We’re coming into the home stretch, ladies and gentlemen! The Crown Season 5 Episode 9 takes a deliberately slow, reflective, and emotional tack. Which, admittedly, was a welcome reprieve from all the fictional dramatizations of historical events laced with clunky metaphors this season. The episode opens with an unknown, run-of-the-mill couple pushing through their divorce story. It’s a narrative device that will run throughout the episode, in a kind-of reverse When Harry Met Sallywhere we sit with multiple couples as they discuss what drove them apart (rather than together). All leading to the granddaddy of them all — the final epitaph for Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Princess Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) 15-year marriage.
The final push for them to formally terminate the marriage comes from an unlikely source: The Queen (Imelda Staunton). True to her character, she decides that the ongoing War of the Waleses has become too damaging for the Crown, and only in the name of stability for the sovereignty must it end. The Prime Minister and the Church of England agree, and she pens two duplicate letters to Diana and Charles asking them (or rather, permitting them) to cut the cord. Surprisingly, the letter appears to catch Diana off guard. Divorce is, of course, devastating, but what did she expect after that Panorama interview? Apparently not this, or any of the other consequences of her controversial special: she laments to a therapist how everyone has turned on her or left following the interview, including her public secretary, private secretary, and even Dr. Normcore Dreamboat, Hasmat Khan (Humayun Saeed). Diana has found herself more alone than ever, with no one but the omnipresent paparazzi to keep her company.
Well, paparazzi and a team of snippy lawyers. Diana and Charles, with the official blessing of the Queen, each gather a legal war council to entrench themselves for battle. Diana fires the first shot. She will concede to the divorce, but only if she gets to stay in Kensington Palace, get an ongoing stipend for her office, and, on top of that, receive a whopping one-off 35 million settlement payment (which would be about 63 million pounds, or, $73 million today). Charles scoffs at the demands over the phone with Camilla (Olivia Williams), who is on self-appointed house arrest. Diana’s interview caused renewed enthusiasm from the paparazzi, who besiege Camilla until she’s afraid to leave the house. Charles suggests Camilla meet with a PR firm (or “spin doctor,” as Camilla calls it) to try and combat all the negative press. That way, she could at least walk her dogs.
In Buckingham, the Queen also strategizes how to navigate the increasingly tempestuous divorce. She meets with Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller), who agrees that all signs point to a lengthy fight between the Waleses, not an amicable split. Major and Elizabeth agree that the divorce should be brought to a close as soon as possible for the country's sake. But how? After the ongoing battle in the press, Diana and Charles are demons in each other's eyes and unlikely to concede an inch. What they need is a mediator, someone trusted by both sides. Major lists several potential candidates until the Queen cuts him off with a surprise request. Major, should be the mediator. He’s likable, trustworthy, and has relevant experience in Northern Ireland (laughably comparing a bloody civil war to a messy divorce). Major agrees and later lets on to his wife that he’s flattered and tickled by the Queen’s request. His wife, on the other hand, is not. This mediation will be a lot of work (on top of him being you, know, the PM) and will mean even less time with the family. One would assume this is foreshadowing, but that’s not the case — Major and his wife Norma remain married to this day (even with some bumps along the way). Perhaps it’s just another opportunity for Peter Morgan to point out the obvious: marriage is hard.
After another divorce story (spending time with real people rather than Royals is a breath of fresh air) and another routine court proceeding (this judge is handing out divorces like hotcakes!) Camilla sits down with Charles’ recommended Spin Doctor, Mark Bolland (Ben Lloyd Hughes). He’s young, accomplished, ambitious, and confident he can resolve her issues with the “monstrous” press. First item on his agenda? Leading Camilla to admit she only has two options. She can either end her relationship with Charles and sink into the background or put her “foot on the floor and go for it.” In other words – she can legitimize the relationship by marrying Charles, setting herself up to become “the Q word.” A possibility she’s so afraid of admitting she can’t even utter the word. On the one hand, Camilla doesn’t want the job, but on the other hand, she isn’t sure what other option she has. She also admits she isn’t sure she would be such a bad wife or Q Word, coming around on the idea of “going for it.” Bolland agrees and suggests the first step on the long journey to the throne is winning back public sentiment via a quick, amicable end to Charles’ divorce. ASAP.
Something John Major gets to work trying to achieve, with mixed results. Charles is still flabbergasted by Diana’s “declaration of war,” to which Major empathetically points out that perhaps Diana’s demand for such a large, one-off sum is simply an attempt to cut ties cleanly. Charles doesn’t bite, demanding flexibility on Diana’s part. Major, like a kid passing messages between warring parents, then goes to Diana, who doesn’t bite either (“he’s the most inflexible man I know”). Despite her bullheadedness, Major presents Diana with Charles’ counteroffer. Charles will pay a lump sum if Diana agrees to never speak negatively in the press again about their marriage or the monarchy (in other words — if she’ll shut the hell up). Diana laughs — if he wants her to be silent, the payment “better have eight figures and start with a three.” She may not be Queen, but she knows how to slay.
It turns out it’s not Major who brings things to a close — it’s PR spin doctor Mark Bolland. After impressing Camilla, she gets Bolland to meet Charles, where he again urges Charles to end the divorce as soon as possible. The public is at a tipping point, and if Charles can look reasonable (as opposed to Diana’s perception as overly emotional), he can take the high ground. And then, Camilla can finally come out in the open, where she can build her perception in the public eye and inch her way towards marriage and, eventually, the Q-word. The plea works, and Major arrives at Buckingham to alert the Queen that there has been significant headway in the divorce negotiations. The Queen (incorrectly) congratulates him on his success, but Major admits Charles instigated the breakthrough. Major outlines the remaining steps, ending with the final one: a hearing in an ordinary court, just like the ones we’ve repeatedly seen throughout the episode. The Queen sighs in a rare display of mournfulness. How sad that a Royal marriage that began with so much hope, pomp, and circumstance will end in such a clerical, average way.
With that, Charles and Diana finalize the divorce. Papers are signed, lawyers cheer with champagne, and the Queen gives Charles a (sort of) congratulatory call. She knows how hard this has been on the boys and is happy the family can put this all behind them. In another surprising show of empathy, she also points out to Charles something he probably hasn’t considered: how hard this must have been on Diana. Charles acknowledges his mummy is perhaps correct and decides to visit Diana in a completely out-of-character move. It’s a choice that sets up what is likely the most human, powerful, and moving sequence Morgan has presented in the entirety of Season 5 thus far.
When Charles arrives, Diana has her swords out. He’s no doubt there to continue waging war, no? Some last-minute, ridiculous request before the divorce is finalized? Charles admits he doesn’t know why he’s there but proceeds to offer a series of kind gestures, which catch Diana off-guard. He compliments how natural and happy she looks in the spotlight without him, admits his faults, and even asks Diana about her love life. When she relays she likely scared Dr. Khan off, Charles doesn’t use the opportunity to jab her for her decision to do the interview that drove him away. He simply offers a genuine apology. Diana, moved by Charles’ atypical kindness, offers to cook him something in the kitchen but only after a quip that he probably has no idea where said kitchen is (which Charles proves correct when he goes in the wrong direction). All signs point to a pleasant reconciliation and maybe, dare I say, break-up sex…?
Nope. It’s in the kitchen where we see the heartbreaking climax of the episode, the “review of the marriage.” If the rest of the episode pays homage to When Harry Met Sallythis final part takes some cues from Marriage Storywhere Charles and Diana essentially conduct an eviscerating couples therapy session sans therapist. Charles starts by continuing to admit his mistakes, including a reluctance to spend time alone with Diana during their marriage. And then, after years of rallying against Charles and the monarchy, Diana admits her culpability in the divorce for the first time. Charles’ lack of affection hurt her, she wanted attention, and she now confesses regret for how much of her lashing out must have felt like an attack on him. It’s all heart-rending and poignant, reminding us that, at one point, these two really did love each other.
But then, the woman who plagued their marriage from the very start rears her head: Camilla. Diana bemoans how Charles had already found the perfect love with someone else, and he makes an audacious request: can they, for once, finally, use her name? Diana complies, and it almost breaks her in the process. Seemingly emboldened by their apparent armistice, Charles moves into open wounds from the Panorama interview. All the love and open-eyed reflection fade to bitter anger as he does. How could Diana have ever suggested he wasn’t fit to be king? The thing he was born to do? She reinforces that the monarchy has made him miserable, that she wouldn’t want this madness for their son, and that the Crown is a plague on all who seek it.
An assertion that leads Charles to the question I’ve asked myself many times this season: Why did Diana marry into this family? She had to have known what she was getting into; it’s not exactly a secret the Royals are a tough crowd. It’s simple, the former Princess of Wales says — Diana married Charles because she loved him; she chose to marry a man, not the monarchy. Then, Diana poses the same question back to Charles, and he finally admits what she’s long suspected, and we’ve known all along. Charles married Diana because his parents forced him to, knowing he was in love with someone else. A gutted Diana quietly gasps a “there it is,” finally vindicated. After some petty barbs about who is more popular, Charles admits he may have arrived at her home uncertain about the divorce but now leaves “more certain than ever that only with you out of my life and out of this family can anyone find the happiness and the stability that's eluded us for 16 years.”
He storms out, and we arrive at the foregone conclusion of the episode. A banal court hearing, just like all the rest, officially terminates Charles and Diana’s marriage. After Judge Ariana Grande gives his now familiar “Thank You, Next,” an anonymous clerk stamps the divorce paperwork in (perhaps overly) dramatic, slow-motion fashion. Charles and Diana’s marriage is officially no more. To close the episode, Peter Morgan employs the rare use of actual footage from Charles and Diana’s wedding, where thousands of people swarmed the mall in an explosion of patriotic fervor to see the happy couple tie the knot. In a gloomy instance of dramatic irony, the broadcaster covering the festivities muses, “Who can doubt the love and happiness that this couple so obviously feel and share?” It’s a sorrowful way to draw the curtains on the decade-and-a-half saga (not to mention a two-season storyline), made all the worse with the knowledge of the even darker end to Diana’s story to come.
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