The Crown, season 5 review: It's the annus horribilis, but with tender moments, great performances and good jokes

Honestly, I was expecting to be shocked. All the screaming headlines in the countdown to the new series of The Crown had warned me about truly seismic moments.

Tampongate. Bashirgate. Toesuckgate. Yachtgate. And the Windsor Palace gates burned to a crisp. If I had pearls I would have clutched them to my trembling breast, but I don’t.

So, as a hard-up subject of the monarchy, I was forced to chuck all my Buck House souvenirs on the fire – the beefeater tea-cosy, the VHS of It’s a Royal Knockout and the corgi-shaped big slipper.

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Still, Trainspotting’s Sick Boy as the prime minister? I saw it, but still don’t believe it. Jonny Lee Miller had turned into Johnny Major. In Deirdre Barlow’s outsized specs.

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip in The Crown.Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip in The Crown.
Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip in The Crown.

But the top actors all want to be in the Netflix blockbuster. Dominic West is Prince Charles now, clasping his hands furiously behind his back, desperate to become king. In a tearing hurry to achieve this, he never unbuttons his double-breasted suit, not even on long-haul flights.

Elizabeth Debicki is Princess Diana, stooping so low to effect Di’s upward glancing coyness that she seems like the world’s tallest woman. And Leslie Manville is Princess Margaret, surely the only woman in the world still using a cigarette holder.

It is 1995 with echoes of today – global recession, Ukraine standing up for itself. Season five opens with the Queen undergoing the annual medical and right away Imelda Staunton is brilliant in her corn plasters. The doc suggests she spends less time on her feet. “Occupational hazard, I’m afraid,” comes the response.

She’s bothered by having put on weight and vows to cut out the cream teas at Balmoral, but bigger problems are just around the corner. Three of her children race to be the first, in an audience with “Mummy”, to utter the d-word. The Queen pretends not to know this means divorce: “Diplomacy? Detente? Or is it too much to say … duty?”

Jonathan Pryce is just as impressive as the Duke of Edinburgh, telling Diana: “Make what arrangements you need for your own happiness, but don’t rock the boat – ever.”

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Another vessel, though, is past its best – Britannia. Philip is below deck when it blows a gasket and he does likewise, then again when the government can’t afford a replacement. A leasing arrangement is suggested. “Like Avis?” harrumphs Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison, appearing to have a Dundee cake perched on her head).

The Queen isn’t amused either. Britannia has been “a floating, seagoing expression of me”.

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Obviously the timing isn’t great. So soon after her death, The Crown is reminding us of shock polls adjudging the Queen “old, expensive, irrelevant, out of touch” and of her annus horribilis.

Obviously there is tragedy to come – though not in this season. But Staunton winningly portrays Elizabeth’s wisdom, the perseverance that ultimately saved the monarchy and also her humour, such as in this phone sign-off between two sisters:

Margaret: “Goodnight Lilibet, I do love you.”

Elizabeth, slightly surprised: “And I love you too.” Then quickly: “Very much.”

Margaret: “God, that was middle-class. Promise me we will never do it again.”

Elizabeth: “Never.”



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