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With the sight of a slightly beefy looking Dominic West as Prince Charles, and another of Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana – reclining on the sofa, lest anybody notice she's a head taller than him – we have a new glimpse into the forthcoming fifth season of The Crown.
The fourth season of Netflix's royal juggernaut left off with everyone miserable for various reasons. Margaret Thatcher had stepped down as Prime Minister leaving the country cloaked in uncertainty. Charles was furious at Diana for her continuing affair, and also for making Camilla feel inferior as the world continues to fall in love with The People's Princess. The final episode's title, 'War, referred not to a literal combat but the battles to come which the royal family were steeling themselves for.
Season 5 will be the penultimate chapter of Peter Morgan's series, with a sixth recently added on in order to do justice to the huge number of dramatic events that came to pass during the Nineties. “As we started to discuss the storylines for series five, it soon became clear that in order to do justice to the richness and complexity of the story we should go back to the original plan and do six seasons,” Morgan said in a statement. “To be clear, series six will not bring us any closer to present-day – it will simply enable us to cover the same period in greater detail.”
The Nineties were a stormy decade for the royal family, one which saw three marriages fail, the publication of Diana's tell-all biography and a fire at Windsor Castle, all during what the Queen referred to as her "annus horribilis" in 1992. The decade ended in tragedy for the royal family with the car accident that killed Princess Diana in 1997.
The Nineties are rich with history to inspire The Crown, but with the present looming ever nearer it will be interesting to see whether the focus falls on the lesser known moments rather than the headlines we all remember. Morgan's "20-year rule", precluding events as recent as the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and the drama surrounding Meghan and Harry, will mean that the season is a slower march through history.
Still, let us speculate about the big moments which might make it in.
The many failed marriages of Windsor
In 1992 the marriages of Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew publicly crumbled one after another. The unhappiness of her children is something which has haunted the Queen during The Crown, and these relationships ending undoubtedly put the monarchy under strain. As we saw in 'Favourites', the episode in season four in which she summoned each of her children for conversations, perhaps the many failed marriages of Windsor will be fused into one (truly miserable) episode.
The opening of Buckingham Palace
In 1993 the Queen announced that Buckingham Palace would be open to the public for the very first time, ushering in a new era of openness. We've previously seen The Crown highlight these symbolic moments of modernisation, such as Prince Philip pushing for his wedding to the Queen to be televised for the first time, so this may well feature as a marker of changing times.
The last days of John Major
One recurrent motif of The Crown has been the conversations between Prime Minster and Queen, which speculate about what might have been said behind closed doors during seminal moments in history. The series is in fact adapted from Morgan's play 'The Audience', which showed the Queen meeting with Prime Ministers throughout history. Morgan's original play actually begins with an audience with John Major in 1995, who finds his government in crisis and his days numbered, so we may see a similar scenario unfold in The Crown.
Diana's Panorama interview
The 1995 tell-all interview that the Princess of Wales did with Martin Bashir on BBC's Panorama followed a number of embarrassing moments for the royal family, including her 1992 book Diana: Her True Story, and recordings of intimate conversations between Diana and James Gilbey becoming public. The Panorama interview, in which Diana famously said, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded", also saw her call into question Charles's suitability for the throne, and speak openly about her history of self-harm and bulimia. The footage is now so famous that it may be foolish to try and recreate it, but the interview is certainly an unavoidable tipping point which led to Charles and Diana divorcing the following year. It also takes on renewed significance given the recent revelations about Bashir’s “deceitful behaviour” in obtaining the interview.
The Dunblane Massacre
The 1996 tragedy in which a man entered a Scottish primary school and shot 16 children and one teacher dead not only rocked the nation but also had an interesting connection to the Queen. The perpetrator Thomas Hamilton had in fact written a letter to the Queen just days before the massacre complaining that the Scout Association, an organisation which the Queen is patron of, had tarnished his name. Following the tragedy the Queen attended a memorial service at Dunblane Cathedral with her daughter Princess Anne. Just as the Queen visiting Aberfan after the 1966 disaster made for a moving display of her public duty in season three, her connection to the Dunblane incident may offer a similar moment.
Tony Blair and New Labour
The May 1997 landslide win for Tony Blair began a new Prime Ministerial relationship for the Queen and ushered in the era of Cool Britannia under New Labour. By this time the Queen was 71 years old and had seen a great deal of change in leadership, but the fanfare and excitement which surrounded Blair was a stark contrast to the hatred much of the country had for Thatcher. In one of their early meetings the Queen is reported to have brought Blair back down to earth by reminding him of how many Prime Minsters she had seen come and go in her time. According to Blair's biography she said, "You are my tenth Prime Minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born." A line we can imagine Imelda Staunton's Queen Elizabeth delivering pointedly.
Whatever the story behind this image is
The handover of Hong Kong
The colonial rule of Hong Kong, Britain's last major overseas territory, ended in July 1997 in an event which China termed 'The Return'. Though the retrocession is not as infamous as many of the dramatic royal family moments during the Nineties, the fact it is often considered as the definitive end of the British Empire means it is a fascinating moment for a monarch who has watched her empire slowly shrink.
The car accident that killed Princess Diana and her then-partner Dodi Al Fayad in August 1997, and the mixture of global mourning and public conspiracy that followed, is the dramatic moment many have long been anticipating on The Crown.
That said, it seems unlikely we will get this far in season five due to Morgan's "20-year rule" meaning the entire series is likely to end around 2000. Even if we do get to Diana's death in season five, don't be surprised if they avoid recreating such a well remembered moment, as they did with Charles and Diana's wedding, and choose instead to fill in the gaps around the tragedy.
To get really ahead of ourselves for a moment, season six could include anything from the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, to the September 11th attacks and meeting of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2001, and even the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The latter of which is certainly of renewed interest given the current crisis in Afghanistan. Whatever moments in history they choose to focus on, there is plenty of darkness coming for the royal family.
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