TW: Eating disorders
The fourth season of the ‘The Crown’ on Netflix has caused quite a stir, with royal biographers and insiders criticising the depiction of the royal family. Both Lady Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher made their entrance in its most recent season, to rave reviews. In particular, the spotlight was placed on the well-known marriage of Charles and Diana. The series covers their relationship from their first meeting, up until the late 80s. Over ten episodes we watch Charles and Diana’s marriage falter, while the rest of the royal family, and Camilla, stand by and watch.
We first meet Diana, played by Emma Corrin, along with Charles in episode one. She is 16 and dressed as a ‘mad tree.’ She is preparing for her school’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The choice of play is obviously deliberate, as is her costume, and writer Peter Morgan should be commended for the allusion. It evokes the idea of the magical fairytale, a theme that runs throughout the series in tandem with the Wales marriage. The play itself revolves around two sets of lovers, who through, the intervention of magic, switch couples. A lot of this action takes place in an enchanted forest, hence Diana’s costume. In the play, Hermia herself runs away from home as her father does not approve of her choice of groom, Lysander. She is instead supposed to be married to, and is loved, by Demetrius. In this immediate situation we could place Charles as Hermia, Lysander as Camilla and Demetrius as Diana. The obvious couple swapping foreshadows the adultery that occurred within the royal marriage, with Charles, Diana, Camilla and James Hewitt taking on the role of the four lovers, and the confusion that ensues within the play speaks to the general confusion felt by Charles and Diana and… well everyone else as to what is going on. The fact that the action takes place away from the city and in the forest also speaks to the dichotomy of public and private. The action between the four lovers in the play is not seen by anyone else other than those directly involved. The public were not fully aware about the specific difficulties in the Wales marriage until the 90s, following Andrew Morton’s book and interviews given by the couple. The fact that Charles does not see Diana’s face throughout the scene, as she wears a mask shows that, from the off, he cannot see her or understand her properly. Later on, in the episode, Diana randomly appears in front of Charles at a fair to offer her condolences following the death of Lord Mountbatten. After their brief conversation she floats away into the background as fairground music plays, giving her an almost fairy-like, ethereal quality.
The second episode revolves around the royal family’s trip to Balmoral, and their obsession with shooting a stag. When invited to Balmoral, Diana is told that this would be the ‘most important weekend’ of her life. At the end of the episode, the stag is caught and mounted on the wall. Following Diana’s debut, she is described as ‘perfection’ and ‘a triumph’ by members of the family, putting the pressure on Charles to marry her. By the end of the episode she is the prize, and the new addition to the family. Much like the stag. The stag is immortalised on the wall, as Diana is in history. There is the obvious fact that at this point, the stag is dead, having been shot down and caught by the royal family.
The third episode heavily focuses on the engagement of the couple and the wedding. The aptly titled ‘Fairytale’ is well established throughout the episode, beginning with the excitement of Diana’s friends. The perfect vision of princess happiness, tiaras and tea is quickly subverted when she joins the royal family for drinks. They stand in a circle, and Diana walks into the centre. She curtseys and calls the wrong people by the wrong titles in the wrong order. The camera places us in the circle, with the royal family. It circles around her, invoking the image of vultures swarming around their prey. Charles later leaves Diana to go on a royal tour, telling her to contact Camilla, who is the ‘best company.’ The use of the word ‘best’ literally places Camilla above Diana in Charles’ affections. As part of her Princess training later, in order to stop her hands from flapping, Diana’s grandmother ties rope around her arms. This metaphor shows how the royal family are constraining and trapping Diana in the palace and in their rigid, traditional ways. Throughout the season we see Diana trying to break free of these rules and conventions. Diana’s lunch with Camilla is also an interesting scene to dissect. Dressed head to toe in yellow, a colour that usually denotes happiness, Diana discovers that she knows nothing about her intended. Although she may not intend to do it, Camilla patronises and belittles the young Diana by knowing everything about Charles. This is probably more the fault of Charles, and the conventions of courtship, but it is at this point that Diana realises her and Charles are mismatched. The power dynamics in the conversation shift however, as after Diana finishes dessert, she leans back in her chair, and answers all of Camilla’s questions with confidence and aplomb. The occasional squint emphasises how much Camilla is irritating her. Diana also dishes out her own knowledge about Charles, and how he plans to renovate Highgrove. This is partly new information to Camilla, which puts Diana back into the spotlight. Diana also flatly asks Camilla why she asks all of these questions, which takes Camilla aback, prompting her eyes to drop to the floor. It descends into tragedy however, as Diana is seen throwing up her food following lunch. Diana becomes increasingly isolated in the palace and is seen failing to get through to Charles or the Queen on the phone. Directly after the lunch she asserts that the marriage will be a ‘disaster.’ Despite this, the episode ends with the family preparing for the wedding, with some fairly ominous music playing in the background, like an ill foreboding. We see Diana from behind, followed by her long train. She appears to be walking into a dimly lit room, quite literally signalling her entrance into a dark period of her life.
Diana comes under scrutiny in episode four, as Charles berates her interests and Anne expresses jealousy over Diana’s growing popularity. Episode six focuses on the Wales’ tour of Australia. Diana causes controversy by insisting on taking William on the tour. Diana is used throughout the series to subtly critique the royal family, as in this instance, her devotion to her child is not directly mirrored by the queen, who saw no issue with leaving her children at home for five months, when her and Philip toured Australia in 1954. In a heated argument about taking William on the trip, Charles’ secretary notes that Diana’s wishes are irrelevant, as she ‘married the Prince of Wales,’ which is an ‘act of service.’ The use of the word ‘service’ essentially affirms that Diana now has no life outside the royal family, and that she has entered into a life of servitude to the monarchy. She does not have independence or freedom. Diana’s main concern is that William will have no ‘vestige of humanity in him’ and asserts that the ‘greatest’ act of service she can perform as Princess is being a hands-on mother to her son. Charles later complains about Diana to Camilla, as she faltered in the Australian heat, asking for water. He moans about her weakness and fragility, even though for any normal person it is perfectly permissible to feel dehydrated. Diana appears to be much more human and relatable throughout the entire season, and little moments like this emphasise this. In a heated row, Diana tells Charles that she knows about Camilla, asks to be ‘heard, understood, appreciated’ and questions where she fits in. In a poor attempt to resolve the situation, Charles tells Diana that he loves her. This lie feeds Diana exactly what she has been craving, which only heightens her tragedy further, as she is effectively being manipulated by her once handsome Prince. This brief period of happiness quickly descends into jealousy, as Charles cannot handle the attention that Diana gets. When leaving Australia, Diana steps into the plane, which inside is pitch black, implying her unhappiness.
In a desperate conversation with the queen, Diana explains that Charles ‘resents’ her and points out that the public understand that she has ‘suffered.’ Diana hugs the queen, calling her ‘mama’ like a lost child. She is rejected by the queen, leaving Diana as the archetypical fragile, abandoned child. The Queen Mother later labels Diana as ‘immature,’ and asserts that she will ‘bend’ to the ways of the royal family. When questioning if she does not, Margaret chips in saying that Diana will ‘break’ if she refuses. At this point in the series, she is breaking, if not already broken, as her bulimia demonstrates.
Episode nine sees Anne describe the Wales marriage beginning with the phrase ‘once upon a time.’ The obvious references to the fairytale scenario only emphasises the irony and tragedy of Diana’s situation. Diana’s adultery is a large plot point in the episode, and Anne even says that she has a ‘revolving door’ of men. Charles in this episode is not questioned about his infidelity, and Diana takes the flack. This again shows how the family are firmly against Diana and blame her for the failure of her marriage. Her bulimia is discussed by other members of the family, yet no one is seen reaching out in an attempt to help her. After vowing to save the marriage, Charles grows ever distant and so Diana resumes her affair with James Hewitt.
Episode ten centres largely around the couple, and is aptly titled ‘War.’ Diana notes that she is treated as if she is ‘mad’ by the family, and inspires greater fury in Charles when she is seen hugging a child with AIDS on her New York trip. This again only draws the line between the unemotional royals, and the raw, human Diana. After yet another row, Charles informs Diana that, if she is unhappy in the marriage, she should take it up with the ‘people who arranged it.’ It appears that Diana had no power from the very beginning, and that her entire life has been controlled and managed by other people. She was merely a puppet and it is now that she finally realises it. Charles tells her here that he only wants Camilla. At Christmas, Diana awkwardly stands on the periphery during the family celebrations. In one scene, Diana catches the Queen coming inside from a walk, while the lyric, ‘baby it’s cold outside,’ plays. This may be a reference to the Queen’s icy behaviour and attitude towards Diana. She later describes the family as a ‘cold, frozen tundra’ to Prince Philip. He tells her that all people in the family are outsiders bar the queen, and that Diana needs to realise that she is not the centre of the family. Diana threatens to divorce Charles here, completing her arc in the season, from innocent, timid girl, to strong, powerful and nearly independent woman. She is only nearly independent as Philip warns her that a divorce would not ‘end well’ for her. Diana is then seen walking down the stairs to take the Christmas family photo. She walks past some decorative antlers, perhaps emphasising the aggressive and harsh world she inhabits. She also wears black, a colour that directly contrasts with the joy of Christmas, and is more linked to death. She does not smile in the photo, nor at the close of the series. She is expressionless, as if she is devoid of personality, and what we see before us is merely a husk of the once joyful young Princess. Perhaps the title of this episode, ‘War,’ foreshadows the ‘War of the Wales’s’ that will no doubt dominate season five.
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