From ‘The Crown’ to Real Life Drama, Recapping a Whirlwind Week For the Royals
Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in Season 6 of 'The Crown'. Photo: Netlfix
This story contains spoilers for Season 6 of The Crown.
So ends yet another whiplash week in the royal swirl.
Following the pointedly low-key celebrations for King Charles’ 75th birthday on Tuesday — dedicated to a community tea party at Highgrove House to launch his new initiative to rescue food waste; followed by a small, quiet family party in the evening — fresh drama erupted, like clockwork, in the ensuing days.
This was always going to be a tumultuous week with the hotly anticipated final season of The Crown dropped its first four episodes on Thursday. And they were doozies indeed — covering the eight weeks prior to Diana’s death through to her funeral cortège, Peter Morgan’s royal drama delivered the tears.
Meanwhile in Hollywood, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was carrying on in style, stepping out for a Variety Power of Women event in a stunning beige off-the-shoulder gown by Proenza Schouler fresh off the resort runway. She was photographed with the tip-top power women in the room.
Then royal writer Omid Scobie plonked himself into the news cycle with the first excepts from his new book, Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival, appearing in People magazine. Harry and Meghan have distanced themselves from this book, saying they had nothing to do with it, even after it emerged there had been tacit approval for their close circle to speak with Scobie for Finding Freedom, which he co-authored. Scobie stated on X, formerly Twitter, that “It’s not ‘Harry and Meghan’s book,’ I’m not ‘Meg’s pal,’ the Sussexes have nothing to do with it, their story is a small part of a much bigger one.”
The most notable excerpts detail Scorbie’s reporting that William refused Harry’s phone calls on the day the Queen died; that Harry had to charter a $30,000 jet for himself to get to Balmoral; and that Harry and Meghan were kept in the dark about the Queen’s health, both ahead of time and in the critical hours leading up to her death.
These controversial allegations overshadowed the good news of a call between Harry and the King on his milestone birthday, and news of a video sent from Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet singing happy birthday. Scobie’s book also opened fresh speculation about William’s determination to turn the page on his relationship with his brother.
The Crown season six depicts a very different period for Princess Diana’s boys. It begins in the South of France aboard Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed’s yacht in St. Tropez, a sun–soaked idyll in Southern France that’s punctuated by the whirring of paparazzi lenses.
As the summer romance between Al-Fayed’s son, Dodi, and the Princess of Wales took over the tabloids, William and Harry were sent off to rainy Balmoral. As a PR aide on the show points out to Prince Charles, this poses a contrast between a tabloid princess and a broadsheet prince, between instability and duty. But it also reflected the bifurcated realities of two of the most famous children of divorce in recent memory.
In all, Season 6 of The Crown actually does less harm to the reputation of the new King than previous years. Season 5, which dealt with the affair and showed Diana in such pain, felt much more negative. The new season is all tragedy. In fact, the Diana’s storyline follows an arc of redemption: Showrunner Peter Morgan pens dialogue that has Diana walking away from a Dodi proposal and resolving to tamp down the drama in her life and focus on motherhood. In one episode, Diana even tells her sons she is not going to marry Dodi. Of course, a fictionalized historical narrative must take liberties like this in order to manufacture dialogue and surmise motivations.
Charles, too, comes out quite well. The heir wasn’t thrilled with Diana stealing the front pages in a swimsuit shot on the night Camilla celebrated her 50th birthday, but his character is written with much sympathy (and shows much empathy) this season. He and Diana reach a new agreement to peacefully co-parent and then, after her death, he is seen in real distress.
Yes, there is a scene with the ghost of Diana speaking with Charles on the royal plane that is flying her body home — when he expresses his regret she says, calmly, “That will pass.” Diana’s ghost also appears to the Queen, with spectral Diana also sharing peaceful equanimity and wisdom, explaining that the distraught crowds outside the gate are trying to show the monarch the way forward. Even Dodi gets his own ghostly apparition, offering forgiveness to his father.
The vast reach and impact of The Crown will make it difficult for the Palace to counter any questionable or negative depictions that occur in the program. After all, the real royals can’t respond and the characters on our TVs are so articulate and we get to see “inside” the castles and their storylines. It’s too delicious and satisfying — no real-life people can compete. Plus, this storyline is playing out still in real time: The next part of the season deals with William-mania in his heartthrob years, the beginning of his romance with Kate and the marriage of the now King and Queen.
Tabloids tell one story while TV shows and movies tell another. The truth of these people’s lives is somewhere in the middle (and it’s a lot less shiny). That’s why we will never cease being fascinated with the biggest real-life soap opera there is.