Elizabeth II is dead - long live Elizabeth. Even if the real Queen died, gracefully staged as a very British pompe funèbre, the fictional Elizabeth will live on for a long time. For example in the long-awaited sequel to the Netflix series jewel “The Crown”. The fifth of six seasons is now ready for streaming after a two-year wait, also postponed out of respect for the 70th anniversary of the throne in early summer 2022.
Another changing of the guard in the cast is announced, for the second time in the last two seasons. Also with the Queen. Following the pretty Claire Foy and the already matronly but perfectly patent Olivia Colman is Imelda Staunton, who rose from working-class English films and crypto-fascist Hogwards professor Dolores Umbridge via the first Downton Abbey feature film.
Staunton does it very royally. Visually, she comes surprisingly close to the original - the season is set in the 90s - even if she sometimes seems ferret-like, especially when she bites unexpectedly and quite violently.
The new, their ninth prime minister, John Major (Jonny Lee Miller), soon has to find out. Right from the start, she rumbles with him in a less than queen-like manner, because he does not want to pay the millions of euros for the renovation of the aging yacht “Britannia” from the state treasury in view of the recession.
The long dinosaur-like ship is the only living space that Elizabeth herself inaugurated and furnished to her liking. It forms the symbolic bracket for the current ten episodes.
It's old-fashioned - while eating, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau plays Schubert's "On the water to sing" from the record player - clumsy, no longer up to date. Like the Queen, a 67-year-old granny who, while others have long since been enjoying their pensions, has to continue this royal family company out of a sense of duty towards her ancestors and the nation, which symbolically holds Britain together and which is just called “the system” here.
The real Elizabeth endured this until just before her 97th birthday, with dignity and a firm belief in the two bodies of her kingdom, the personal and the political. In the end, she experienced the undivided admiration that threatened to slip out of her fingers, especially in the 90s in view of the divorce of her children and the Diana tragedy. At that time, the monarchy slipped into one of its most serious crises.
"The Crown" season five doesn't go that far. Just as it begins in 1953 with the newsreel footage of the launch of the "Britannia", re-enacted by Claire Foy, it also ends with its decommissioning in December 1996, after having played Prince Charles (now played by Dominic West) for the last time handing over the British crown colony of Hong Kong to China.
Everything is shrinking, empire and crown. The Queen, no longer wanting a sponsor-funded revamp like Blair's suggesting, acquiesces and coyly weeps for yet another discontinued model.
In one of the virtuosic parallel montages that “The Crown” celebrates again and again, this time a little bit outdated, one sees – half a year ahead – how the old monarch inspects her fossil vehicle for the last time, while the divorced Diana with the royal princes to a sleeker ship: the Al-Fayeds' Mediterranean yacht.
Then, of course, it fades out. And that's good. So there is still a further delay until the following, traumatic months of this second Elizabethan age are processed again in front of an audience of millions. Diana died in an accident on August 31, 1997.
The viewer is already very familiar with many things. Of course, you've long known their look in muted, countryside-green-brown colors, so it's no longer surprising when the boss impassively inaugurates the next milk factory, even if the roof of the palace is on fire (and not just that of Windsor Castle).
Everything seems very dignified again, but also more solemn in its narrative style, too familiar already in the plot variations of its protagonists, who at the same time get closer and closer to us the closer the episodes get to the present, glaringly illuminated and analyzed by the cameras and mass media. Here it becomes more difficult to unravel mysteries, to construct or at least exploit appropriate coincidences between history and fictional events.
One wonders, for example, whether the second episode, which is dedicated to Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) and his new hobby, carriage driving, was not only conceived when it became known during his immaculately staged funeral in April 2021 that his most trusted friend his godson's ex-wife, Penelope "Penny" Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (Natascha McElhone), who was 30 years his junior, was also a carriage nut, by the way. This is where the Queen allegedly intervenes, invites the distant relatives to the Christmas service in her car, so as not to allow any talk.
Another episode draws wide circles around the discord in the royal bedrooms: Here, the first state visit of a British monarch to Russia is interwoven with the befitting burial of the royal family shot by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Then there is a marital spat over the question of whether the Queen's ancestors are guilty of failure to provide assistance in the murder of Prince Philip's ancestors.
The duke consults his folios and consoles himself with Dostoyevsky, while the queen, who is portrayed as not very intellectual but intuitive, plays with her corgis. It sure is a nice invention. As does another great performance from the slightly out of sight Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) reuniting with her old crush Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton).
The queen is dead, long live the queen. Elizabeth can also rest in peace in the face of this season of The Crown. The fiction comes at a not exactly good time for Charles III. and Queen Camilla.
Not only do Dominic West and Olivia Williams play very convincingly. Charles' constant nagging for the throne, the unabashed dealings with the third woman in this marriage, the phone sex scandalous Camillagate, Andrew Morton's tell-all book, the BBC interview with which a lonely Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) who had been pushed out of the company defended herself tried – all of this is rolled out broadly here.
But that has been seen very often, sometimes better. Even though Diana gets the beautiful line: "A prince broke my heart. Now I'm just looking for a frog that will make me happy."
Some is superfluous, like the oily episode that blends the Duke of Windsor's descent via a common servant with the rise of the here overrated Al-Fayeds. But then again the question is asked very clearly: "Is the monarchy part of the architecture of the country or just part of the furniture?"
But “The Crown” cannot answer that. But Charles III. must do it. Because TV Charles already knows: "This family needs a renovation." That's why this season comes at just the right time.
"The Crown". Season 5 on Netflix November 9th.