on Queen Elizabeth’s reign and her life, offering interesting insights into the minutia of royal life. We're skillfully guided through the political decisions and personal affairs of the royal family and introduced to all the characters in a balanced fashion.

In Season Four, the focus shifts from The Queen to Princess Margaret, and then onto Prince Charles and Diana. Anyone who has seen Season Five would have anticipated what the following season would bring. They would’ve also known the responsibility that befell the writers to handle Diana’s death, a sensitive topic, with care. For the most part, the writers succeeded.

Death of a Princess

This new season focuses mostly on the romance between Diana and Dodi Fayed, brushing over the premiership of Tony Blair. With the introduction of the cause of their deaths early on, the nature of Diana and Dodi’s relationship is highlighted through the rest of the episodes, as well as how the royal family dealt with spreading rumors of a budding relationship between the two.

The first two episodes set the tone really well. Elizabeth Debicki’s performance as Diana does not disappoint throughout the whole four episodes. Neither did Khalid Abdalla as Dodi, although, we don’t get to see much of anyone else’s performances. Prince Philip barely appears, and we don’t get to know much about William and Harry, aside from their relationship with Diana. As for Charles, we’re given bits of his relationship with Camilla, and shown his grief over Diana’s death.

The writers chose to give more weight to Diana’s plot than anyone else’s, and it’s only after her death that we see exaggerated reactions to it. But the main premise of the season is investigating the character of Diana, heartbroken about her divorce. She drops hints about that in a conversation with Charles. But that’s not all she is, she’s also a humanitarian, and someone who’s regretful of her choices in marriage – also making that apparent in her conversations with Dodi.

Splitting the season and unnecessary ghosts?

There are two things that don’t work for me however. The first is splitting the season into two parts, with release dates one month apart. Why's that? Because the writers assumed that the first part would be so great, so gripping, that people would wait a month to see the second? It's not that viewers won’t watch the second part. Loyal fans will. But the month-long gap is enough for the hype to die down.

Which brings me to my second point: the “ghosts.” At many times, death can be sudden, and the repercussions of someone’s sudden death can be quite unpredictable – anger, regret, depression, self-blame, the whole lot of it. By attempting to neatly end both Diana and Dodi’s narratives through their re-emergence, the profoundness of their tragic death is lost.

There’s likely to be a lot of controversy and discussion stoked as a response to the series, especially from people who remember going through that period, who might criticize it from a factual basis, and it may also stir up some unwanted emotions.

Dramatic contrasts

The season manages to consciously make a number of contrasts for dramatic effect. For example, photographs taken of Diana and Dodi, and Charles’ counterattack to them. Another example would be how the nation grieved vis-a-vis how the Queen herself grieved. These contrasts add some depth to the rather mundane storytelling. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that it’s a decent season, despite its obvious shortcomings.

Will I eagerly be waiting for Part Two of Season Six? Not much.

Will I binge-watch it in one day when it’s out? Hell yes!

Written by Tala Ladki

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