As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble nominees for your consideration.
Main Cast: Elizabeth Debicki, Claudia Harrison, Lesley Manville, Jonny Lee Miller, Jonathan Pryce, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Olivia Williams
Casting by: Nina Gold and Robert Sterne
Created by: Peter Morgan
Distributed by: Netflix
It’s safe to say that Season 5 of Peter Morgan’s historical drama is the one that fans have most been looking forward to—and that the real royal family has most been dreading. Morgan leaves no stone unturned in this wild ride through the scandalous ’90s, covering the queen’s “annus horribilis,” Princess Diana’s infamous “Panorama” interview, Fergie’s toe-sucking scandal, and Charles’ “Tampongate.” (Google it, if you really must.)
Actors on “The Crown” don’t have it easy. Each set of performers is ripe for comparison, not only to the real-life royals but to the actors who played the same characters on previous seasons. This season introduces, among others, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, Dominic West as Prince Charles, and Elizabeth Debicki as Diana. And there’s an extra layer of scrutiny this time around, given that many viewers will remember the events of this time period as if they happened only yesterday.
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Netflix’s release of Season 5 fell two months after Queen Elizabeth II’s death and Charles’ subsequent ascension to the throne. That means all eyes are on West; and he doesn’t disappoint. The SAG winner’s depiction of the then-prince is less than flattering, as he takes secret meetings with Prime Minister John Major (an enjoyable Jonny Lee Miller) about how the queen should consider abdicating and continues carrying on with Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams). But as with his unlikable character on “The Affair,” West still manages to make Charles a charismatic figure.
Emma Corrin’s Emmy-nominated turn as a young Diana is a hard act to follow, but Debicki pulls it off. Her mature, poignant portrayal of a woman desperately trying to take back control of her own narrative deserves to be celebrated in its own right. She’s masterful in her delivery of some of the most iconic lines in British history (“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a little crowded”) as Diana records her controversial 1995 TV interview.
As the season begins, the queen, stoic as ever, is approaching her Ruby Jubilee, marking her 40th year on the throne. But between world events and her children’s marital problems, there is little for her to celebrate. Like Claire Foy and Olivia Colman before her, Staunton morphs into the character so seamlessly that, by season’s end, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
The Oscar and Emmy nominee shines when the queen is forced to confront major family dramas, such as when she hears that Prince Philip (a well-cast Jonathan Pryce) is seeking “companionship” elsewhere—and when she looks back on her part in depriving her sister Margaret (Lesley Manville) of the life she’d longed for with Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton). There’s a vulnerability to Staunton’s Elizabeth that will catch fans of her villainous “Harry Potter” turn off guard.
Manville’s Margaret and Claudia Harrison’s Princess Anne are the unsung heroes of Season 5, bringing relief to the season’s heaviness with well-timed one-liners. (Anne’s response to reading a tabloid article about her brother’s intimate phone conversation with Camilla? “A little…gynecological for my taste.”)
As the writers plant the seeds of Diana’s relationship with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla)—and, eventually, the pair’s untimely death—Season 5 leaves viewers wanting more. Fortunately, the series’ final installment is already in the works.
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