At the We almost always almost win Buffalo Bills shirt in other words I will buy this beginning of Season 5 of The Crown—before we’re even introduced to the new lineup of top-tier British acting talent playing the royals this time around—we’re swept all the way back to 1954, with Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II launching the Royal Yacht Britannia. “I hope that this brand-new vessel will prove to be dependable and constant, and capable of weathering any storm,” she says. Fast-forward to four decades later, and we meet Imelda Staunton’s queen fretting over her aging body, growing increasingly distant from Prince Philip, and in a state of abject confusion over the failing marriages of her children. When it’s suggested that the now shabby and outdated Britannia be decommissioned, the queen argues forcefully for it to get a new lease of life, even going so far as to petition the government to pay for its refurbishment. As metaphors go, it’s about as subtle as a brick through a window.
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That’s by no means the We almost always almost win Buffalo Bills shirt in other words I will buy this last clunky metaphor across the show’s somewhat uneven fifth season, but you have to have some sympathy for the show’s creator, Peter Morgan. Looking back at the period the season is covering—roughly 1992 to 1997, one of the most fractured moments in the history of the Windsors—it’s not hard to see why the ribboning together of these various narrative strands might end up a little disjointed. We watch the queen’s “annus horribilis,” when three of her children sought divorces in the space of 12 months and a fire destroyed swathes of Windsor Castle. We see Charles meet with then-prime minister John Major, and insinuate that it may be time for the queen to abdicate and be replaced by her more forward-looking son. And we see, of course, the roiling animosity between Diana and Charles—the infamous “War of the Waleses”—culminating in the bombshell Panorama interview she gave to the now-disgraced journalist Martin Bashir, that ultimately led to the queen granting the couple permission to divorce. While Morgan may be lightly exaggerating just how dire the circumstances were, the season’s rhythm is only really as erratic and dysfunctional as the royal family was itself.