The Crown season six part one tells a story that we sadly all know very well.
In August 1997, Diana, the Princess of Wales, was spending time in Paris with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. Their car crashed in a tunnel while being pursued by members of the paparazzi. The driver, Henri Paul, Diana and Dodi were all killed in the crash, and the devastating moment in history shocked the world.
Diana’s tragic death ultimately led to several movie and theatre adaptations detailing her final weeks as well as how the aftermath of their deaths left the royal family in turmoil, with the Queen’s popularity the lowest it would ever be during her reign.
So the question I had for season six was how the show’s creator Peter Morgan was going to recreate these days, weeks and months - days that are now firmly etched in the memories of most - without stepping on the toes of the countless imitations from the past.
For starters, with a TV show, the writer had time on his side. Able to pace out the intimate details of Diana’s final few weeks. what struck me about the show was the unflinching insight into how utterly untenable her situation was before her death.
The camera stumbles along with her as she is dogged wherever she goes. The story flits to the media side of the spectacle, where photographers are making hundreds and thousands by turning into 'hunters’ of the celebrity, turning one person’s life into a circus whether she likes it or not.
It reminds us that Diana, who today is still beloved, adored and remembered by people all over the world, was a human being left in the centre of a horror story.
Episode three focuses on her terrifying stay in Paris and it is an excruciating watch, one where viewers will surely be hoping not to see the events that we all know are about to play out in front of us. Elizabeth Debicki by-and-large takes centre stage for the first three episodes, and her portrayal is heartbreakingly good in these moments. She deserves every nomination that is surely coming her way, and the show slows from the first moment of her absence on screen.
Inevitably, I don’t think that this season will be without its critics. Much has been said before about issuing a reminder to viewers that the events are a work of fiction, and this feels like a particularly pressing issue for this season, where they are telling the story of a young mother gone far too soon.
While the show often creates imagined dialogue between characters, with a sweet exchange between Charles and Diana about being excellent co-parents being one that might raise eyebrows but ultimately be an acceptable fictitious discussion, the decision to write in Diana breaking up with Dodi before their deaths seemed bizarre, especially when there was no hint in reality that their relationship was ever cooling off. Nor can I say it that I loved the fictional creation of William going missing for hours in Scotland, prompting a search party, or Charles sobbing loudly over Diana in a Parisian hospital.
It’s not a question of an excellent script, perfectly balanced cast or gorgeous cinematography - The Crown has never had any issues with the quality of its production. For me, what didn’t quite land was the handling of this time period. They think they may have handled the topic sensitively - they do not show the crash - but there is something uncomfortable about watching imagined moments that drastically change what we knew about Diana’s life, and ultimately undermine her relationship.
As such, I’m not so sure 'sensitive' is a word that can be used here. Much like what everyone tells the Queen in episode four, I believe their response to the situation was a little misjudged, but then again, I wonder how else they could have depicted it - which then leads to the inevitable debate on what period is too recent to be used for the purpose of entertainment.