The Crown, once the jewel of Netflix’s original series, appears to have lost its lustre with its sixth and final season.
Critics have flocked to pick apart the final season, whose first four episodes arrived on Netflix last Friday, savaging the royal soap opera for on-the-nose dialogue, ill-focused narrative, and clumsy creative choices.
Chronicling the final weeks of Diana’s life, The Crown – while atop Netflix’s streaming chart – has fallen out of favour with the critics who once garlanded the show with Emmys and Golden Globes.
The series’ obsessive focus on Diana’s final weeks – to the exclusion of any character development or insight into the royal family – avoids a graphic account of that fatal Paris evening, but featuring heavy foreshadowing and portentous dialogue.
While critics have universally praised star Elizabeth Debicki’s consummate turn as Diana, they have elsewhere been merciless in their takedown of this era of the monarchy. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of this season’s praise.
To the extent that there is good coverage of The Crown Season 6, it extends to two factors only – the performances and the production quality.
Vox.com notes that “there are the lavish and lovingly faithful recreations of famous real-life moments,” while the Financial Times described the no-expense sparing approach and devotion to staging as “sumptuous”.
Variety too, with royal metaphors aplenty, praises the season’s focus and emotional authenticity: “With this devastating first section of its final chapter, Netflix’s crown jewel bids farewell to an icon, and retakes its throne.”
Vanity Fair offers up one of the most positive reviews – still couched in some major qualifiers: “It’s soapy, biased, and often melodramatic – but that’s just what makes Netflix’s long-running drama so watchable.”
Even the series’ most vicious critics could withdraw their claws for one major player – Australian star Debicki’s second outing as Lady Diana.
The Guardian’s near-unanimously terrible review still spotlight’s Debicki as the star performer, citing “uniformly brilliant performances from the entire cast – Elizabeth Debicki as the queen of our hearts especially, of course”.
The Independent writes that Debicki conjures up a “saintlike aura” for Diana, courtesy of a “well-honed performance.” Variety gushes that “Debicki’s embodiment of Diana’s grace is effervescent”. Time Magazine, in a largely mixed review on the series as a whole, describes Debicki as “vital and sensitive”.
The Financial Times praises the “faithful performances”, singling out Debicki: “Debicki in particular transcends mere impersonation by imbuing every expression with Diana’s intermingled girlish mischief, maternal love and gnawing sorrow.”
There is a mixed response to the handling of Diana’s death, but Vox.com says that The Crown remains “too tasteful a series to show viewers the grisly car crash that killed Princess Diana”.
A running theme throughout critics’ one-star reviews is a perceived downgrade from prestige drama to soap opera-level television, with many mourning writer/creator Peter Morgan’s increasingly maudlin script.
The Guardian said the show is now “plummeting into the abyss.”
“It is the very definition of typing-not-writing,” reviewer Lucy Mangan writes.
Vox.com blasts the many speculative aspects of Morgan’s script this season, saying that the show “increasingly becomes a fantastical apologetic for the royal family.”
The Independent mourns this season’s “tabloid tone”, as it has “relegated the Queen to a side character”, as the show has become an “ailing project”.
Time Magazine traces the series’ tonal muddle well, writing that: “Yet when it’s not simply boring, the season can be weirdly audacious, milking the mystery of Diana’s last days – as well as, unfortunately, her imagined afterlife – for manufactured poignancy. Like the tragedy on which it fixates, it’s a wreck on a scale that the show has never seen before.”
Indiewire criticises Morgan’s script for its focus on historic events filtered through a male lens: “Once again, The Crown is more comfortable depicting its central women from the nearest man’s perspective.
“Dodi’s daddy issues dominate his scenes with Diana, leaving her tenderest, most telling moments with the kids, and those – especially their last conversation – are steeped in generic platitudes that come across as over-calculated attempts to generate tears.”
One thing critics can all agree on? The creative choice of Ghost Diana was a severe, potentially fatal misstep.
The Guardian writes: “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.”
The Telegraph agrees, lambasting the choice by writing that “the show reaches a creative dead end with Diana’s ghostly return.”
To Time Magazine, the choice to resuscitate Diana for these scenes might just be the fatal decision for the show.
“Later, in what is easily the show’s worst creative decision to date, Diana and Dodi appear from beyond the grave, to assuage the Windsors’ and Mohamed’s guilt and helpfully advise them on how to process their respective deaths,” critic Judy Berman writes.
“Whether they’re supposed to be literal ghosts or simply figments of the other characters’ imaginations isn’t clear. Either way, these scenes cement the impression that The Crown has devolved into a mega-budget Lifetime Original Movie.”
The long-running drama will conclude with six final episodes, arriving on Netflix in December. The royal family might be in disarray, but it’s not too late for The Crown to be restored to former glory.