It’s safe to say viewers did not see ghosts coming.
It was an open question how “The Crown” was going to depict Diana’s death, perhaps the most infamous moment in modern British history. The answer? It went with straightforward melodrama, with just a hint of energies from the beyond.
Season 6 of the Netflix drama begins, literally, with the crash as a random man watches a car careen into the Paris tunnel while walking his dog. The show then flashes back eight weeks earlier, and it feels like we are on a slow march to doom until we get to Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) death at the end of Episode 3.
“The Crown” shows final goodbye calls between Diana and the boys, and leans heavily into the idea that Dodi (Khalid Abdalla, charming throughout) and Diana were near engagement, with Dodi proposing in a Paris hotel room with a ginormous ring, and Diana turning him down before the two venture out into the paparazzi-infested streets together one last time.
At its best, “The Crown” did an incredible job drawing parallels between the recent past and today, teasing out narrative themes and giving added resonance to overlooked events from the past. It’s both a savvy history lesson and a compelling character study. When faced with the challenge of depicting an event everyone already knows about (and which has been depicted fictionally several times before) Peter Morgan‘s drama leaned further into the voyeuristic.
There was Dodi’s father crying and kissing his corpse at the morgue; the horrified hospital staff weeping when a doctor confirms Diana can’t be saved. Don’t forget about a devastated Prince William running away for hours at a time, and a somber Elizabeth and Philip’s stiff-upper-lip reactions. “The Crown” also presents Charles as the hero of these proceedings (much like in Morgan’s 2006 film “The Queen”), the one who instantly recognized that Diana’s death would change everything and that the British public and the world would want to see them mourn.
Which brings us to the “ghosts” (or what I’m sure Team Crown would call manifestations of guilt and grief). Perhaps in an attempt to put a different spin on the event than “The Queen” did, “The Crown” lands on post-death convos between Diana and Charles (on a plane bringing her body home); Dodi and his father (unresolved family issues!); and, finally, Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) and Diana.
“You turned the house upside down,” Elizabeth says to not-really-there Diana* about their complicated relationship and her struggle about how public to be with her grief.
In “The Crown,” Morgan gives Diana and not Tony Blair the line that changes her mind: “As long as anyone can remember, you’ve taught us what it means to be British,” Dream Diana says. “Maybe it’s time to show you’re ready to learn too.”
Oh, COME ON. It’s a lazy narrative device that attempts to inject pathos into what has become maudlin and grotesque. I’m not one to often feel too badly for the royal family, but the post-death scenes truly feel ridiculous and unfair. Even the silly “Diana” musical (also streaming on Netflix) — which features Diana’s one-time lover James Hewitt entering from below the stage shirtless on a mechanical bull and a cage match between Diana and Camilla — didn’t attempt this!
Given that there truly is nowhere to go emotionally afterward without a break, Part 1 concludes with Queen Elizabeth’s televised statement about Diana before a fade to black.
Onto Part 2!
*If you want haunting with your House of Windsor, I recommend 2021’s “Spencer,” which finds Kristen Stewart’s Princess Di disturbed by the ghost of Anne Boleyn.