Ah, the Christmas advent calendars have arrived and the panettone has started popping up in tottering towers in Woolies and Coles. It’s that time of year again people. Because when the festive season, all instrumental jing-a-lings and red polyester ribbons, creeps up on us, so too does it mean that Crown season is here.
This week Netflix has released photos from what will be the final outing in creator Peter Morgan’s sweeping royal melodrama, the new shots proving that for a multi-billion dollar company they still seem to be spending less on wigs than Custard Creams.
This new season will close out the series, thus meaning we will never see what sort of fluorescent orange number that producers would force onto the head of whichever RADA graduate would end up playing current day Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex.
The Crown might stop long before Harry ever sat down with a lager to watch Suits, but there is a very interesting throughline from Elizbaeth Debicki’s Diana, Princess of Wales to Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex. In fact, one of the photos would seem to lend credence to some of the duchess’ biggest claims.
One of the shots out this week shows the Australian actress as the princess leaning on the rail of boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed’s father’s super yacht, contemplatively, if not mournfully, looking out to sea in her cossies. It’s an image that speaks of loneliness and the particular isolation that Diana dealt with during her 15 long years as a Windsor wife who refused to obediently stay in her prescribed box.
Golly, who might that remind you of?
Looking at this new Diana photo, all I can think is, in the intervening decades between the Princess of Wales’ death and the arrival of one Meghan Markle and her yoga mat in the Kensington Palace forecourt, the institution seems to have learnt absolutely and utterly nothing.
In fact, after a millennium plus of there being an English (and later British) monarchy, they still have no idea about what to do with ‘difficult’ women. (And by ‘difficult’ I mean that as a ringing compliment.)
Both Diana and Meghan, unlike Kate, The Princess of Wales, married their princes after only relatively short relationships and with scant idea of what they were in for beyond getting note paper with a royal cypher slapped all over it and some vague notion of having to turn up for Trooping the Colour.
What awaited both women on the other side of their wedding vows was a rude, blunt shock. They were expected to toe lines, wave on demand and not challenge the status quo that had been in place since before the advent of the zipper.
Ultimately, both women would defy the Men in Grey to chart their own courses, with messy, complicated consequences. The stories of Diana and Mughan are about big dreams, big mistakes, intense personal and social dislocation, about navigating the psychological terrain of going from jubilant cheering crowds to cloistered, solitary existence, and about finding the line between bravery and ballsiness and ego-driven foolhardiness.
However, where the two women part ways is that Diana spent years learning the rules of the game, so to speak, before striking out on her own and triggering mass Buckingham Palace conniptions. Meghan, by contrast, seemed to bring with her a certain impatience to do things the way she saw fit which, I would wager, did not exactly help the situation.
There is probably a PhD-length essay in the merits and deficiencies of each approach but the end result was the same: Both women (and in the duchess’ case, her husband to boot) found themselves exiled from the royal universe. (The same goes for Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York too.)
One thing that unites Diana, Fergie and Meghan (and I wonder about Kate and Sophie, The Duchess of Edinburgh also) is the loneliness that followed hot on the heels of them getting their HRH. Suddenly, as members of the House of Windsor, gone were their civilian, normal lives along with their identities, autonomy and agency, supplanted by the needs and priorities of a survive-at-all-costs institution.
Reader: It generally has not ended well.
It’s not as if the people at the eye of these various royal hurricanes haven’t been telling us exactly this: Diana via Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story; Fergie with her autobiographies, plural, and Meghan when she sat down with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021 and essentially launched a nuke at the royal family. (Harry had his finger on that trigger too, mind you.)
What I find deeply frustrating is that while on many levels, the monarchy has shown itself to be an organism which possesses a certain Darwinian survival gene, when it comes to the women who marry into it, there seems an immovable unwillingness to make adjustments or tweaks to help them out.
Instead, the same dire pattern keeps repeating itself. Some energetic young gal who burns bright is in love with a prince, marries him, and then all that optimism and joy soon collides with pinstriped frigidity and rigidity resulting in her suffering serious mental health woes.
What that image of Debicki as Diana really spells out is that in all the time since the princess boarded the Al-Fayed’s Jonikal, the Palace has not grasped that they need to do more – much, much more – to help new royal brides to survive once they enter regal captivity.
I often wonder what Diana would have made of her son and daughter-in-law’s dramatic 2020 exit from the royal enclosure – proud? Angry at the palace? Sad? All of the above?
The clock is ticking for the next generation, for the partners that Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis might pick. The Palace has to, it must, do better. Otherwise, one day, we are going to be having exactly this same conversation when The Crown season 14 inevitably comes out.
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.