The Crown

How The Crown Complicates The Queen’蝉 Portrait of Diana’蝉 Death

Peter Morgan’蝉 script for The Queen, written almost two decades ago, offered a notably different version of the same story he presents this season on The Crown. But are they really competing?
helen mirren and Imelda Staunton as queen elizabeth
Left, from Everett Collection; right, courtesy of Netflix.

Tony Blair appears only in a single shot of “Aftermath,” the episode of The Crown’蝉 sixth season that’蝉 focused on the fallout of Princess Diana’蝉 untimely death. The prime minister briefs the royals and their staff on evolving funeral arrangements and his hope for a relatively public memorial, his words treated within the show almost like background noise to the episode’蝉 swirling family drama. That feeling is punctuated by the scene’蝉 abrupt shift in focus. The family is informed that Diana’蝉 eldest son, William, has gone missing, and so a dutiful process meeting gets cut short by a panicked search for a heartbroken teenager, who’蝉 escaped the royal confines to find some space to grieve.

Blair’蝉 near total absence is notable here, if only because The Crown’蝉 creator, Peter Morgan, has dramatized this exact period in British history before, earning an Oscar nomination for his script of 2006’蝉 The Queen. That film, starring Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II, pitted the queen explicitly against Blair (Michael Sheen) as the central dynamic regarding the response to Diana’蝉 tragedy. Both The Crown and The Queen identify the queen’蝉 persistent reluctance to publicly acknowledge the death in any way, amid an astonishing global outpouring of grief and sorrow. But in The Queen, it is Blair—newly elected prime minister, a Labour leader ending over a decade of Tory rule and promising fresh ideas—who prods her to meet the moment, to acknowledge a changing world and her changing role within it. The Crown maintains Blair’蝉 perspective on the matter, true to the historical record. Yet here, Morgan, who also wrote the episode, rejiggers the X factor, arguing that it was Prince Charles who convinced his mother (played by Imelda Staunton) to finally speak out about Diana. Blair, meanwhile, has no stated impact.

This is a piece of The Crown’蝉 increasingly intimate focus on the lives of the royal family—Princess Margaret doesn’t even appear in The Queen—and, maybe, the affection for characters that comes after six seasons of television. The Charles of The Queen, portrayed by Alex Jennings, is played as mostly unserious. His grief for the mother of his children remains tangible, deeply felt, but after the obligatory displays of emotion—and relative to The Crown, they’re still awfully muted—he fades to the background, like a kind of joke to Blair and his staffers who dub him a wannabe modernizer trapped in royal garb. He’蝉 ineffectual, even as his positions align with the man who, in this telling, ultimately changes the queen’蝉 mind: Blair.

The Crown takes a more generous view. Josh O’Connor’蝉 portrayal of Charles in seasons three and four was prickly. But the series’ latter years (with Dominic West in the role) have softened the heir’蝉 image, embracing his contemporary vision for monarchy and listening to his side of the bitter separation between him and Diana. On The Crown, Charles replaces the function Blair played in The Queen rather neatly. In the film, Blair ominously, accurately predicts that Diana’蝉 death will be a massive international event; in the show, Charles does the same. In The Queen, Blair outlines explicitly to the queen what she must do to win back public sentiment after they turn against her, including making a trip to London and giving a global address. In The Crown, Charles makes these suggestions, and the queen hears him out. “Perhaps Charles is right,” Staunton’蝉 Elizabeth says at one point, a far cry from Mirren’蝉 tone in The Queen. “He’蝉 been urging me to help calm things down.”

Stephen Frears’蝉 The Queen received wide critical acclaim in part due to its lack of sentimentality. Mirren’蝉 inscrutable, Oscar-winning turn matched a screenplay by Morgan that understood the thorny optics of royal life and the minutiae of political process to be its dramatic crux. The Crown’蝉 version of events hardly feels so clear-eyed or objective; it’蝉 interested in a louder, sadder, more surreal imagination of this moment in time. Charles’蝉 silent reaction to the news of Diana’蝉 death in The Queen couldn’t contrast more sharply with The Crown’蝉, his wail echoing through Paris hospital walls as he identifies her body.

One could argue these aren’t competing narratives so much as complementary tellings that differ in point of view—one more nuanced, one more soapy. “Aftermath” actually opens on, of all people, Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), father of Diana’蝉 love interest, Dodi, who was killed in the car crash beside her. Mohamed’蝉 grief occupies another teary stretch of the episode later on, in fact, which expands its overall emotional footprint. He does not appear in The Queen.

The Crown more riskily finds Charles and the queen engaging in long, weepy conversations with Diana herself, with Elizabeth Debicki returning in ghost form. For Charles, this device allows, again, for a certain grace, a way to center his pain in the show’蝉 ongoing examination of his character and his wounds. For Elizabeth, this imagined, spectral interaction gives her space for one moment to truly cry, to let out what’蝉 going on inside before returning to her rigid public role. The Queen also offers her a single, private sort of emotional explosion. But in that version, she really is alone, way out in nature and surrounded by silence. Observing her in that harsh spotlight forces a richer interrogation of the monarch’蝉 state of mind.

Both The Queen and The Crown depict the queen’蝉 eventual official speech, delivered after a long stretch of saying nothing at all. Placing these two versions side by side most clearly illustrates Morgan’蝉 distinctive missions. In The Crown, her words play out against a soaring score and a montage of people in mourning—from characters we know well to those we don’t know at all. The sequence plays like an uncomplicated tearjerker, an attempt perhaps to honor the sentiment of the moment.

In The Queen, we still get that sweeping sense of her words transmitting across the globe, resonating on an almost epic scale. But her stiffness is highlighted in live commentary, given right as she’蝉 speaking. The criticism comes from a cynical staffer of Blair’蝉, and while the film seems to technically agree with his assessment, Blair reads her stoicism differently. “What she’蝉 doing is extraordinary,” he says. He’蝉 not praising her transparency or authenticity here; he’蝉 the exact opposite of moved to tears. With the awestruck smile of a politician in his prime, he’蝉 admiring her acumen. You sense the movie is too.

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