It’s an exchange that marks a turning point for the queen—she returns to London, delivers a televised address to the nation, and wins back the public, all in the space of six minutes.
In a sense, I understand why Peter Morgan chose this approach—after all, he penned 2006’s The Queen, the royal drama which earned Helen Mirren an Oscar for her embodiment of Queen Elizabeth II, and follows the latter as she navigates the days after Diana’s death, torn between staying behind palace walls and bowing to the political pressure to show emotion and comfort her subjects. Over its almost-two-hour-long runtime, it examines her growing realization that the country she governs, and what it demands of her, has changed, and that she must be willing to bend to its will in order to protect the future of the monarchy.
It’s natural for Morgan not to want to rehash the same scenes (though he does at points in Episode 4, including with that TV speech, which Mirren delivered with the same steeliness as Imelda Staunton), but couldn’t there have been a fresh approach that didn’t rely on the ghosts of Diana and Dodi? Could we have seen more of the events play out from William or Harry’s perspective, or even from the point of view of someone on the ground, someone who felt an intense kinship with Diana despite never having met her? The Crown, with its frequent standalone pocket episodes—the one about Lord Altrincham, who criticized the queen’s speaking style, or Michael Fagan, who broke into her bedroom at Buckingham Palace—has a formal fluidity that a film could never mimic, but instead of taking advantage of this, “Aftermath” is largely straightforward and far too truncated. It also, most strangely, seems to suggest that the queen’s actions, rather than being the product of days of reflection and turmoil, were swayed by a vision of the Princess of Wales.
In short, it’s something of a wasted opportunity—and the show’s most significant misstep to date. The first two seasons of The Crown are, in my mind, close to perfect, though it has wobbled since then, with plot lines involving Prince Philip’s obsession with the moon landing, his interest in carriage driving, his fascination with the Romanovs, the Queen’s attachment to the royal yacht Britannia, and so on. But, even at their worst, those diversions were simply dull—this, on the other hand, feels like a serious lapse of judgement. My only hope is that, as we head into the second half of the season—which is expected to chronicle Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance at St. Andrews, as well as the run-up to the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles—these ghosts don’t come back to haunt us.