It might be time for us to accept that The Crown (Netflix) no longer works. It used to. The first two seasons, with Claire Foy (excellent) as the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II and Matt Smith (likewise) as Prince Philip, were genuinely terrific.
They were well made, lovely to look at, and writer Peter Morgan almost always ensured that his characters remembered to walk, talk and act like human beings. Not now. These days, The Crown comes with a disclaimer to inform audiences that the show is a “fictional dramatisation” that is “inspired by real events”.
Yes, the world has become such a silly place that some people now reckon that other people need a reminder as to how historical drama works.
Whatever the case, season five of this lavish and increasingly ludicrous presentation is a watery, witless and entirely useless endeavour. It hardly helps that Morgan’s royals have begun to resemble marionettes.
Some of them barely move their lips when they talk. Others appear to have difficulty adjusting their limbs. It’s like watching Thunderbirds — only a lot less exciting — and the dialogue is rubbish.
Indeed, The Crown is no longer an enterprise worthy of our adoration. It believes its own hype. It has forgotten how storytelling is supposed to work. A tactless and unashamedly tawdry presentation, Morgan’s vacuous saga is television for people who don’t like television.
You can’t just amp up the music every now and then to remind viewers that they’re supposed to feel things whenever something important happens. And important things do happen here. One of the episodes covers the, er, royal “Tampongate” scandal. Another revisits Princess Margaret’s forbidden romance with RAF officer Peter Townsend. Another devotes itself almost entirely to the rise of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed.
I’ve watched six out of the ten episodes, and it’s only in the sixth that Morgan seems to remember that the queen is supposed to be a main character. This time around, The Crown practically goes out of its way to get in her way, and I’m not so sure about this new cast either.
Imelda Staunton’s demonstrative, heart-on-sleeve turn as the monarch is at odds with that of her esteemed predecessors, Olivia Colman and Foy.
Lesley Manville, a ferocious talent, does not get enough to do as Princess Margaret. The great Jonathan Pryce gives us maximum grumpiness as Prince Philip. Meanwhile, Jonny Lee Miller works just fine as a befuddled John Major, but the real focus is on Elizabeth Debicki’s Princess Diana (uh-oh) and Dominic West’s Prince Charles (oh dear). Brace yourself for the slippery impersonations.
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Debicki’s head is permanently tilted, her gaze like that of some deranged horror villain. West, meanwhile, does that thing that all handsome actors do whenever they are required to play someone less attractive. He fidgets and pulls weird faces, partly because that’s what the real Charlie does, but partly because I suspect that he is trying to distract us from his ridiculous good looks (it isn’t working, Dom).
What was once a phenomenally assembled period drama has officially descended into a sexless, soulless and structurally senseless tabloid soap opera, and you know what else? It’s bloody boring. Somehow, that’s the worst of its crimes.
Elsewhere, we have Mammals (Prime Video), a poorly managed cacophony of ideas, starring James Corden as a stressed-out chef who loses his marbles after he discovers that his wife is a cheat.
Jamie (Corden) then enlists his dorkish brother-in-law, Jeff (Colin Morgan), to hack her phone so they can uncover the extent of her infidelity. All of this despite the fact that said wife, Amandine (Melia Kreiling), has just experienced a harrowing miscarriage.
Lurking in the background, we have Sally Hawkins (as Jamie’s sister, Lue) navigating a different sort of breakdown from what looks like an entirely different show.
It’s scrappy and occasionally unpleasant stuff. True, Mammals might eventually go somewhere, but writer Jez Butterworth doesn’t make it easy for us.
I’d sooner take my chances on Save Our Squad with David Beckham (Disney+), in which good old Goldenballs transforms himself into a real-life Ted Lasso. The premise of this sweet, well-intentioned docuseries is fairly simple. A fabulously groomed Becks returns to east London to mentor Westward Boys, a young football club facing relegation in the same league where he started his career.
It is every bit as stagey and as scripted as you’d expect, but hey, it works, and Becks — a decent skin here — makes for a kind, compassionate coach. Lovely stuff.