SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Part 1 of Season 6 of “The Crown,” now streaming on Netflix.
Approaching Princess Diana‘s death was a difficult and daunting task for the team behind Netflix’s “The Crown,” but its aftermath carried just as much pressure. At the end of the sixth season’s third episode, Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and her partner, Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), hounded by the paparazzi, enter a tunnel in Paris where they — presumably — get into a fatal accident, which isn’t depicted on screen. Creator Peter Morgan says he never considered filming anything inside the tunnel, out of respect for the families. In the next episode — the last of Part 1 of the final season — their deaths are revealed.
“We had talked about it endlessly. I remember even 11 years ago when we first started together as a small team with Peter Morgan, we knew that one day we would be telling this story, and I couldn’t imagine getting to that time,” says executive producer Suzanne Mackie of the nerves she felt while crafting how to tell the story of Diana’s death. “It felt very, very abstract, but even then, I remember talking about it and Peter saying, ‘I told the story before via ‘The Queen’ — I need to tell it with a different perspective.’ He wanted to explore the Al Fayed story — not more than Diana’s story, but maybe alongside it. It was bold, and born out of compassion.”
The fourth episode does just that — not only showing Diana’s heartbroken family as they mourn along with the entire world, but also Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, attempting to say goodbye to his son. Morgan, Mackie says, felt that it was important to show the “overshadowed” story.
Additionally, they wanted to dive into the unknown.
“One of my colleagues and I had lunch with one of Princess Diana’s former aides who was very, very close to her,” Mackie says. According to this person, Diana had “a terrible security team” who switched
“plans endlessly,” which contributed to the accident.
“That was the biggest factor of what went so horribly wrong, and the fact that the driver was over the limit,” she says. “There were so many contributing factors that led to that crash. So it was it was a big, emotional, epic thing to explore on so many levels.”
When it came to the funeral, a colossal event watched by more than two billion people, very little was shown on “The Crown.” In fact, the only recreated scene was of Prince Philip, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Charles walking behind Diana’s coffin, alongside her brother, Charles Spencer.
“The bigger, more profound themes of ‘The Crown’ are about the monarchy and the weight of the crown. There was something extraordinary about seeing those young boys behind the coffin, walking with the weight of the world on their shoulders, with the weight of the entire world watching them and one of them is the future King of England,” Mackie says about choosing that scene to film. “‘The Crown’ has always examined the tension between being the private person who, like all of us, is subject to the human condition, and being probably the most famous family in the world and the weight of responsibility. It was important for us to say that, even in their most private, intimate, profound, emotional days that there was some sense that they needed to do this publicly, and what that must do to you as a young man.”
The creative team didn’t want to show much more of the funeral, as it would have felt “intrusive,” she adds. “You have to make careful choices in every aspect of the storytelling, particularly around something that’s true and real and very vivid for people. It’s raw for people still,” says Mackie, noting that they leaned more into the Queen’s decision to come to London, and show how she was forced to blur that line between mother, grandmother and Mother of the Nation. “We also have shown a lot by our archive — whether it’s the coronation of the Queen, or Diana and Charles’s wedding. I think it’s really interesting to sort of say yes, this was the scale of it.”
Among the writers and executive producers, there were also many conversations about whether to include Diana’s brother’s famous eulogy in the show as well. The speech was very pointed, with Charles Spencer condemning the media for their treatment of her, and vowing to protect her sons.
Ultimately, the moment didn’t make it in.
“We did include it, and then we didn’t. In the end, it was a story choice not to not to dramatize it. It didn’t quite fit in with what we were trying to say,” Mackie says. “To be honest, it sort of feels like there’s too much story. You have to choose what themes you’re exploring. I was always fascinated by that speech. It’s a beautiful speech, and it was very rousing and it was very, very moving. I remember watching it and being very moved by it, and its impact was very visceral.
“But just from a sheer story point of view, there wasn’t room for it,” Mackie says, “though it was a profoundly important moment.”
Part 2 of “The Crown” Season 6 will be released on Dec. 14.