The Crown: Sheffield's Dominic West, Imelda Staunton and other cast talk season five of Royal family Netflix hit
Charles and Diana are set to be at the forefront of this new series, which tells the tale of the fateful events of the 1990s, including Diana’s eye-opening Panorama interview with Martin Bashir which was broadcast in 1995.
With a whole new cast including Imelda Staunton taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki replacing Emma Corrin as Diana and Sheffield-born Dominic West following Josh O’Connor in playing Prince Charles, there’s plenty to look forward to.
Season 5 of the Crown begins the story of a rather fraught decade for the Royal Family, as the public openly questions their role in 1990s Britain, a constitutional crisis presents itself as Charles pressures his mother to allow him to divorce Diana, and international affairs, such as the collapse of the USSR, present both obstacles and opportunities.
Scenes set in Moscow were shot in Bradford’s Little Germany mercantile quarter, where the listed buildings provided a backdrop to the Queen and Prince Philip’s state visit to Russia in the early 1990s.
“I think this series is a great series for unravelling, and she [The Queen] has many issues to deal with which makes for very good writing and, hopefully, very good viewing,” says Imelda Staunton, 66.
“I think this series has a lot to offer insofar as there are a lot of things to tackle rather than the Queen going about her duties.”
“It’s the 1990s,” says Lesley Manville, 66, who takes over from Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret this season.
“There’s a lot going on with Charles and Diana, and then Diana and Dodi, and the Al Fayed family in general. There’s John Major, and Tony Blair comes in towards the end. There’s the Windsor fire, the friendship between Prince Philip and Penny, and all sorts of big, epic stories going on.
“These are the stories that everyone knows about because they’re history, but then there’s all the quiet little dramas going on underneath that people don’t know about. Drama with a capital D! A little peek into what a day might be like for Margaret, or any of the royals.
“I like that juxtaposition of these big dramas with the quiet stories going on underneath, which is what makes The Crown so unique and appealing. You see the other side of the royal coin, as it were.”
When we meet Prince Charles this series, he is “in the prime of his life, but at the depths of his tragedy, if I can call it that: the tragedy of his broken marriage,” says West, 53.
“That is an interesting tension throughout this season: Charles wanting to champion all the causes he’s always championed and being at the top of his game in terms of what he needs to do to be king. His marriage and his mother are getting in the way of that.”
Often, actors who play married couples will spend a fair amount of time together to build the kind of chemistry you’d expect from a long-term relationship. However, West says that wasn’t the case with him and Elizabeth Debicki: in fact, “we avoided it a bit, because in this season we’re not getting on at all.”
“I think Charles and Diana did have chemistry in the early stage of their marriage and when Harry was born, but other than that, they are like two opposing magnets, they’re not getting on at all,” he adds.
“Peter was keen to show the magic that they both spun when they were in Australia and on this trip that they did around Italy. They could turn it on for the press and so it was important that we could show that star quality.”
Meanwhile, lonely in the no-man’s land between marriage and divorce and having already secretly agreed to expose the truth of the cracks in the House of Windsor in Andrew Morton’s book, Diana begins to wonder: if she were to do a candid and honest interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, would she achieve the freedom she longs for? Debicki says that The Crown’s adaptation of that Panorama interview – including the famous line “there were three of us in this marriage” – is “as close as possible” to the real version.
“It’s a very profound sentence that she uttered, it is laden with so much meaning,” says the 32-year-old actor.
“It’s very interesting doing any kind of recreation of these things, because people bring their memories to it when they hear it again. It’s a fascinating thing as an actor, to be aware of that process happening. Let’s just say I listened to it a lot. I couldn’t even tell you how many times.”
“The way Peter [Morgan, creator]’s written Diana’s journey through this season is as an exploration of the potentially devastating effects of isolation and how one can lose one’s sense of self, and how destructive that can be to a person and to a spirit,” Debicki adds.
“But also what happens when, from that murky, swampy and really painful place, you can either choose to stay there, or really try and do the work to evolve from it.”
While The Crown is, ultimately, a historical drama series, creator Peter Morgan and his team painstakingly research every aspect of the plot to give the characters and their stories depth and intricacy.
“Diana was the most photographed person in the world at that time,” says Debicki. “As an actor, you open the portal and this huge tsunami of information comes at you. I happily swam around in it.”
The Crown returns to Netflix on Wednesday, November 9.