Season 5 of "The Crown" dives head first into the 1990s, one of the most dramatic periods in the royal family’s history. There’s a lot of rocky ground to cover here: The ’90s encompassed Diana’s infamous "Panorama" interview, Diana and Charles’ divorce, and the 1992 Windsor Castle fire, among other major events. Add in a glittering cast including Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Dominic West, and Elizabeth Debicki, and you have the makings of TV gold.
Indeed, there’s no shortage of moments that make viewers reach for the tissues, yell at the screen, or audibly gasp in Season 5 of "The Crown." But not every jaw-dropping development is a pleasant experience. Between this season’s bouts of infidelity, destruction, and subterfuge, plenty of fans of "The Crown" find themselves miffed, angered, and disappointed while watching it. Which scenes cut the deepest? We’re here to answer that question. These are the moments from Season 5 of "The Crown" that upset fans the most.
Casting Dominic West as Prince Charles
Like him or loathe him, there’s never been a more poignant time for an actor to play Prince Charles on "The Crown." Season 5 sees the introduction of Dominic West as His Royal Highness. Appearing on shows including "The Wire" and "The Affair," it’s safe to say that West has a face many instantly recognize. For some, it’s a face that doesn’t seem suited to playing the Prince of Wales.
Fans meet West’s Charles in the first five minutes of Episode 1, "Queen Victoria Syndrome," as he’s briefed on the public’s opinion of him. While the fictional masses of Britain find him enigmatic and ready for the throne, Netflix’s 2022 audience doesn’t totally agree. Outlets from Vogue to The Sydney Morning Herald were quick to comment on why: He’s just too attractive. Twitter users chimed in to express similar dismay. We can all agree that Dominic West is fantastic at what he does, but when it comes to his role on "The Crown," many viewers think someone else might have been a better fit.
Margaret confronts Elizabeth
Out of the entire eccentric ensemble on "The Crown," fans feel a particularly large amount of sympathy for Princess Margaret, played by Lesley Manville in Season 5. In Episode 4, "Annus Horribilis," Margaret receives a letter from long-lost romantic connection Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton). When Elizabeth allows Princess Anne to marry Timothy Laurence, Margaret’s already-piqued emotions grow even more intense. To Margaret, this feels like a double standard: Anne is allowed to marry, though her ex-husband still lives, while Margaret was forbidden to marry Peter because he had been divorced. Times may have moved on, but her wounds have never completely healed.
Manville gives fans a performance that is guaranteed to leave them teary-eyed. As she calls her sister out on all the times she’s forgiven Prince Philip for his alleged indiscretions, her emotions become so raw, it’s hard not to become upset on her behalf. Many fans on Twitter have commented on how wrenching it is to see Margaret reflect on the life she could have had with Townsend and all the happiness it might have contained. Her sister looks on, shocked by this sudden outburst. Would things have been perfect if Margaret married Peter? Probably not, but they might have been better.
Peter Townsend’s letters
At the beginning of "Annus Horribilis," Margaret receives a letter from Peter Townsend, 35 years after the pair ended all contact. He tells her that he will be in town to attend a veterans’ reception, prompting Margaret to accompany him for the evening. The morning after, she reads about Anne and Timothy Laurence in the newspapers and comes crashing back down to Earth. It’s rare that we see moments of pure joy on "The Crown," but Margaret’s one night of frolicking around the dance floor is one. The next morning makes it bittersweet.
Although the argument Margaret proceeds to have with her sister is the most obviously upsetting part of the episode, the events that lead up to it brim with Margaret’s inner turmoil, especially her conversation with Townsend about the letters they exchanged. He’s giving them back to her because, as he reveals, he’s terminally ill, and he doesn’t want them to fall into the wrong hands. At the drop of a hat, Margaret is forced to confront everything that was taken from her and reconcile with Townsend’s impending death. Fans have been quick to applaud Lesley Manville’s incredible performance, and this scene is a great — and tear-jerking — example of why.
Elizabeth criticizes Diana
Watching Elizabeth tear into Diana in Episode 8, "Gunpowder," isn’t easy. The queen asks to see Diana after learning her "Panorama" interview is about to air. She criticizes Diana’s decision to take her issues into a public forum, but Diana explains she had no other choice. Fans know this to be the case, which makes the sorrow in Diana’s teary eyes all the more painful to watch. In her own words, she has always been refused the time to talk — often by Elizabeth herself. "Panorama," in contrast, offered to listen.
The scene stings even more once Elizabeth dismisses Diana’s experiences as trivial and of her own making. Imelda Staunton’s performance as Elizabeth takes on a particularly callous edge here. As she explains how she has continued to defend Diana against other senior members of the family, she doesn’t seem compassionate — she seems singularly focused on her own well-being. For viewers who have seen Diana’s alienation and struggle up close, it’s hard to watch.
Charles and Camilla go public
In Episode 5, "The Way Ahead," a transcript of a private call between Charles and Camilla is released to the public. Fans see each member of the royal family read it for themselves, including a bereft Diana, who feels humiliated once again. Charles appears on TV to clear his name and makes a few public appearances, and his life seemingly returns to normal. The storyline is upsetting for many reasons, but largely because, once again, it spotlights Diana suffering because of someone else’s actions.
This public reveal of Charles and Camilla’s relationship divided fan opinion. Some Twitter users complained about what they see as the show’s bias towards Charles and Camilla over Diana. As other viewers have expressed, Charles and Camilla’s actions can be seen as highly manipulative towards Diana; it makes sense, then, that some fans are outraged. Regardless of how one feels about what really went on, this love triangle is anything but easy to digest.
Charles and Diana’s post-divorce chat
By the end of Episode 9, "Couple 31," all attention falls on Diana and Charles’ divorce. While she deals with the fallout of Diana’s "Panorama" interview, Elizabeth writes to them both, recommending a divorce. This is painful on its own: Things had to get so bad that even the queen thinks they should split up. But then, we see Diana go through yet another trial, courtesy of her brand new ex.
Charles unexpectedly shows up at Diana’s door to discuss what went wrong in their marriage. For the first time, he seems to have empathy and respect for Diana, and tries to make their last private moments more amicable than their entire relationship. This is nice, but it can also be seen as a naked attempt at self-preservation. Then he flies off the handle, barrages Diana with criticism, and leaves in a huff. Many fans weren’t impressed by Charles’ behavior, to say the least. Here, at the end of "The Crown" Season 5, he decides to add one more insult onto an already enormous pile.
The Windsor Castle fire
Among the many tragedies it depicts, "Annus Horribilis" covers the 1992 Windsor Castle fire. This terrible blaze laid waste to 115 rooms. We see Elizabeth confront this destruction up close when she journeys to the smoking heap. Though she’s often steely in Season 5, she’s utterly helpless in this moment, and it’s hard not to be affected. Things get even more intense when Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) arrives.
By this point in "The Crown," Elizabeth and Philip have gone through a whole lot together. Things still aren’t perfect between them, but as they tenderly embrace within the blackened ruins, all tension and recriminations melt away. It’s an incredibly touching moment, and one that perfectly offsets the installment’s other events. Though Margaret, preoccupied with Peter Townsend’s reappearance in this episode, might not feel this way, Elizabeth has a lot to lose too. The Windsor Castle fire makes this brutally clear.
Diana talks with Dr. Khan
Just as Emma Corrin’s Diana visits HIV/AIDS patients in Season 4, Elizabeth Debicki’s princess ventures to hospital bedsides in Season 5. In Episode 7, "No Woman’s Land," Diana finds herself spending a lot of time visiting a particular hospital, where she talks to staff, visits patients, and gets to know kindly surgeon Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed). Here, Diana is able to shut out the world and embrace her altruism. But while these scenes have many happy moments, they’re still an upsetting watch.
Things come to a head when Diana has a heart-to-heart with Khan over vending machine snacks. She talks of being forced to submit to a husband who insults her, wear whatever the palace demands she don, and generally erase her own feelings from view. It’s a stark reminder of what’s at the heart of "The Crown": People sacrificing personal happiness for the sake of the monarchy. Seeing Diana detail exactly what this entails is difficult to swallow.
Charles tries to force Elizabeth’s abdication
Though Charles and his mother often have their disagreements, its still a surprise to see Season 5 begin with Charles’ open attempt to oust Elizabeth from the throne. Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller) is brought into the show’s narrative at this point, as Charles lobbies him to encourage an abdication. This scene is ugly unto itself, but it lands especially brutally given Queen Elizabeth’s death just two months prior to Season 5’s debut.
Did Charles have grounds? Sort of. Many elements of this storyline slightly fudge the truth, but the fact is that 47% of the public did support the queen’s proposed abdication. But they didn’t necessarily want it at that moment — they just supported it happening "at some point," as the poll put it. No matter what you think of the monarchy, the thought of an older woman being ousted from her job by a group of guys is upsetting. The fact that one of them is her son makes it even more outrageous.
The Queen’s medical exam
"The Crown" has never shied away from portraying the difficulties royal women face, whether it’s in the form of contempt for Elizabeth’s power or the cookie-cutter mold Diana is forced to fit. This gets visceral in the opening minutes of the Season 5 premiere. Imelda Staunton’s Elizabeth is introduced as she has a medical exam. Her doctor explains that she has put on half a stone in the last year. She insists she hasn’t changed her diet or routine, but as the doctor explains, advancing age has its own effects.
Weight and body image are sensitive subjects for many people, and this scene taps directly into them. There’s something extremely emotional about seeing the ruler of the United Kingdom confront something so intimate and fraught, especially in the season’s first scene. For all her power, she’s also a middle-aged woman growing steadily older. She expresses her intent to shed the pounds, but even Elizabeth’s classic determination can’t keep a certain sadness from creeping into this scene.
Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull’s friendship
There’s nothing "The Crown" loves more than a good scandal. Episode 2, "The System," introduces a brand new one when Prince Philip makes his loneliness known. Seeking out companionship, he strikes up a connection with Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone). Four episodes later, their apparent closeness begins to take a toll on Elizabeth. This tension erupts during a visit to Russia. Elizabeth states she wishes he’d chosen an anonymous younger woman, rather than someone close to the family. Though Philip insists it’s a platonic bond, this is a scathing blow.
While this scene is especially upsetting for Philip, it showcases Elizabeth’s wounds as well. As fans know, she has reason to suspect Philip’s interest in Penny isn’t entirely friendly — he’s been unfaithful before. When Philip refuses to end the relationship, Elizabeth confronts a new task: She must be seen with Penny herself, so no one will see Philip and Penny elsewhere and assume the worst. Pushed into a situation she doesn’t want, the eternally rule-following Queen Elizabeth quietly breaks down in tears. The fact that she must immediately regain her composure in order to be seen in public makes this even more upsetting.
Diana’s Panorama interview
There’s no doubt that Diana’s "Panorama" interview is one of her most famous. Season 5 of "The Crown" explores it from all angles, including the deception that enabled it. Journalist Martin Bashir is keen to get the Princess of Wales on the air, despite disapproval from others at the BBC. In order to get her attention, he forges bank statements and cooks up lies about those closest to her. The interview finally takes place in "Gunpowder," and is just as newsworthy as Bashir predicted. Diana speaks candidly about her mental health, her marital struggles, and her treatment by the royal family.
Elizabeth Debicki is at her best in this moment: Her Diana picks over the sorrow and strain of her life with startling candor. What makes it all the more upsetting is the fact that she was manipulated into this position. This makes the scene genuinely hard to stomach, as one Twitter user noted. Wherever Diana goes, people lie to her.
The interview’s impact on Prince William
Having started school at Eton College, Prince William (Senan West) is coming into his own in Season 5. "Gunpowder" sees him tackle a brand new obstacle: Diana’s "Panorama" interview. Though Diana promises Elizabeth that he won’t be allowed to watch it, we see him doing just this and insisting, despite the obvious emotion on his face, that he’s fine. It’s clear that he’s affected by the publicity and the rift growing between his mother and grandmother. He loves them both, but this position is increasingly untenable.
The choice to include William’s perspective is upsetting for two distinct reasons. Not only it is heartbreaking to see a young boy watching intimate family drama unfold on the world stage, it’s hard for some fans to realize that the actual Prince William might be reliving these moments as the Netflix series makes waves. Going through something like this once is unimaginable — going through it again is even worse. The fact that William of "The Crown" is also undergoing the ever-difficult adolescent years makes it even more heart-wrenching.
Diana’s brakes fail
There’s nothing like dramatic foreshadowing to put viewers’ hearts in their mouths. "No Woman’s Land" offers an intimate look at Diana’s struggles, which come to a scary head when she drives to her brother’s place. After being accosted by the public and press, Diana gets behind the wheel. As she approaches a red light, she realizes her brakes have failed. Though she manages to guide her car to a safe stop, she’s absolutely terrified — and so are fans.
In this moment, it’s impossible not to think of the death viewers know awaits her. She’s scared, shocked, and confused in the immediate aftermath, knowing she could have easily met her end — but what she doesn’t know is that it’s coming for her still. This moment might give her the confidence to publicly speak out against the royal family, but it’s also a heartbreaking bit of foreshadowing. No wonder fans have cited the scene as especially chilling, and applauded the emotion Elizabeth Debicki sustains throughout.