December 2, 2023

The pictures are joltingly acquainted, even in any case these years.

In a single, reproduced with eerie accuracy within the new season of “The Crown,” Diana, the Princess of Wales sits on a diving board off the deck of a yacht, her lengthy legs dangling above the water. In one other, she embraces her new boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. And in a 3rd, taken from a safety digital camera, the couple rides in an elevator on the Ritz Resort in Paris, en path to their automobile late one August night time. We all know too properly what occurred subsequent.

The sixth and last season of “The Crown” begins right here, in 1997, on the cusp of one of many strangest and most bewildering durations in latest British historical past. That’s when Diana (performed right here by Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi (Khalid Abdalla), an unlikely couple thrown collectively by circumstance, had been killed in a crash in an underpass as they drove throughout Paris, adopted by a pack of photographers. Diana was simply 36, and her dying despatched Britain right into a paroxysm of grief at her loss and rage in opposition to the royal household.

Over the past 5 seasons, “The Crown” has been unspooling decade by decade, producing an epic portrait of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, beginning together with her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947. The sooner episodes may typically really feel quaint and much away, repackaged historical past from a semi-distant previous.

However the brand new season, which begins a yr after Diana has divorced Prince Charles (Dominic West) and ends with Charles’s wedding ceremony to his longtime girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams) in 2005, eight years later, is a unique factor totally.

The primary 4 episodes of the season (a second batch will arrive on Dec. 14) discover the lead as much as and fallout from the 1997 accident. By devoting a lot consideration to this era, the manufacturing dangers clashing not simply with viewers’ personal reminiscences, but in addition with numerous earlier depictions of the identical occasions — a seemingly unending stream of books, dramas and documentaries. To call simply two, there’s “Diana,” the 2013 movie in regards to the princess’s last two years, starring Naomi Watts, and “Diana and Dodi: The Princess and the Playboy,” a documentary in regards to the couple that was launched earlier this yr.

Peter Morgan, the creator and author of “The Crown,” can be competing along with his personal 2006 movie, “The Queen,” which covers the identical interval. It starred Helen Mirren as a bewildered, wrong-footed Queen Elizabeth grappling with the uncooked emotion and nearly feral anti-royal rage that erupted throughout Britain after Diana’s dying. With its intimate scenes of conversations between members of the royal household and public figures just like the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), “The Queen” was a preview of Morgan’s strategy in “The Crown” — a mix of historical past and fiction, a muddying of the road between the general public and the non-public.

The brand new season of “The Crown” can’t assist however revisit the themes of the 2006 film. It exhibits Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton, deftly channeling the sound and cadence of Elizabeth’s voice) fretting about whether or not to remain in Scotland together with her grandsons after Diana’s dying, as she would favor, or to journey to London and deal with the nation, because the tabloids and the prime minister are urging (and which she finally ends up doing).

However the present offers time, too, to the story of Mohamed al-Fayed (Salim Daw), Dodi’s father, a once-impoverished and now wildly wealthy and impressive Egyptian businessman whose holdings included not simply the Ritz in Paris but in addition Harrods division retailer, a logo of upper-crust opulence, in London.

In scenes which have already induced some chatter on-line and in the British tabloids, Dodi’s ghost returns to speak to his father after his dying, whereas Diana’s ghost briefly seems in conversations with Charles and Queen Elizabeth.

How correct are the non-ghostly scenes on this newest depiction of the Dodi-Diana romance? Annie Sulzberger, the top of analysis for the present — she can be the sister of The Occasions’s writer, A.G. Sulzberger — stated that the analysis group was aware of the delicacy round resurrecting a narrative through which so many individuals are nonetheless alive.

“Individuals who lived by way of Diana’s dying really feel a way of possession over that historical past, a way of participation, which might shade their notion of it,” she stated in an interview. “With latest historical past, you’re consistently battling with folks’s intimate and private views.”

Sulzberger stated that the analysis group turned to a number of sources to depict the occasions of 1997, together with memoirs, documentaries and the official authorities inquest into the couple’s deaths within the automobile together with a 3rd sufferer, Henri Paul, the driving force.

“If there’s a documentary, we watched it; if there’s an article, we learn it; if there’s a e-book, we’ve got it,” she stated.

One notably invaluable supply of data was a far-reaching police inquiry often called Operation Paget, which investigated claims by an more and more unhinged Mohamed al-Fayed that Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child and that the couple had been murdered by the British safety companies on the behest of Prince Philip, amongst others. (Diana was not pregnant, the report discovered, and the deaths had been an accident.)

The inquiry’s last report included testimony from associates and workers of the couple, revealing how Diana described their romance to the huge circle of confidants she spoke to by phone from France.

Girl Annabel Goldsmith, a pal of Diana’s, instructed the inquiry that that they had talked on Aug. 29, two days earlier than the princess’s dying. Goldsmith testified that when she requested Diana whether or not she was contemplating marrying Dodi, Diana stated: “Annabel, I would like marriage like a rash on my face.”

Richard Kay, a longtime royal reporter for The Each day Mail and a detailed pal of Diana who spoke to her the day she died, stated that no one may say for positive what occurred between Dodi and Diana in these last hours.

“That is within the realm of fantasy,” Kay stated in an interview. “It’s simply — what can I say? — it’s hypothesis,” he stated of this system’s depiction of a final dialog between Dodi and Diana.

Whereas he agreed that it was unlikely that Diana was contemplating marrying Dodi, Kay stated that Diana was “clearly very taken with him,” partially as a result of Dodi was the primary man she may date overtly since her separation from Charles, a number of years earlier than their divorce.

“Dodi was a fairly light, candy type of man, and I think he was very attentive,” Kay stated. “It wasn’t simply the trimmings that made him engaging — the jets and the yachts — however Diana fairly favored the ordinariness of the household life al-Fayed had along with his second spouse and youthful youngsters.”

As all the time in “The Crown,” there may be an underlying pressure not solely between what may be actual and what may be imagined, but in addition how that would shade the general public’s notion of the reality. Final yr, after a wave of criticism from real-life individuals of made-up scenes, the collection added a disclaimer. It was, it stated for the primary time, a “fictional dramatization” that was “impressed by actual occasions.”

That offers the manufacturing excessive cowl and safety from potential lawsuits from aggrieved public figures. However nonetheless, “total generations are getting their understanding of the trendy British monarchy from the drama,” the broadcaster and political commentator Andrew Marr wrote recently in The Occasions of London, evaluating the phenomenon to the best way Shakespeare’s dramas have formed public interpretations of historical past ever since.

There are various methods “The Crown” may have portrayed Diana’s mind-set in these final weeks, and it selected a very light interpretation of her relationships with each her former husband and her new lover.

Greater than 25 years later, it’s exhausting to say definitively whether or not Diana had certainly discovered a measure of emotional peace after a lot turmoil. Morgan’s is simply the newest in a protracted line of interpretations. However as “The Crown” strikes previous the Diana period, maybe it’s the one which brings probably the most consolation.

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