Critics divided over The Crown’s final season: ‘So bad’ or ‘compelling TV’?

Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in The Crown season six.

The sixth and final season of The Crown has finally landed on Netflix, with the hit historical drama reaching a crescendo with the devastating death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The reviews are in – but it’s a mixed bag.

In the season six, which is split into two parts, with the second part arriving on 14 December, The Crown depicts Diana’s car crash and the British public’s negative reaction to Queen Elizabeth’s response to her death.

Covering 1997 through to the mid 2000s, the final season also looks at Tony Blair’s (Bertie Carvel) time as prime minister, the deaths of The Queen Mother (Marcia Warren) and Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville), and the wedding of Prince Charles (Dominic West) to Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams).

According to the first reviews, it’s Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) who takes centre stage – though critics are split as to the success of its retelling of a period that’s already been heavily dissected by the media.

Writing in a two-star review for the BBC, Caryn James explained that it’s the casting that has caused The Crown’s biggest issues, writing that Debicki’s performance is “vulnerable but never layered” but adding that it “remains so wrapped in mimicry [Debicki] must have a permanent crick in her neck from bending her head to look up from under her eyelashes so much”.

Continuing, James wrote that “the series can’t avoid its baked-in casting flaw”, with Dominic West’s “down-to-earth quality all wrong for a character [Prince Charles] who, more than ever, seems endlessly self-absorbed and privileged”.

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Even harsher, The Guardian slapped season six with a scathing one-star review, with Lucy Mangan writing that the season’s preoccupation with Diana is “truly punishing”.

While Mangan praised the “uniformly brilliant performances from the entire cast”, she lamented the decision for Diana to come back as a ghost for a conversation with Charles and Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton), writing that The Crown has become “simply a crass, by-numbers piece of film-making, with a script that barely aspires to craft, let alone art”.

In another two-star review for The Independent, Nick Hilton said the show “routinely privileges gossip over emotional resonance” in the sixth outing, with the “tabloid tone [relegating] Staunton’s Queen to a side character”, while “Lesley Manville’s Princess Margaret slips by entirely unnoticed”.

“It has also run out of road – run out of history to retread – and, on its last legs, has less to say than ever, about what it means to be British now,” Hilton added.

Yet it’s not all bad. Carol Midgley, writing in The Times, gave The Crown season six an impressive four out of five stars, praising Elizabeth Debicki as “outstanding” and Staunton as giving “a much stronger performance” this time around.

“The question is, is it a compelling piece of television with very high production values that makes you want to see more? The answer is yes,” Midgley added.

Variety’s Aramide Tinubu lauded the “thunderous” season for its portrayal of Diana’s double life – one of freedom from the royal family, and entrapment by the world’s press.

“With this devastating first section of its final chapter, Netflix’s crown jewel bids farewell to an icon, and retakes its throne,” Tinubu wrote.

The Crown season six part one is streaming now on Netflix.