The Crown season 6 review – so bad it’s basically an out-of-body experience

This Diana-obsessed series is the very definition of bad writing. Despite the brilliant cast, it’s a crass, soapy dive into the abyss – not least in the atrocious scenes featuring Ghost Diana

By Lucy Mangan

Welcome to series six of The Crown – or The Diana Show, as it has now become. Where once you could expect a 10-episode run to represent at least a decade of royal shenanigans, limning the political machinations of the time and throwing in an examination of evolving palace protocol minutiae, the first three episodes of the latest instalment deal with just the last eight weeks of Diana’s life, and the fourth with The Crash and the funeral.

Unless you are reading this while ensconced in a Diana shrine of your own making, those few months are recreated in a truly punishing level of detail. From the beginning The Crown has walked a tightrope between prestige drama – capable of evoking a world of emotional struggle from a single scene or queenly line – and soapy nonsense. It started teetering in season three, lost its balance entirely over the next two and is now plummeting into the abyss, despite the uniformly brilliant performances from the entire cast – Elizabeth Debicki as the queen of our hearts especially, of course – trying gamely to arrest its fall. The kind of spin Imelda Staunton as the Queen can put on a line as simple as “Oh, that girl … ” is a gift, but The Crown is no longer worthy of it, or her.

In the manner of a Hallmark movie, Diana is marked for death at every turn – you know, just in case you are unaware of the fate of the most famous woman in the world and have forgotten the frenzy of grief that gripped the country thereafter. She is, in The Crown’s telling of it, a virtual saint: see her talk about landmines! See her play normal middle-class games with her beloved boys! See her fall in love with sweet Dodi Fayed! See her furrowed brow as she takes the sensible advice of her therapist on board and pledges to start a new life as soon as she gets home from Paris and away from these villainous paparazzi who are following her into this tunnel! And thus the postmortem convulsions of an entire country are presented as no more than her due. By the time she has called William and Harry, the point has been so laboured that this is the last communication they will have with their mother that there might as well be a news ticker along the bottom of the screen screaming in capitals “TUNNEL COMING! SHE GONNA DIE SO BAD!”

‘Like a Hallmark movie’ … Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in The Crown.
‘Like a Hallmark movie’ … Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in The Crown. Photograph: Daniel Escale/Netflix


And yet the worst is still to come: after her death, Ghost Diana appears to Prince Charles and then to the Queen as a kind of ministering angel, illuminating for them the way and the light and the best way of tending to the mood of the people, to whose every individual heart she has always had a direct hotline. She thanks Charles “for being so raw, broken and handsome” in the hospital when he saw her body. “I’ll take that with me,” she adds. My notes at this point are indecipherable, which is just as well, as I suspect what they say would be unprintable. By the time Ghost Diana takes the Queen’s hand and gently whispers “You’ve always shown us what it meant to be British. Maybe it’s time to learn, too”, and prompts her to cave in to the headline’s demand to “Show us you care, Ma’am”, I am having quite the out-of-body experience myself.

But Ghost Diana is all of a piece with what is now simply a crass, by-numbers piece of film-making, with a script that barely aspires to craft, let alone art, any more. “She doesn’t get to keep the man of her dreams,” says Diana to her ex-husband as they achieve detente. “But the friend of her dreams.” “Look what you’ve managed to achieve in the year since your divorce!” says Dodi at the beginning of The Last Night. “A global anti-landmine campaign! Raising millions for charity! And yet you’re still not happy.” “It’s the story of my life,” sighs pre-Ghost Diana. “Dashing around, losing sight of myself in the process.” It is the very definition of typing-not-writing.

The emotion it does manage to elicit comes simply from the power of small moments – which at least have the sense to fade to silence – such as seeing the boys being told by Charles of their mother’s death, or Harry writing the “Mummy” card that will sit atop the coffin. But even this is little more than voyeurism.

Beyond all its formal failures, late-period Crown is also impossibly hamstrung by being set well within living memory. Even if there were anything to engage with, the memories and consequent questions that crowd into the viewer’s mind at every stage would make it impossible. Was Charles really so astute about what her death would mean, so quickly? It seems unlikely, from everything we knew then, and the mountains we have learned since. And we know Prince Philip didn’t murmur to Harry an explanation of the crowd’s behaviour during the funeral procession (“They’re not crying for her. They’re crying for you”) because we were, effectively, there. We would have seen it. The suspension of disbelief can never be established. Ghost Diana dances among ruins

Source: The Crown season 6 review – so bad it’s basically an out-of-body experience

“They’re Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace”

by Johnny Foreigner

Anytime I see a photo of the “Changing of the Guards” in London, I’m reminded of the children’s song “Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace,”  inspired by Winnnie the Pooh author A. A. Milne and made into a hit song by young Ann Stephens in 1941.

London-born Ann Stephens (21 May 1931 – 15 July 1966) was the first to record “Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace.” Stephens  was a British child actress and singer, popular throughout the 1940s.

Like most many American baby boomers, I first heard this song on the Captain Kangaroo Show. That version was made in 1959 by late British variety performer Max Bygraves.


Bygraves’ onstage catchphrase “I wanna tell you a story,” is only slightly better than Marty Allen’s “Hello Dere!” – but Bygraves is a much better singer. Another well-known phrase of Bygraves was “That’s a good idea, son!” 

Give a listen to each version and comment which version you like better, young Ann’s or Max’s?

Max Bygraves’ 1959 version “They’re Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace”

Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Masterpiece! Find Out Why Americans Love British Programming So Much

By Will Lawrence

The big 5-0 is a time for celebration, getting together with friends and throwing one heck of a party. But celebrating that milestone for Masterpiece, the flagship drama franchise of the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS network, would take an almost impossibly large venue and unimaginably large cake. As the longest-running prime-time drama series on American television hits its half-century mark in January 2021, with a broadcast and streaming viewership of 75 million per year, it has a lot of friends—and family.

It is through Masterpiece that TV audiences have largely come to know the plays of William Shakespeare; the novels of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters; the detective stories of Agatha Christie; adaptations of more recent historical classics like Wolf Hall; and written-for-TV phenomena such as Prime Suspect, Victoria and, most famously, Downton Abbey.

Downton star Elizabeth McGovern watched Masterpiece when growing up in Illinois. “I remember it was television for people that wanted something different from the more commercial fare,” recalls the American actress, 59, who was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham. “Back then, it was the only place for quality television.”

Born in 1971, Masterpiece Theatre (note the British spelling) was the brainchild of Stanford Calderwood, then-president of the Boston PBS station WGBH, after a trip to the United Kingdom, where he devoured a feast of quality television. The series debuted Sunday, Jan. 10, 1971, with The First Churchills. Audiences “across the pond” were soon hooked as Masterpiece Theatre served up a menu of tantalizing drama garnished with all the trappings of British history and culture beloved by many Americans: exquisite etiquette, stately homes, green meadows, soft rolling hills, fabulous frocks and, of course, the historical narratives themselves, abounding with mystery, secrecy, heroes, heroines, rogues and romance.

Also a great success was the 1980 spinoff Mystery! (rebranded as Masterpiece Mystery! in 2008)—with programming themed around British mystery fiction, including long-running series made from Agatha Christie novels, featuring her detective sleuth characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories­.

“You see all this work gathered together and yet it feels coherent,” says Kenneth Branagh, 60, the actor and later director who came to prominence in America as Guy Pringle in Fortunes of War (1987). “Masterpiece brings together various bodies of work and adds a weight and heft.” Branagh returned to Masterpiece in 2008 as the Swedish detective of Wallander for Mystery!

“There is a certain kind of show that when you’re watching you think, This belongs on Masterpiece,” says Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, 71. “It’s made a role for itself in American life.”

That role typically unfolds on Sunday evenings, the perfect time for families to gather together to watch other families gather together (or fall apart) and to become immersed in stories set in a far-off time and place. Here, we celebrate some of our favorite Masterpiece shows and stars and share some intriguing behind-the-scenes trivia. Happy birthdayMasterpiece!

Best Masterpiece Hosts

Alistair Cooke, who hosted from 1971 to 1992 with his velvety tone and immaculate suits, helped establish the Masterpiece brand, even inspiring a spoof from the Muppets in the guise of Alistair Cookie (Cookie Monster’s alter ego, who hosted Monsterpiece Theater on Sesame Street).

Other Masterpiece hosts include author Russell Baker (1993–2004), actress Gillian Anderson (2008) and actress Laura Linney (2009–present).

Famous Mystery! hosts include film critic Gene Shalit (1980), actor Vincent Price (1981–89) and actress Diana Rigg (1989–2003).  

“I love being the Masterpiece Mystery host,” says actor Alan Cumming (2008–present). “I go into the dressing room and there are pictures on the walls—Vincent Price and Diana Rigg and then a picture of me. What a lineage! Together at last! Honestly, it is a great honor to be flying the flag for that tradition.” Continue reading