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- Jasmijn Groot -

Last Christmas, I had an interesting conversation with my English brother-in-law, who's not the biggest fan of his country's monarchy. After asking my opinion on the final season of The Crown, which I will obviously reveal to you in full detail later, he made a very interesting remark about the series as a whole. He said: “they are never critical of her, are they?” With this in the back of my mind, a rewatch gave me a whole new perspective on the final season of the internationally lauded Netflix series.

Behind Castle Walls

In its six season run, Peter Morgan's The Crown never shied away to tackle any of the mysterious going-ons of the British Royal Family behind their castle walls. To tell these illusive stories, the writer and director had developed his very own brand of nuance and heightened drama, without passing up opportunities to cause a little controversy. On my first watch of the final season, it seemed that all of that was thrown overboard just before the finish line.

With ten new episodes covering what will undoubtedly be going down in history as Elizabeth II's most challenging eight years as monarch, there should have been enough material to draw inspiration from. Unfortunately, it does come across as if Morgan really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel. It’s a likely reason why it was decided to use up an unprecedented four episodes (!) to tell us what happened during that fateful summer in 1997. Perhaps in our memory, Diana’s death overshadowed much of what the royal family did in the years afterwards. At the same time, the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales was an incredibly public affair, whilst efforts to rebrand the Windsors after her passing were done in private. And it was exactly those private affairs that have been at the very centre of The Crown since the beginning.

The remaining six episodes feature flimsy storylines on Tony Blair’s popularity, a kind headmaster helping William with his grief, whilst Harry starts to show worrisome behaviour. New characters take center stage that have had no time to build up any compassion with the audience, unlike the senior members of the royal family, some of whom fade into the background. In particular the Queen Mother and Prince Philip deserved better. The Crown’s two longest serving royals become caricatures of how the British people knew them publicly in old age. What the viewer is left with, is often not much more than what the soaring tabloid industry of the 90s and 00s managed to produce about Queen Elizabeth II and her family. Only the episode on Margaret’s ailing health, that highlights the strong bond between the two sisters, reaches the dramatic level we know The Crown can deliver.

The series end with Charles finally marrying his Camilla. It is a very symbolic finish to the show, as its storyline commenced in a time period when divorce was a very sensitive subject. There was still considerable bitterness surrounding Edward VIII’s abdication in order to marry a divorcee, which put the weight of the Crown on the shoulders of Elizabeth’s family. One generation later and the subject no longer has to be an obstacle to inherit the throne. Things have changed for the younger royals, but Elizabeth is hesitant about the reforms. Reminiscent of the rules and regulations the Crown put on them, Prince Philip puts it to his wife, that they both feel the next generation is not ready for the task ahead of them.

Sleep, Dearie Sleep

After my talk with my brother-in-law, I realized that this scene - indeed, this entire season - was not simply an emotional farewell to Elizabeth, this beautiful complex character we have come to know during the six seasons of The Crown. The show made its final transformation to become what it was always meant to be.

The Crown has been critical of many historical characters and events. Think of Edwards role during the Second World War, for example, or the questionable actions made by some of Elizabeth's prime ministers. Even Prince Harry, who gave us his own behind-the-scenes story with his book Spare, is ironically and unceremoniously not spared. But out of all the characters, The Crown was never particularly critical of Elizabeth. Morgan has shown us how she was faced with many challenges and much critique during her long reign. How these hurdles affected her both professionally and personally, the two always being intricately intertwined. But most importantly, he showed us how much of herself Elizabeth had give up to persevere in fulfilling her duty to serve. Her character continuously came out on top, her loyalty to the crown never wavering.

Peter Morgan found a touching way to incorporate the passing of Elizabeth II on the 8th of September 2022. She fittingly exits the stage of The Crown, which in the end was undoubtedly Peter Morgan's tribute to her.


Image: Netflix (2023) The Crown.


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