The Crown: Elizabeth Debicki says playing Diana, Princess of Wales in final series was 'a really unique challenge'
Since its first season in 2016, The Crown has been a highly anticipated event in the TV calendar. Over the years, it has featured performances from the likes of Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Matt Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Corrin and many more, dramatising the lives of the royal family from 1947 to (almost) the present day.
But this season, series six, marks the end of an era. With its current cast including Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales and Dominic West as Charles when he was Prince of Wales, creator and writer Peter Morgan’s story is coming to a close.
Separated into two parts, the final season will depict the death of Diana before jumping ahead in the second part to show the early relationship of Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
The first four episodes follow Prince Charles and Princess Diana as they spend their first summer as a divorced couple on two very different holidays with their sons: Diana on luxury yachts with the Fayeds and Charles maintaining tradition in Balmoral. But the hot and heavy media attention is taking its toll, and Diana begins to long for her boys in Balmoral. It’s a diversion to Paris, however, that sees everything come to a head, as an aggressive media pursuit brings fatal consequences.
“We find her going on holiday with the boys to Saint-Tropez, to stay with the Al-Fayeds,” explains Elizabeth Debicki, 33, of where we meet Diana. “It was an organised holiday that Mohamed Al-Fayed facilitated for her, to be able to take the kids. So there was a lot of security and it was kind of exclusive and something fun for them to do and just get some nice weather. So, that’s the plan, and I think emotionally, it really is a quick follow on, in terms of the actual timeline of storytelling, from season five.”
Of course, season six also represents, as West puts it, “the worst period of Charles’s life”. “It’s the death of Diana, and so there’s a lot of the scenes of Charles trying to come to terms with that, and breaking the news to his sons and trying to help his sons mourn, and having varying degrees of success at that,” he explains.
It’s a tricky time for Charles and Diana’s relationship when we meet them in this season, West adds. “The end of last season, there was that wonderful scene – like a one-act play – where there’s real intimacy, and there’s love there, and then it ends in acrimony and him storming off,” says the 54-year-old actor.
“What we have this season is the last time they see each other, and the last time she sees her boys and talks to her boys, and it’s desperately moving – you can’t help the knowledge that it’s the last time they see each other. You can’t help that colouring the way you play it even though, of course, they wouldn’t have known it was the last time.
“So, in that scene, which is only a brief scene by the car, I think Charles says something like like, you know, I’m really looking forward to this next chapter of our time as being friends and co-parents, and it wasn’t to be obvious. But they’ve sort of relaxed and they found, hopefully, what they like about each other again.”
The atmosphere on set was always bound to be rather different this time around. Not only is it the final season, but it’s also the first filmed after the death of the Queen – something which Imelda Staunton says was at the front of her mind.
“Doing the last season did carry a lot of weight,” says the 67-year-old star. “We started and then, very soon after, the Queen died, so it was quite difficult, to be honest. We carried on with as much dignity and grace as they have always done on The Crown but, obviously, there was a very different temperature in the world, in England and even more so on The Crown. We couldn’t do anything differently; I had to carry on, but we were all a wee bit sad. I think it probably just informed our temperature, if you like, rather than alter the material at all. But, there’s no doubt, it was different.”
The storyline’s emotional subject matter also weighed on Debicki, but she says that much of the plot is “actually a lovely time”, and that’s what she focused on until she came to portray Diana’s tragic final moments. Conveying those final days, however, was “a really unique challenge as an actor”, Debicki says.
“I really just trusted in Peter Morgan’s emotional blueprint that he created for us to follow,” she explains. “It’s his interpretation, and I think it made emotional sense to me, so I clung to that, really. Because obviously it’s devastating, and it’s fraught, and we can never know.
“For me, in terms of an overarching journey through season six, one of the things that felt so important – because we know where the story is going – is to make sure that there was real joy and happiness and lightness and genuine fun on the screen…It felt very important to give the story, because if we can know anything, from photographs, I think at times they had a really lovely time.”
For the team behind The Crown, it is the end of an era. They are saying goodbye to the detailed portraits they have created of vastly complex figures, a legacy crafted by several talented actors portraying the royals across the eras, culminating with an unexpected poignancy after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022.
“I know that we all feel like we’ve given whatever we could give, we’ve done that, and I know that we’ve done that, and so there’s a kind of peace about it as well,” says Debicki of the series’ end. “I don’t know what else I could have done, with the story and with the role.”
The Crown season 6, part one comes to Netflix on November 16.