The Crown debuted the first four episodes of their sixth and final season on Thursday, focusing on Princess Diana, her relationship with Dodi Fayed, and the tumultuous weeks leading up to and following their deaths in August 1997.
The fatal car wreck — which killed Diana, Dodi and driver Henri Paul in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997 — occurs at the end of episode 3, titled “Dis-Moi-Oui.” However, the show is gentle in the way it depicts the tragedy.
After a tumultuous evening that includes Dodi’s failed attempt at proposing, Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) decide to leave the Ritz hotel and return to Dodi’s Paris apartment, necessitating a late night drive across town through a throng of eager paparazzi.
Henri warns the photographers not to follow the car — telling them in French, “You’ll never catch us” — but of course they pursue anyway. In the final moments of the episode, we see the Black Mercedes enter the tunnel, followed by the gruesome sounds of a crash.
This isn’t the last we see of Debicki on screen as Diana, however. She appears after her death to both Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) having posthumous conversations that offer some closure she likely never received in real life.
“It’s up to the viewer whether they like it or not,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET of the spectral scenes. “I didn’t find it as creepy as some people have said it is… and I think it’s actually a moment for reconciliation and reckoning and peace and a sense of closure. So I think, incorporating it into the script was not such a bad move at all.”
However, there was one important part of the royal family’s reaction to Diana’s death that Nicholl took issue with.
“As brilliant as Imelda Staunton is, she comes across as lacking any empathy and any emotion,” she claimed. “I mean, she doesn’t even so much as shed a tear when she’s told. And I think that’s unlikely, and I think it’s an unfair portrayal of the queen, because I think the queen would have shown emotion.”
“She was, after all, a human being, a mother and a grandmother, and would have been hugely upset about what had happened, and deeply, deeply upset of course for William and Harry,” she continued. “At that moment in time, she almost had to step in to being a mother to William and Harry. She had to look after them. So to portray her, as devoid of any emotion, I think, does a great disservice to our late queen.”
That coldness continues into the scene between the queen and the late Diana, as the monarch takes in the television news reports on the crowds that have gathered to mourn at Buckingham Palace.
“I hope you’re happy now,” the queen says wryly in the scene. “You’ve finally succeeded in turning me and this house upside down.”
“That was never my intention,” Diana pleads.
“Oh, please. Look at what you’ve started,” the queen retorts, pointing to the television. “It’s nothing less than revolution.”
Nicholl said of the scene, “I think again the queen comes out as sort of lacking any real empathy. I mean, she doesn’t sort of apologize to Diana about how everything turned out. It’s more a case of rights. ‘Where is this all going to go now? We’re going to come out looking like the worst family in the world.’ You don’t sort of see a particularly empathetic queen.”
The Crown has been clear about taking creative license when it comes to the private conversations and the parts of history only palace insiders would know. With the tragic events of Diana’s death playing out in season 6, Nicholl doubts whether any of the actual royal family will watch — though some have admitted to tuning in for past seasons.
“I’m told that Charles chose not to watch the last series. He felt it was just too close to the bone,” she recounted of season 5, which detailed the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s marriage. “Camilla apparently watched it with a large glass of red wine and her very dry sense of humor.”
“But I suspect they probably won’t [watch season 6],” she continued. “This is just too close to home. Yes, we’re talking about events 25 years ago, but to them, these are personal events. It’s a memory that’s probably — certainly for William and Harry — not such a distant memory in many ways, and far too sensitive.”
Prince Harry, for one, has already stated that he won’t be watching the season, and Nicholl said she isn’t surprised.
“I don’t blame him for for coming out and saying he’s not going to watch,” she admitted. “It’s too close to home, far too painful, as empathetic as the storytelling is… I think they handled the crash, for example, with great sensitivity. You never see Diana’s body, or anything sort of awful like that, but it’s still going to be far too triggering and sensitive, I would imagine, for any of the close family members to watch.”
As for how the royal family is feeling about the show finally coming to an end, Nicholl imagines there might be a sense of relief amid the members of the monarchy.
“We’re seeing the start of a new chapter here. This is a new monarchy,” she noted. “We’ve had the accession of King Charles III. We are now over a year into his reign. I think there’s a sense of really needing to leave the past in the past.”
“TV series, particularly The Crown which capture history in such a mesmerizing and an incredible way… it does make it so much harder, I think, for the royal family to move on from the past, which is what they’re trying to do,” Nicholl concluded. “They are trying to embrace a new chapter. This doesn’t make it any easier.”
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix. Part 2 of the sixth and final season premieres Dec. 14.