There is clumsiness throughout, though, including the ongoing stark contrast between Diana’s sun-bathed days and the dark wood and shadows inside Buckingham Palace. A paparazzo who photographs Diana says of his profession “You have to be like hunters, killers”, one more winking, leaden invitation to fill in the blank.
In episode four, Morgan enters the period of his 2006 film, The Queen, with Helen Mirren, about the aftermath of Diana’s death, and we are struggling through two layers of the past, history and that film’s version of it. This time it is Charles, rather than Tony Blair, who urges the Queen to leave Balmoral and go to London to publicly mourn, telling her she needs to be “mother to the nation”. Staunton is steelier than Mirren when she replies, “I’d rather not be lectured on how or when to grieve or show emotion”.
Without making her any less the beloved Queen of recent memory, in a thoroughly convincing performance Staunton is positively beady-eyed and firm in her resistance, backed up fully by Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce). If only we had seen more of what she might have thought. But she abruptly relents and heads to London, after she imagines ghostly Diana talking to her. The jarring change is as sudden as Charles’ appreciation of what Diana meant to the country. Such character swerves make it seem as if the series is racing along to catch up to the story points everyone expects and gets to see, whether we need to or not: William and Harry walking behind their mother’s coffin, the Queen finally giving her address to the nation about Diana, which in Staunton’s uncompromising portrayal displays the forced nature of it all.
Morgan’s elegant writing and penetrating, speculative psychology have been immensely intriguing, a joy to watch over the years. Too often in these predictable last seasons, though, we could have written the story ourselves.
The Crown season 6 episodes 1-4 is released on Netflix on 16 Nov. Part two of season 6 is released on 14 December.
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