The 1990s… The period that season 5 of Netflix’s dramatic juggernaut ‘The Crown’ chooses for its new ensemble cast was a particularly difficult decade for the British royal family, a period filled with scandals, not the least but most sensational. was certainly Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, whose shaky marriage finally broke up for good and in public.

In the weeks leading up to the premiere, there was a lot of media footsteps at Buckingham Palace and royal reporters feared that Charles, just two months into his reign as king, would be portrayed harshly. . The words “wild” and “unflattering” were thrown around. Anyone who was there when the events of the season unfolded will remember just how bad things got: she was the embodiment of heat trapped by an unforgiving system; he was the cold, aloof trickster who had wronged her.

But Charles and his palace courtiers needn’t have worried about the newest chapter in the Netflix series. His snappy demeanor to leaky pens and other annoyances caught on camera in the days after his mother’s death turned out to be uglier than anything on display here.

That’s because the show, by Peter Morgan, has always been royalist propaganda, viewing The Firm as a gilded cage – and the dysfunction that directly results from it – rather than an inherently corrupt business.

unattainable perfection

The Queen ‘never takes the wrong foot’, Prince Philip said at one point and the show is just tipping its hand because it’s a specific phrase you see a lot in royal reporting these days. -ci (usually about Kate Middleton). Hyperbolic and absurd, it assumes a perfection no human can achieve, and yet here it is, presented with unflinching sincerity. As for Charles: “I have enormous sympathy for a man in his position — in fact, a family in his position,” Morgan told EW in an interview last month. He doesn’t hide his biases, but tells the audience in very clear terms where he backs off on all of this.

Another reason why Charles’ worries about the season were unfounded? The show remains much more interested in his mother, which may come as a relief or deep frustration for him. He may be king, but his mother remains the main event even still.

Imelda Staunton steps into the sensitive skin of Queen Elizabeth this time – taking over from Olivia Colman and Claire Foy before her – with a performance that suggests a woman who is steely, as opposed to stubborn and slow to act. I question the accuracy of this interpretation; The incarnation of Elizabeth by Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (also by Morgan) in 2006 remains the version that seems to me closest to the truth.

By the time the ’90s rolled around, the marriages of his three eldest children – Charles, Anne and Andrew – were crumbling, leading to awkward optics, but ‘The Crown’ doesn’t know how or doesn’t care. . get into the head of the queen, who was such an inner figure. The show tends to be serious, but even when aiming for humor, it doesn’t have the best judgment. When Andrew (James Murray) warns his mother about the infamous photos of his then wife, Sarah Ferguson, being taken with a man sucking her toes, he fires back: “People tell me I put my foot in it from time to time, but at least I don’t put it in anyone’s mouth.Given the allegations about Andrew that have surfaced in the years since, why make jokes at this guy?

Problems with time

Dominic West’s casting as Charles is more flattering than anything – he’s far too handsome and bears no resemblance to the real thing – but he’s had enough of the mannerisms and vocal inflections, and that uncertain mix of rights and insecurity. Restless in middle age as his mother clings to the throne, he still maneuvers to be “incorporated sooner”.

He’s obsessed with his media coverage and is willing to play games for the juice, but Morgan is silent when it comes to the games the print media is playing right now, supporting and destroying the Royal Family based on unknowable whims. . We are given at least a glimpse of the unspoken pact between the Royal Family and British newspapers when Charles receives an advance copy of an article – an unethical journalistic leak – suggesting the Queen should abdicate in favor of her son.

Charles may be feeling sorry for himself – he calls himself a “useless ornament stuck in a waiting room gathering dust” for a room full of his closest friends – but in reality, the whole family feels sorry for themselves. Even Diana. Not that you blame her.

Played by Elizabeth Debicki, she’s self-aware and moving and has a far more legitimate claim to outrage than anyone in those musty old rooms. And yet, we don’t spend as much time with her as one might expect, given her outsized influence and continued interest around the world. Her wigs are closest to the actual cut, color and shape of Diana’s hairstyles.

Morgan prefers to take long detours that speculate so delicately about Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce, composing an avuncular side that I’m not sure ever existed in humans) and his alleged affair with the much younger Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone), who was his godson’s wife. Or dedicate an entire episode to the pampered displeasure of Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville).

Or another episode of Mohamed Al-Fayed – the Egyptian-born Anglophile trying to make his way in royal circles – and his son Dodi (played by Salim Daw and Khalid Abdalla respectively) – the latter of whom Diana dated after divorce, and who would eventually die with her in the 1997 car crash in Paris, events that will be covered next season.

But it’s also in this episode that we see Debicki get the most out of the role. The Queen attends a horse show sponsored by Mohamed, which means that in theory she is supposed to sit next to him in the stands and grant him an audience. She finds the prospect too distasteful, so Diana is sent in her place and Debicki captures her ease with strangers, her quick laugh, and how she was able to put people at ease with a combination of informality and self-mockery. . Diana may have been deeply unhappy, but she was also wonderfully sympathetic and her charisma was unmistakable and disarming. She is funny. Right now you get a glimpse of how it might have worked on an individual basis.

Dazzling sets, not-so-dazzling storyline

Sometimes a feeling is conveyed with a bit of poetry. The growing chasm in the marriage between Elizabeth and Philip is captured in a scene that sees her happily playing with her corgis alone, as he watches from afar down the hallway, with no interest in participating. But too often the show is built to simply tick off the boxes – the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’ speech; the embarrassing intercepted phone call made public between Charles and then-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles, in which he joked about being her buffer; the “dress of revenge”; Andrew Morton’s book on Diana and, later, his Panorama interview “three of us in this marriage”; possible divorce.

None of this builds a larger thesis about these people or the institution itself. Incredibly lavish settings can’t make up for the emptiness of the script. Scenes – and emotional arcs – don’t get the chance to play out, but move from one location and set of characters to another.

Shoehorned in is a flashback to the Romanovs – when the Russian Tsar and his family were abandoned by their British royal family cousins ​​and left to be executed in 1918 by Bolshevik revolutionaries – and it’s emblematic of who Morgan is most interested in: the elite. Decades later, when meeting Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Elizabeth scolds him about these deaths, as if she holds high morals.

But Queen Elizabeth is not one to talk. Imagine if “The Crown” recognized or even contemplated the antipathy that the British royal family itself has accumulated over the centuries – as well as considerable wealth – from people around the world who have been brutalized in the name of the empire and its colonial projects.

The closest the season comes to any kind of criticism over rights or finances is a discussion of Queen Britannia’s royal yacht, which needs a £14m (16.42m) overhaul. of dollars). Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller) suggests that the Queen, rather than the taxpayers, bear the cost. “All my palaces have been inherited, they all bear the imprint of my predecessors”, she retorts hurt, “only Britannia have I really been able to appropriate myself”. What one might be tempted to answer: “So pay for it yourself.” But Major bends like a towel: “I understand.”

Too long, not long enough?

The 10-hour season seems too long but also curious about what it leaves out. The show never hinted at any other women Charles allegedly had affairs with – he’s painted as a real blue to Camilla throughout it all. We also don’t see evidence of his temper, which has also been well publicized over the years.

When the queen died two months ago, her personal fortune was estimated at half a billion dollars. As king, all of this went to Charles, spared from inheritance tax. That’s because the Royal Family was able to negotiate this exemption for themselves in 1993 – during the very time period that Season 5 takes place. And yet, no mention of that either.

If the various actors here weren’t members of the Windsor family, would their lives be deemed interesting enough for a television series? Seems not – they’re not compelling enough as characters. The continued fascination with “The Crown” depends on their position in the world.

And what is this post? When the Queen died in September, there was both an outpouring of grief, but also an outburst of deep anger directed at her and that of the monarchy itself, particularly from the Irish and those Commonwealth countries that have suffered under a history of British exploitation. The show prefers to envision the island world of the royal family as an elaborate and gloriously photogenic backdrop for a stiff upper-lipped soap opera while offering little analysis or insight.

As an ongoing project, “The Crown” argues that the royal family has long deserved a humanizing portrayal, even as it glosses over a past and present steeped in racism and classism. Focusing on their private lives is a convenient way to avoid deepening conversations about how this family, by its very existence, reinforces the idea that there is only one correct form of Britishness, which, among other things, has resulted in the banning of ethnic minorities from clerical roles in the royal household, and more recently has seen the king’s biracial daughter-in-law hang to dry.

What does attachment to the monarchy – to the past, in fact – say about a nation’s identity? Wouldn’t it be nice if Morgan had a broader and more complex point of view, and wondered who benefits from the fact that these porcelain dolls are protected at all costs?