SPOILER ALERT: This story features details from Season 6 of The Crown
Reviews are in for the first four episodes of the sixth and final season of Netflix’s The Crown, and judging from reactions in the UK and France, there’s a divide just about as wide as the English Channel.
The two countries will forever be linked by the tragedy that was the death of Princess Diana in a Parisian car crash on August 31, 1997. But critics today are divergent.
Several major British outlets are negative on the latest installments which dropped at 8am local time, with some taking issue with visions of the late Princess who engages in conversations with the Queen and Prince Charles. These scenes have gotten a lot of attention, referenced as featuring Diana’s “ghost.” The Crown creator Peter Morgan recently told Deadline, “The word ghost is unhelpful, I was never writing anything from a supernatural perspective, not at all. It was more an indication that, when someone has just passed, they’re still vivid in the minds of all those close to them and love them… It felt to me more like an extension of her in real life, rather than a ghost.”
Meanwhile, French reviewers are largely embracing the episodes, with one calling the so-called “ghost” scenes the opposite of dark. Scroll below for a round-up of what critics on both sides of La Manche are saying.
The new season begins with Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Prince Charles (Dominic West) spending their first summer apart as divorcés. Their young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, are played by Rufus Kampa and Fflyn Edwards, respectively. The first four episodes chronicle the events leading to Diana and Dodi Fayed’s (Khalid Abdalla) death and its immediate aftermath.
What UK critics are saying:
Lucy Mangan’s Guardian review gives Season 6 one star with a headline that reads, “So bad it’s basically an out-of-body experience.”
It continues, “From the beginning The Crown has walked a tightrope between prestige drama – capable of evoking a world of emotional struggle from a single scene or queenly line – and soapy nonsense. It started teetering in season three, lost its balance entirely over the next two and is now plummeting into the abyss, despite the uniformly brilliant performances from the entire cast – Elizabeth Debicki as the queen of our hearts especially, of course – trying gamely to arrest its fall.”
“After her death, Ghost Diana appears to Prince Charles and then to the Queen as a kind of ministering angel, illuminating for them the way and the light and the best way of tending to the mood of the people, to whose every individual heart she has always had a direct hotline…. Ghost Diana is all of a piece with what is now simply a crass, by-numbers piece of film-making, with a script that barely aspires to craft, let alone art, any more.”
In a two-star review, Nick Hilton writes, “The show routinely privileges gossip over emotional resonance: highly speculative conversations between Diana and Dodi are included – and drive the plot – whereas Charles breaks the news of Diana’s death to the prince, in a scene we, the audience, are not permitted to overhear. This tabloid tone relegates (Imelda) Staunton’s Queen to a side character, while Lesley Manville’s Princess Margaret slips by entirely unnoticed.”
The Crown “has taught the world what it meant to be British, in the 20th century. But it has also run out of road – run out of history to retread – and, on its last legs, has less to say than ever, about what it means to be British now.”
Anita Singh, in her two-star review, writes, “Something has gone wrong, because creatively the show has atrophied… It’s hard to escape the suspicion that the writer has real contempt for this family. The sixth series is at its best when it moves away from the royals themselves.”
Of the scenes where Diana appears “as a sort of ghost,” Singh calls it “an an act of desperation.”
A four-star review nevertheless says portraying the “ghost” of Diana “wasn’t the show’s finest hour, that’s for sure. It is also peculiarly self-defeating in an otherwise powerful and moving opening four-episode suite.”
Empire also gives it four stars: “This is the most emotional The Crown has ever been, using a mix of tears, real-life footage and ‘ghosts’ to grieve for the Princess all over again. However you feel about these ghosts — which include Dodi as well as Diana — Episode 4 remains an unforgettable hour that elevates the season as a whole.”
Caryn James’ two-star BBC review says the season’s best moments so far “affirm what has always been the show’s most successful, tantalising and satisfying element: the imagined scenes.”
But, she notes, “There is clumsiness throughout… including the ongoing stark contrast between Diana’s sun-bathed days and the dark wood and shadows inside Buckingham Palace.”
“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.”
Radio Times gives Season 6 three stars, and acknowledges, “The task that creator Peter Morgan and his team of writers had on their hands is an unenviable one. They had to sell the profundity of the moment (of Diana’s death) without sensationalising it, and sensitively depict a passing which for many is still raw, all these years later. Thankfully, for the most part, they succeed in getting this balance right, in no small part thanks to the astonishing work of Elizabeth Debicki.”
“The way Diana’s death itself is handled is effective, poignant and above all thoughtful – from an early flash-forward which successfully deflates the apprehension and means you don’t leave the audience morbidly waiting for the moment they all know is coming, to the chilling immediate aftermath as the family is informed, it is the best, most tactful version of this sequence that we could have possibly hoped for.”
A four-star review from The Standard praises Debicki and also West who “brilliantly” nails Charles’ “mannerisms and diction.”
It adds, “This season is even more plagued than the rest by us knowing what happens. The interest is in how we get there. And boy, Peter Morgan fills the gaps.”
What French critics are saying:
Télé-Loisirs calls Season 6 “a love letter to Diana” and praises the scenes where Diana appears after her tragic death. “As is often the case with The Crown, the controversies which took place before the release of the episodes on Netflix had no reason to exist: the scenes in which Charles, then the Queen, speak to Diana after her death are not at all dark, rather to the contrary.”
“Watching these four episodes, one thing stands out: more than ever, The Crown shows us to what extent these ‘characters’ are people like any other… This first part of the final season of The Crown reminds us to what extent the series deserves its nobility and also to what extent Netflix will have difficulty replacing it once the doors of Buckingham Palace close.”
“If The Crown takes great care not to attribute the death of the princess to any conspiracy and not to darken the picture with the Family (almost in the mafia sense), the series participates in what it denounces by devouring the last moments of Diana with the same voracity that we criticize the paparazzi, as if it was necessary to vampirize every little piece of Diana’s soul before letting her slip away.”
Le Figaro praises Morgan’s “Shakespearian delicateness” and calls the “dreamlike vision” of Diana “incredibly powerful” but “very destabilizing.”
The outlet calls Season 6 “masterful” and notes, “Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki is stunning as Diana. Behind the accident (never shown), behind history, The Crown once again tells the story of humanity, cruelty, the desperate quest for love and recognition of puppets of destiny. This season 6 also offers an X-ray of an era, the era of the paparazzi who began to devour Diana well before the Pont de l’Alma. And until the end, we find ourselves still hoping that the outcome will be different.”
“The always impeccable production of the series finds the perfect balance to create a small miracle: a form of suspense in certainty.”
Its “incredible realism, the credibility of the scenes is, once again, the great strength of The Crown which displays, for the sixth consecutive season, an absolutely remarkable production quality… As for the rest of this start of the season, we can only salute the work and consistency of the creative team behind The Crown.”