Queen Elizabeth II’s death in early September left people across the globe reflecting on her sweeping legacy, as the queen of the United Kingdom held a tight hold on political and pop culture since her coronation.
Covering the political atmosphere and personal conflicts of British royalty, Netflix’s original period piece, The Crown, has returned in its fifth season to continue reenacting the queen’s legacy.
The tone and style of the new season does not feel much different from season 4, which helps maintain continuity between seasons. At the same time, however, the new season provides little thematic development to justify the show’s continuation.
The new season of The Crown stays interesting with a powerful cast that understands how to fully embody its characters. Given that history tends to repeat itself, many viewers forgive The Crown for rehashing old plots for new characters, allowing for an exciting and worthy new installment of the hit series.
The Crown lives in a space where fact and fiction combine to tell a somewhat-accurate story of the British royal family, beginning with the reign of a young Queen Elizabeth II. With every new season, The Crown has recasted the entire royal family to help show the passage of time throughout the show’s five seasons.
The new cast helps viewers forget that many themes on the show are recycled from prior seasons, which leads to little dynamic growth for the British royals’ storylines.
Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) starts off season 5 fending off pressure from her son and heir Prince Charles (Dominic West) to abdicate the throne. The argument from Charles—and from a portion of the British population—is that Elizabeth is too old to lead.
Staunton radiates power and reverence when she commands the screen. She flawlessly replicates Queen Elizabeth’s shock and desperation when she realizes that she is underappreciated and unwanted by her own family. This plotline is reminiscent of that of the first season in which Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) deals with the same theme of age as a potential liability to his power.
The queen’s central story in early episodes of season 5 is paired with the deteriorating marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). Diana makes a futile attempt to expose royal secrets by releasing a book, which is met with vicious attacks from royal family members. Diana, surrounded by immense power, reveals herself as essentially powerless because of the performative nature of her royal position.
Once again, this plotline parallels one featuring Prince Phillip (Matt Smith) in the first two seasons of the show. Despite the repetition of this thematic subplot that criticizes the emptiness of royal roles, Debicki knocks her performance in this fifth season as Diana out of the park, encapsulating the soft-spoken determination and charm of the real-life historical figure.