The death of Princess Diana began my lifelong fascination and genuflection of all things blonde and British because of the coverage of Prince William at Balmoral that was splashed onto midnight media reports of his mother’s fatal crash in Paris.
While the first five seasons of “The Crown” have focused on the major events of the royal family before my lifetime, or at least coherence about them, the first part of Season 6 started when my lifelong obsession began: the summer of 1997.
When we moved to the United States in 1989, my mom actually sported the short Princess Diana haircut and now, after years of studying WASP-dom, I actually think of my mother as a type of Filipina “Sloane Ranger,” like the young Diana Spencer, who married into a family of old wealth and even older sentiments.
For the final season, producers broke up the release of “The Crown” into two parts, with the first four episodes being streamed on Nov. 16 (nicely on the day of the week The Suffolk County News is published, and thus allowing me to enjoy an uninterrupted viewing of all four episodes) and focusing on the ill-fated relationship between Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed.
The parallel of Diana possibly marrying yet another man because of his family’s wishes to possess her and what she stood for is heartbreaking, but triumphant in her clear-eyed wisdom and strong womanhood at this fated proposal from Dodi compared to her innocent, doe-eyed acceptance of a reluctant Charles’s marriage suggestion nearly two decades earlier.
The writers of “The Crown” have always been keen to stress that this is a fictionalized portrayal of the royal family, but the character arc of Princess Diana seems to match her public persona’s growth so well.
In the sixth season, we are introduced to a Diana, who exhibits some control over her much-consumed public persona and tries to harness it to do some good. We learn more of her work with landmines (including the tens of millions of dollars she raised) and tragically, how her beauty and personal life eclipse the unbound humanitarian work she put in to that cause, which culminates in an embarrassing press conference scene that reminded me of the type of media I work desperately hard not to be.
When she confidently approaches the paparazzi on a motorboat during a vacation in the South of France to strike a deal with them so her sons can enjoy their holiday, gone is the insecure posture of Emma Corrin’s Diana of seasons past, and in place is the confidence of a 1980s glamazon model, who trades barbs with the seasoned and crass photographers.
William, played by Rufus Campa for the first part of the season, is portrayed as a shy teenager more interested in withdrawing to video games or being in dreary Balmoral than the lively Riviera, is the perfect combination of “The Crown”’s sensitive young Charles and the everyday person of Diana, who enjoys pop culture.
Given the name of the series, the central character of Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) takes a bit of a backseat in the first part of this season, which mirrors the eclipse of Diana upon her death.
In a poignant scene, Charles tells his mother, as a sort of apology for his major role in Diana’s unhappiness, that the world loved what his ex-wife stood for—an example of how hurt and pain do not discriminate, and affects even the “privileged.”
This line encapsulates what the whole series is really all about—that the royal family, despite their billions, despite their titles, despite every enviable advantage, are a family at the core that is forced under the weight of its own importance to do what must be done and not what is desired.