Diana's last days – and the death of The Crown

Diana’s last days – and the death of The Crown: As its final series airs, the cast of The Crown reveal how the tragedy in Paris – and the Queen’s death – made for a sombre mood on set

  • The emotional first four episodes of the final series cover Princess Diana’s death
  • READ MORE:  The Crown series 6 first teaser: Final instalment to be split into two parts as trailer sees Claire Foy and Olivia Colman return alongside Imelda Staunton to chart Queen Elizabeth’s conflict over her life and duty

Death hangs over the sixth and final series of The Crown. Filming had just started when it was announced the Queen – whose unswerving sense of duty and dedication have always been the beating heart of this all-encompassing biography of her reign – had died last September. 

Along with the nation many of the cast went into mourning, but then filming resumed and The Crown’s version of Her Majesty had to be brought back to life.

‘We started filming, and then very soon afterwards the Queen died, so it was quite difficult to be honest,’ says Imelda Staunton, who won acclaim for her portrayal of the Queen in the fifth series and was speaking, along with the rest of the cast, before the current actors’ strike. 

‘We carried on with as much dignity and grace as they have always done on The Crown, but obviously there was a very different feel in the world and in England, and even more so on The Crown.

‘We couldn’t do anything differently. We had to carry on, but we were all a wee bit sad. I think it probably just informed our mood rather than altering the material. But there’s no doubt it was different.’

Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in the final series of The Crown. The first four episodes not only cover the fatal car crash in Paris but also Diana and Dodi’s summer holiday in St Tropez, which came before the tragedy

It’s another death, however, that is the primary focus of the storyline as the first half of the series is released. 

The emotional first four episodes cover the tragic car crash in Paris that killed Princess Diana in August 1997 – alongside her lover Dodi Fayed and their chauffeur Henri Paul – and the Royal Family’s reaction to it, as well as the summer holiday Diana and Dodi enjoyed in St Tropez prior to the tragedy. 

The Paris scenes were shot in the French capital, while a yacht was hired for the St Tropez scenes, although these were actually filmed in Mallorca.

For sensitivity reasons the exact moment of Diana’s death is not re-created, but there are controversial scenes in which Charles tenderly converses with an imaginary Diana in the cabin of the royal plane as he accompanies her body from Paris to London, and later when she also appears to the Queen.

Critics who have seen these scenes called them ‘farcical’ for portraying Diana as a ghost, but series creator Peter Morgan has insisted that wasn’t the intention. 

‘I never imagined it as Diana’s ghost in the traditional sense,’ he told Variety magazine. ‘It was her continuing to live vividly in the minds of those she has left behind.’

The Crown was devised by Morgan after the success of his 2006 film about the Royal Family’s reaction to Diana’s death, The Queen. 

And the series – which has earned 21 Emmys and dozens of BAFTA nominations, not to mention some criticism for its historical inaccuracies – covers the same ground, but using fresh information gleaned in the 17 years since the Oscar-winning movie was made.

Dominic West (centre) as Prince Charles with Rufus Kampa (left) as Prince William and Fflyn Edwards as Prince Harry

In fact, the scripts had to be updated all the time as the Royal Family were plunged into headlines throughout the filming period, not only with the Queen’s death but also following the release of Prince Harry’s memoir Spare.

‘I assumed that Charles is an emotional and rather open-hearted guy in spite of the buttoned-up exterior he has to have in public,’ says Dominic West, who plays the then Prince. 

‘But when Harry wrote his book and said he never hugged him or anything, we had to change that slightly.’

The first few episodes were particularly tough for the whole cast as Diana’s last days with new love Dodi aboard his father’s yacht were re-created. 

At the end of series five we met US model Kelly Fisher, who Dodi was dating when he started seeing Diana. 

While he wooed the princess on a family yacht, Jonikal, Kelly was left alone on another boat. She later claimed they had been engaged.

For Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Diana, filming these scenes was daunting. ‘Even though I had a physical break before this, I was probably always thinking about what was to come,’ she says. 

‘We see her going on holiday with the boys to St Tropez and then on to Paris. Much of it was actually a lovely time. 

‘We were in a very beautiful part of the world so I constantly let that just wash over me and tried to sort of relax, knowing what was to come.’

The story then picks up at Balmoral where the family has to come to terms with the devastating news. 

For Jonathan Pryce, who plays Prince Philip, filming the scenes brought back emotional memories of Diana’s death. 

‘I remember turning on the radio and hearing something about Diana and Paris and I thought, “What the hell?”’ he says. 

‘And then turning on the television and it was such a shock. Both my wife and I found ourselves quite weepy about it, and I never thought I would cry over a member of the Royal Family.

‘When we were filming in Scotland, the director of the episode around Diana’s death put together a reel of footage for me and I couldn’t stop crying. 

Thanks to the efforts of the hair, make-up and costume teams, Imelda Staunton, who stars as Queen Elizabeth II in the final series, felt like the monarch every single day for two and half years of filming

‘Neither could the cameraman who’d filmed it, or the director. It was an extraordinary moment. I was reliving waking up and listening to the radio.’

The difficulty of that time is re-created as we see Charles telling William and Harry their mother has died, as well as dealing with the demands of the nation who wanted the family to be seen. 

‘It’s sort of the worst period of Charles’s life so there are lots of scenes of him trying to come to terms with Diana’s death and breaking the news to his sons, trying to help them mourn and having varying degrees of success at that,’ says Dominic. 


Princess Diana pictured in St Tropez

The Crown pulled out all the stops when it came to re-creating Diana and Dodi’s last summer in St Tropez.

‘Gottex, the company that made all of Diana’s swimwear, made all of ours for us,’ says costume designer Sid Roberts. 

‘We just adjusted it to whatever Elizabeth felt comfortable with. That 90s shape is very high cut on the thigh, and it goes right up and quite high on the bottom as well. So we just made those adjustments with Gottex.’ 

And the effort paid off for Elizabeth Debicki. 

‘I really love the blue swimsuit Diana wears when she walks out to the end of the diving board on the yacht and sits down,’ she says. 

‘There was just something about that swimsuit and re-creating that moment that felt very sacred.’

‘There were some really heavy scenes and a lot of tears for Charles. But I love crying, so it was great.

‘Then there were a lot of set-piece teas at Windsor Castle or Christmas Day or family photos or weddings where all of us were there and they were the biggest joy because you’re in a room and everyone looks like a member of the Royal Family so it’s hilarious. Then Imelda walks in and you go, “My God, there’s the Queen!”’

The final six episodes of the series, which will be available in December, will see the family moving on from Diana’s death and cover William and Kate’s budding romance at St Andrews, finishing with Charles and Camilla’s wedding in April 2005. 

The university scenes were actually filmed at St Andrews and the wedding at York Minster. 

Netflix boss Ted Sarandos has explained why the series ends there. ‘It was the cut-off to keep it historical, not journalistic,’ he said. ‘By stopping almost 20 years before the present day, it’s dignified.’

Dominic – whose gardener wife Catherine FitzGerald is friends with Charles in real life – says he found himself fighting the King’s corner. 

‘I really like him and admire him. I think he’s a good guy who gets a lot of stick and I didn’t want to add to that,’ he says. 

‘But there were plenty of people around me who were giving the opposite point of view so hopefully what comes out is compassionate but relatively well-balanced.’

Fans will once again revel in the re-creation of key moments and occasionally uncanny portrayals of characters we know so well, although Dominic reveals he dispensed with the use of ‘ear plumpers’ for this series. 

‘They made my ears go out but it was quite a faff and they were quite uncomfortable and didn’t make much difference,’ he says. ‘They didn’t make me look any more like Charles, unfortunately.’

Instead he concentrates more on an impression of the character rather than a complete likeness, and reveals he and Olivia Williams, who plays Camilla, had ‘trigger phrases’ to get into character. 

‘My main one was based on an interview with Charles on a plane to Australia when he said, “I just do it for jolly old Britain”. 

‘Olivia would say, “Modern democracy” to get into her role and then I’d say, “Jolly old Britain” and we’d start the scene.’

For Imelda Staunton, his on-screen mother, it was the outfits that made the difference. 

‘Everything I wear has been handmade and all those details help,’ she says. 

‘We do the make-up and when the wig goes on we say, “There we go, that’s it.” But then, actually, the lipstick does it. 

‘It’s like putting all the ingredients into a fantastic meal. They have to be right and it has to be cooked for the right amount of time, but every single day for two and a half years they’ve made me feel like I’m the Queen.’

  • The Crown will be on Netflix from Thursday.

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