Thursday 31 August 2023

The Crown Series 4...

Let me start by saying that I'm not a huge fan of period drama. I watched quite a bit of it when I was in my teens and the choice of TV viewing was limited to what broadcasters decided to transmit, so up until now I have only dipped in and out of series 1-3 of The Crown. But Series 4 came with the promise of a period of history I actually knew about first-hand. I had lived though it, so my curiosity was aroused. I'd seen the sumptuousness of previous episodes of the show and the stellar performances of the cast in a variety of other roles so my expectations were high.

Any dramatisation of real events is made by merging the representation of the facts and the interpretation of them by the writer, the director and the producers. So in order not to be swayed in my judgement of the series by my memories of that time, I watched an episode and then the real footage before and again after, for comparison.

What struck me straight away was that The Crown has been made with the advantage (it could be argued, disadvantage) of very long-reaching hindsight. As such it represents key figures - Charles and Diana - as equally complicit in creating a fiction for the nation. In particular, it portrays Diana both as fundamentally dim and/or naïve, whilst also being manipulative and cunning. In truth it's difficult to see how she could be both dim and cunning simultaneously. 

I was a teenager when Charles and Diana married and these scenarios played out in real life. Whilst I've never been particularly interested in the monarchy, nor a fan of them in general or of Diana in particular, like every young girl of the time I followed the romancing of the Princess-to-be and watched the royal wedding. I saw the camera footage that captured Diana's doe-eyed gaze upon her future husband, the seemingly shy girl who was still willing smile for everyone she met. And I saw the way Charles seemed genuinely taken by her. 

In The Crown, Diana's coyness is over-egged. Forced even. She appears to already know her eventual fate of readily discarded and unloved wife, not to mention the legacy she will leave behind her with her premature death. Every scene is over-played for more than it's worth... and then some. 

For younger viewers or those who have no first-hand recollection of this period, and in particular for those not residing in the UK, it might seem that the writing was on the wall. Indeed in many scenes the viewer almost feels as if there must surely be a violinist waiting in the wings for a grand entrance. Whilst I am no real fan of the monarchy, I admit to feeling uneasy that  Diana is made out to be a simpering, cunning yet whimpering ingenue, whilst Charles seems torn between his heart and his duty. 

What is represented on screen is a duplicitous relationship where both parties seek only to fulfil their own needs and wants. And in that, perhaps in truth  it is no different to any real courtship. Except for one thing. Re-watching the real archive footage I couldn't help but believe both Charles and Diana entered into marriage in the belief that they could make it work. Yes, we all know in hindsight that Charles still had a dalliance (for lack of a better word) with the very married Camilla going on at the time, but let's face it, he wouldn't have been the first man to believe that he could get over one woman by getting under another...

The script has been well written, the dialogue realistic and all too plausible and I cannot fault the amazing performances by the excellent cast, which includes Olivia Coleman. Therefore I feel the fault is in the direction. The too-simpering coy looks of Diana, the hesitant, falseness of Charles, the almost tally ho attitude of Camilla's every scene. 

It's not the words they speak to one another that rings so untrue, it's the tilt of their heads, the arch of their backs, the tell-tale signs that they don't believe a word they utter. And that, dear friends is what happens when you already know the ending of a story. Charles couldn't fall in love with Diana because he couldn't fall out of love with Camilla. Diana died. The rest, very literally, is now history and Camilla is now Queen Consort. 

But did this little triangle of human beings know that's how things would turn out? Could they have had any inkling? Of course not. Sad to say that if the direction had been played differently I would be raving about The Crown Series 4. Unfortunately it wasn't, and I'm not. 

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