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The Crown: Season 5
Among the many things hoovered up by Netflix: the best of the middlebrow art, of which The Crown, created by monarchy obsessive Peter Morgan, is an exemplar. The penultimate season leans so hard into metaphor (the overarching emblem of these 10 installments is the Royal Family’s creaky, costly, increasingly outmoded yacht Britannia) that the characters can’t help but remark on the fact in catty ways comparable to Rose Nylund’s sick burn of Dorothy Zbornak in one of my favorite Golden Girls episodes.
As usual, it’s the wounded folk who compel, much more so than steeled stoics like Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton), Philip (Jonathan Pryce), and Prince of Cucks Charles (Dominic West), all of whose stalwart senses of duty Morgan wavers between tsk-tsking and applauding. Princess Di gets the bulk of the tragedian sympathy, and Elizabeth Debicki (appropriately in this year of two Pinocchios) plays her with marionette-like precision. Hers is an affectingly full-force surface performance that contrasts with Lesley Manville’s molecules-deep masterclass as that caustic lush Princess Margaret. She’s mostly on the sidelines this year, save the showcase fourth installment “Annus Horribilis” in which Margaret’s first love, Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton), returns for a wistful final round of romantic repartee. It all culminates in an operatic confrontation between Margaret and her sovereign sibling, the latter still reeling from the ruinous 1992 conflagration at Windsor Castle.
Striding tipsily into the room, Margaret assails her sister for denying her the man she loved all those years before, and Manville makes Morgan’s high-toned soapy dialogue (never not entertaining) into something much more rawly symphonic, particularly in her long-held climactic close-up. The way Manville vomitously trills the line “You CANNOT b-r-r-r-r-ING yourself to acknowledge what happened to me and the part YOU played in it,” coupled with the way her face shifts on a dime from injured-animal anguish to dagger-staring rage, conveys more about the human condition in half-a-minute than that unrepentant ham Cate Blanchett manages over the endless entirety of Tár. This audience of one responded with a Cannes-level standing-O.
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