[This story contains spoilers from the first four episodes of season six of The Crown.]
A question that has been around for a long time The Crown, since introducing Princess Diana in season four, shows how the fictional drama deals with the real-life death of the Princess of Wales in 1997. The plot comes to a head in the first part of the sixth and final season of the series. Now streaming on Netflix, Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi Al-Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) explore the beginnings of a relationship.
Over the course of four episodes, viewers witness how not only the couple’s lives but also their budding romance were ripped away from them in its infancy, stifled by the media and Dodi’s father Mohamed Al-Fayed’s (Salim Daw) selfish desires for his Son and his business empire.
“It was really important for us to create that feeling in the audience, so that when they go into that pressure pot of turmoil, you know that they’ve spent that time together and that they understand and care for each other.” says Debicki The Hollywood Reporter in conversation below.
Describing the fatal accident that occurred in Paris on the night of August 31, 1997, the actors recreate the true events that followed: Prince Charles (Dominic West) flying to France to retrieve Diana’s body identify, up to Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda). Staunton) struggles with the decision to publicly mourn with the citizens of London. The series’ creators also took additional creative liberties to give members of the royal family closure regarding their personal relationships with the princess.
One such moment comes in the form of a conversation between Diana and Charles at his private charter house after identifying her body in episode four, “Aftermath.” In the scene, Diana says to Charles, “You know I loved you so much, so much. But also so painful. It’s over now. When I’m gone, things will be easier for everyone.”
“In this imaginary incarnation, they can say what they may never have been able to say, and I think that’s very real and applicable when it comes to grieving someone,” Debicki explains. “As a character, having the opportunity to say what I felt like I probably wanted to say within that character for two seasons absolutely ruined me, but in the best way.”
In episode one of the final season, “Persona No Grata,” we see Diana so full of light, which is a stark contrast to the internal and external torment she struggled with in previous seasons. What was it like for you to be able to show this other side of her?
It was really a joy. It was so important for me to paint with this color. I really felt like there were moments in the season before that I was really reaching for, because we saw her so isolated and in so much turmoil and very sad. And when I opened the script for the first episode, I thought, “Oh, this is so good.” Also, from my research, I knew that the reason she’s on vacation is because she’s a mom who’s like, ” Do we keep the kids here in rainy London or do we try to have fun?” And it’s difficult when your children are teenagers. It’s like: What are they enjoying now? What do you need? What do you want to do? I just love the reality and it was so important to me to show these really, really true moments of how happy she was just being with the kids. For me, it was like no acting was required. I love these actors playing the children. We laughed the whole time. They are fun and beautiful and really supportive. They are simply magical.
In the first three episodes we can also see the breadth of Diana and Dodi’s relationship. What did you take away from your time together?
Khalid, who is just the most beautiful actor and person to work with and I was really curious going into it. We had a few conversations and I remember thinking that we would trust each other to figure out what it is the moment we do it. And we realized almost immediately that we just had chemistry. We really enjoyed being close to each other. He is one of those people who makes me calmer. And I remember thinking, well, maybe that was it; Perhaps Diana felt calmer around Dodi. He was funny and really spontaneous. He loved being around children. He was great with children. He had a kind of silliness and a sense of joy about him. And all of these things that we found with each other as actors, we just let them be part of their relationship.
You also really felt that someone was listening to you, and that to me felt absolutely crucial to the character at that point in her life. Someone who will sit and listen – and not only listen, but maybe also ask you first how you feel, what you need. And that feeling of being seen was just a huge relief for me, within the character. There were days when we were on this boat with these long, multi-page scenes and sometimes you’re like, “Oh my God, how are we going to get through this?” And honestly, working with Khalid, it’s like the camera would roll and we’d just talk and then the camera would end the scene and I’d be like, “Oh, we did another one.” How many did we do?” And someone would say, “We did 50 takes.” And I’m like, “Really, 50 takes?” So that feeling of support and being seen was key. And it was really important to us to create that feeling in the audience as well, so that when they go into that pressure pot of turmoil, you obviously know that they spent that time together and that they understand and care for each other.
In the last episode of the first part, “The Aftermath”, Diana appears to Charles after her death and they have a final conversation about their relationship. Can you talk to us about filming this scene with Dominic West?
This scene was truly devastating and truly beautiful. Dom and I were very curious when we made our way there. I don’t think we knew how to play it and I don’t think we actually rehearsed it. So what people see is very crude; It’s like the first or second take for both of us. It’s kind of a meta-conversation about grief. And it felt so real to me, the idea that when you suddenly lose someone you love, you have to talk to them again. And besides, in this imaginary incarnation they are able to say what they may never have been able to say. I think grieving someone is very real and valid.
And as a character, having the opportunity to say what I probably wanted to say for two seasons in that character absolutely destroyed me, but in the best way. But of course what you don’t see is that we were recording and then someone was editing, and then we would both be wailing and it would be this really horrible, painful scream. And then we cleaned everything up and did another recording. I think we shot for about an hour and by the end we were on the table. We were so tired. But I’m really proud of this scene. I think it’s really honest and I just think that Dom’s work throughout the season, but especially in this episode, is just amazingly beautiful.
The Crown releases part 2 of season 6 on Netflix on December 14th.