SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments in Part 1 of Season 6 of “The Crown,” now streaming on Netflix.
Fact check: Will Princess Diana’s “ghost” make an appearance in Season 6 of “The Crown” as the U.K. tabloid have hysterically insisted?
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The answer is… kind of.
Each season of “The Crown” has traditionally spanned a decade, but, as befitting the tragedy of Princess Diana’s death, time slows down in Episodes 1-4, which covers the weeks between Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed inviting Diana onto his yacht for the summer and her death alongside Al Fayed’s son Dodi on Aug. 31, 1997.
In Variety‘s Oct. 25 cover story about “The Crown” creator Peter Morgan, he said he would have preferred “not to revisit” the period after Diana’s death, having previously written the feature film “The Queen” about the impact of Diana’s demise on the royal family. “But there’s no way. You can’t do a story about the royal family, and not take on Diana’s death,” Morgan said. “The way I got through it was I thought, ‘I’m going to do it all through the Al Fayeds.’ And then as it happens, I didn’t do it all through the Al Fayeds… But I think we found a way of doing it differently [from ‘The Queen’]. And the tone is so different.”
Whereas “The Queen” has a comedic sensibility, Morgan explained, “The Crown” treats the royals with more solemnity. “[With] ‘The Crown,’ it’s harder, actually, to say ‘This is tragic and we’re going to take this seriously.’ It’s easier to be flip with it, and not ask an audience to emotionally engage and to be moved by it.”
The first half of Season 6 charts its protagonists’ competing desires as they are slowly pulled toward the inexorable climax in that deadly Parisian tunnel: Prince Charles’s (Dominic West) insistence that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton), accept his relationship with mistress-turned-girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams) ; Al Fayed’s (Salim Dau) obsession with the British establishment, which he thinks he can penetrate by marrying his son Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) into the royal family; Dodi’s yearning to impress his father; Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) determination to upstage Charles and Camilla while her life slowly spins out of control.
In Episode 3, those desires finally converge as Diana’s manipulation of the media backfires on her, turning stolen shots of the princess into a highly valuable commodity that supercharges the paparazzi. Meanwhile, unbeknown to her, Al Fayed is pressuring Dodi into dumping his fiancé in order to pursue a relationship with Diana — a move that results in the couple making that final, unscheduled stop in Paris so Dodi can pick up an engagement ring and fulfil his father’s ambitions.
Audiences don’t see the crash itself (“Oh God, we were never going to do the crash, never,” said Morgan) but that didn’t stop controversy from erupting before the new season launched. Which leads us to the question of the so-called ghost: In Episode 4, Charles is flying Diana’s body back to London in the royal plane when the princess appears opposite him in the cabin of the plane and they exchange tender words. Later in the episode, Queen Elizabeth also sees the vision of Diana and speaks to her, while Al Fayed imagines a conversation with Dodi.
Morgan told Variety the apparitions are not phantoms, however. “I never imagined it as Diana’s ‘ghost’ in the traditional sense — it was her continuing to live vividly in the minds of those she has left behind,” he said. “Diana was such a mythic character, with such a strong hold over all of our imaginations. That was evident in the aftermath of her death, and in the mass outpouring of grief. Diana was unique, and I suppose that’s what inspired me to find a unique way of representing her. She deserved special treatment narratively.”
The final six episodes of “The Crown,” which drop on Dec. 16, will focus on the fortunes of the British royals between 1997 and 2005.
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