Season 5 of “The Crown” is finally here, and it’s time to spend the rest of the week binging on the groundbreaking Netflix show that has caught everyone’s attention. This season, the anticipation around the dramatization of the Royal Family, especially revolving around the dissolution of the marriage between Prince Charles and Diana, has been huge. The trailer gave us a sneak peek into what to expect, and sure enough, we got to see the infamous BBC interview where Diana opened a can of worms about the Royal Family and the revenge dress that Diana wore after Charles publicly admitted to having committed adultery. But more than anything else, we got to see a new face playing the Queen: Imelda Staunton. We cannot wait to see what the acclaimed British actress brings to the table after Olivia Colman and Claire Foy. The first episode is called “Queen Victoria Syndrome. It is directed by Jessica Hobbs. Let us take a deep dive into the episode as it sheds light on the new cast and takes us through a brand-new season. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, your experience might be hampered if you read further. This article contains major spoilers.
Since this is a completely new cast, the first episode of the new season has to provide a fitting introduction to the characters. The creators of the show know what they are doing when the first images of “The Crown” take a nostalgic black-and-white flashback to where it all began. Before you expect it, Claire Foy arrives on screen! The young Queen has arrived in Scotland for the inauguration of the royal yacht, which she names Britannia, to much cheer from the audience. One aspect “The Crown” follows, and the fans would agree, is its insistence on metaphorical storytelling. Britannia here hailed as a young queen who is capable enough to sustain any storm, which is equivalent to the beginning of the Queen’s own journey. As she concludes her speech, the shot focuses on a view of the side profile of the eye, which then transports to the present Queen’s eyes, which are visibly older in their shape. That is how we get our first view of Imelda Staunton as The Queen, who is now getting her physical checkup done. The doctor says that she has gained a little weight since their last visit, which is perplexing to her as she exclaims that she hasn’t changed a thing in her routine.
Next, “The Crown” introduces Charles, as portrayed by actor Dominic West. At the outset, West doesn’t register as a spitting image of the pensive physicality of Charles. He is rather plump compared to Charles. At least he gets the voice right, which admittedly eases things a little. Josh O’Connor’s brilliant performance in the previous season will be hard to follow. Back to the present, we see Charles receiving the advanced print copy of The Sunday Times newspaper, where the Queen has been described as old and irrelevant, and a poll is carried out where the British public agrees that she must abdicate the throne in favor of her son. The Queen is said to possess the Queen Victoria Syndrome, like another long-standing monarch who ruled for what seemed like an eternity. Meanwhile, Charles is rather happy with the print and arranges a meeting with the Prime Minister before he visits Balmoral. In the meantime, he has to leave for the trip to Italy, for which he wants to frame the occasion through the press by saying that he and Diana are going there for their second honeymoon. In reality, the difference cannot be more palpable. Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana appears on screen reacting to this idea of a second honeymoon, and she looks exactly like the Princess, albeit a little thinner. Emma Corrin was a marvel as young Diana, and only time will tell if Debicki can make it a smooth sail for the later years.
In Italy, Charles and Diana pose for the camera and use their royal couple status to ensure that the newspapers portray their relationship as still going strong. Charles cuts the trip short because of a commitment he has to attend. Diana throws a fit at this recklessly indulgent behavior that has become so apparent to everyone else that there’s no room to fool anyone any longer. The Queen, traveling on the yacht, is joined by her daughter, Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison). The caretakers are ordered early next morning to keep all the prints of The Sunday Times away from the Queen’s eyes, which they manage by a close call. Back home, Charles meets Prime Minister John Major, played by Jonny Lee Miller. Charles indirectly looks back at the legacy of his ancestors and how Edward VII was not given his due to reign by Queen Victoria. The hints do not escape the Prime Minister, who meets the Queen at Balmoral Castle next. Her insistence that the government takes on the responsibility of repairing Britannia leaves him flat-footed. Princess Margaret (Leslie Manville) and the Queen Mother join the party. In the evening, the annual Ghillies Ball is conducted, where the Prime Minister has a hard time jostling from one royal family member to the next. He returns to his chambers with his wife, registering the utter hopelessness of the family, at odds with themselves when they should be the ones binding the nation together. The episode ends as the Queen prepares to rest for the day, with the portrait of Queen Victoria beside her.
The first episode does a fine job of introducing all the important characters this season, and given that all of them are new faces, the adjustment feels a little odd. It will definitely take some time for the viewers to adjust to the new cast members. Still, Queen Victoria Syndrome does not cut deep as an exploration of the dynamics of the royal family. There’s a certain lack of urgency that feeds onto the scenes; you almost feel that the characters are removed at a distance- not really in proximity to their emotional connection with the viewers. The writing by Peter Morgan is, as expected, fine. Staunton makes for a shifty older queen and gives a subtle, convincing performance. Dominic West is quite good and paired with Debicki’s faultless impersonation of Diana; they do look and behave eerily similar to the doomed couple. The camerawork feels a little lackluster in world-building; we are thrown into the web of different and contrasting characters, but the camera rarely takes the standpoint of the character. The scenes are also a lot more stoic; there is a lack of movement that does not work in the episode’s favor. Queen Victoria Syndrome is certainly a laid-back episode that simply lays the foundation for what’s to come in the upcoming episodes. There’s no resolution at the end of the episode that feels like a full circle in terms of plot and screenplay. We don’t know yet what is going to happen in the future and can only wait to see the rest of the episodes one by one, given the Queen’s recent demise. “The Crown” will receive a lot more attention, and in a way, a rather quiet and less daunting episode sets the tone for what’s to come.