The Crown, season 5 episode 5, The Way Ahead, review: did we really need to revisit 'tampongate'?

Olivia Williams and Daniel Flynn as Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles - Netflix
Olivia Williams and Daniel Flynn as Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles - Netflix

In an interview about being cast as Prince Charles in series three and four of The Crown, Josh O’Connor shared the one stipulation he had laid down to the producers. “When they offered me the role, one of my first questions was – I say ‘question’, I think it was pretty much a statement – ‘We are not doing the tampon phone call’.” He wanted his parents to feel proud, he said, “and there’s no way I was going to scuttle that by talking about tampons on Netflix”.

Step forward, Dominic West, a man whose ability to feel embarrassment was presumably wiped out the day he staged an excruciating photocall with his wife after being spotted enjoying a jolly friendly holiday with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

If The Crown functions as a history lesson for those too young to have lived through it, will they consider this to have been one of the decade’s most significant happenings?

Alongside Diana’s infamous Panorama interview, the Windsor fire, the handover of Hong Kong and the thawing of Anglo-Russian relations, a new generation will now know the 1990s as the time when the future King Charles III said he wished he could be a Tampax.

Who knows why writer Peter Morgan chooses some events and not others – I remain baffled by his decision not to cover the attempted kidnap of Princess Anne, surely an event ripe for dramatisation – but here he has chosen a moment of maximum humiliation for Charles. The late-night conversation between Charles and Camilla, a recording of which was sold to a newspaper after being intercepted by an amateur radio enthusiast, is repeated word-for-word.

However, if we are to be fair, it is not done in a salacious style. It is actually rather sweetly done; it shows the intimacy, warmth and humour of the couple’s relationship. Anne (Claudia Harrison) likens Charles and Camilla to “two teenagers of a certain age” being “gloriously human and entirely in love”. Indeed, this is the episode in which Morgan shifts our sympathy in Charles’s direction.

Charles comes out of this episode rather well. He is shown as passionate, bursting with ideas and understandably frustrated by the decades spent as heir to the throne. “I’m just a useless ornament stuck in a waiting room, gathering dust,” he complains. At a family summit, he speaks of the need to modernise, to play a practical role in society, to help improve the lives of disadvantaged children and protect the environment. The Queen sits beside him with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

It is the Tampongate scandal, according to The Crown’s timeline, which pushes Charles into the interview with Jonathan Dimbleby in which he confessed to adultery. Camilla (a virtually unrecognisable Olivia Williams) has been a low-key presence in this series, but from this episode on she will become a more significant force.

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