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How The Crown Could Portray Diana's Death, According To Industry Insiders

It is one of the most shocking events of the 20th century. But just how will the Netflix show portray the tragic death of Diana?

Season 5 of The Crown is rumoured to start filming sometime next year, so we have a while to wait before we can binge another series of the Netflix hit.

It isn’t yet known which particular royal events will be represented in the fifth and sixth series, although both seasons have been confirmed with Tenet actor Elizabeth Debicki taking over from Emma Corrin to play Princess Diana.

There’s no way to know either, just how the writers and producers will represent the tragic death of the princess, which had a seismic cultural impact on our national consciousness when she died in a car crash in 1997.

Princess Diana on the left, and on the right, Emma Corrin portraying the princess on The Crown
Princess Diana on the left, and on the right, Emma Corrin portraying the princess on The Crown

Diana’s death instigated conversations about how our nation deals with grief. The event is something that anyone who was alive at the time remembers vividly.

Diana’s legacy can also still be felt: her work as an activist is remembered by her set of incredibly devoted fans, some of whom HuffPost UK spoke with earlier this month when Emma Corrin began playing the role of a young Diana in season 4 of The Crown.

So how might The Crown portray the death of the princess, one of the 20th century’s most shocking events?

Princess Diana, as played by Emma Corrin, on the left. On the right, Princess Diana leaving her Earl's Court apartment
Princess Diana, as played by Emma Corrin, on the left. On the right, Princess Diana leaving her Earl's Court apartment

″I don’t imagine for a moment they’d be so sensationalist as to show the accident,” says Philip Lawrence, a scriptwriter for Casualty who has written a death scene for the show. “No one needs to see that. It’s the reactions of those left behind that will really tug at the heartstrings.”

He adds: “Writing real-life tragedy, especially something within living memory like The Salisbury Poisonings or the death of Princess Diana, you can’t ignore the fact that some viewers are already emotionally scarred by it. But I do think it’s possible to be dramatic and still respectful and sensitive.”

“While it may initially feel crass to make drama about real-life tragedy, TV shows can often serve purposes other than entertainment.”

Philip’s sentiment is aligned with that of The Crown’s creative team. When HuffPost UK spoke with Benjamin Caron, director of two episodes from season 4 and executive producer on the show, he said: “My approach to these events is always in emotional terms... For me it’s always about the characters, the emotions and that’s what I believe our audiences relate to.”

In dramatic terms, the approach not to show the actual incident is taken because “less is very often more,” reminds Philip. “Seeing the reactions of a close friend and feeling that grief alongside them can be more affecting than watching someone slowly ebb away on camera.

“I think it’s about allowing room for the viewer to fill in the emotional gaps themselves. Personally I find it far more touching to watch someone just about holding it together through the heartache than someone letting rip with a full-on ugly cry.”

Diana, as portrayed by Emma Corrin in season 4 of The Crown.
Diana, as portrayed by Emma Corrin in season 4 of The Crown.

For Paul Andrew Williams, who directed two Bafta-winning films about tragic deaths, Murdered By My Boyfriend and Murdered For Being Different, it’s about simply displaying the truth. While it may initially feel crass to make drama about real-life tragedy, TV shows can often serve purposes other than entertainment, he reminds.

“I would definitely say the way I’ve handled it previously... is to tell the truth,” he says of the shows he’s worked on. He adds of The Crown’s forthcoming season 5: “I think it’ll be in good taste and I don’t think they will sensationalise it.

“Drama has a big power to not educate necessarily - but raise awareness”

- Director Paul Andrew Williams

“If you turn a tragedy into entertainment it’s a different thing, but drama has a big power to not educate necessarily, but raise awareness,” he says. “Both of those shows, all of these, focused on issues which are very important.”

In Paul’s drama Murdered For Being Different, about the death of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster who was attacked in a park, he decided to show the actual incident to raise awareness of the issues at play.

“She was beaten up horrifically and we showed the whole thing,” he says. “The parents saw it, gave it their blessing, and I think as long as you’re not making a pop video out of it, and you’re making it like ‘this is what happened,’ I think that’s fine.”

Diana, played by Emma Corrin in The Crown
Diana, played by Emma Corrin in The Crown

Paul says that making a drama about people who are still alive, such as the royals who were directly affected, is always tricky. “Where do you draw the lines in terms of what you show? But it is a drama and it’s not a documentary,” he adds.

Show creators have always asserted exactly that: that this show fictionalises the behind-closed-doors moments of the royals, imagining a world that exists between public events, such as royal births, royal weddings and tragically, royal deaths.

It is because of this dramatic style that they are unlikely to recreate the horrors of that car journey, although the historic significance of the princess’s death and the resulting cultural impacts it had on the entire country - and world - make it impossible to avoid.

“I think people need to see what did happen and what people can do, what other humans can do,” Paul concludes of drama’s ability to represent atrocities and ignite conversations sensitively.

“You can always offend someone and you can always please someone, and you just do your upmost to make sure that you didn’t cause pain to anyone.”

The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.

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