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Image / Living / Culture

The Crown star Elizabeth Debicki speaks on the ‘unique challenge’ of portraying Diana’s death


By Sarah Gill
16th Nov 2023

Netflix

The Crown star Elizabeth Debicki speaks on the ‘unique challenge’ of portraying Diana’s death

Reenacting the car chase through Paris that lead to Princess Diana’s untimely death for the final season of The Crown showed Elizabeth Debicki just how “completely unbearable” those final moments must have been.

The first four-episode instalment of the sixth and final season of The Crown has just landed on Netflix, and though the early reviews may not be the most glowing, the eerie accuracy of certain shots cannot be denied. Opening in 1997, this season deals with what is one of the most unsettling periods of recent British history: the lead up to the death of Princess Diana.

As we know, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were killed in a collision in an underpass as they were chased across Paris by a pack of photographers. Aged just 36, Diana’s passing sent the world into the throes of grief, and the British public directed their rage against the royal family.

The first two episodes of the new season are set following Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, and build up to the ‘high-speed car chase with paparazzi that ends in disaster’ in episode three, entitled Dis-Moi Oui. The fourth episode, simply entitled Aftermath, Queen Elizabeth’s silence prompts ire and warning from Charles, and poses the question of how one woman can rise to the occasion and mother a nation.

Throughout the season, costume and set designers have been applauded for their ability to recreate instantly recognisable imagery from the time. From Diana’s swimsuit worn on a yacht with Dodi to the ambulances in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel and William and Harry walking alongside Charles, Prince Philip and Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, behind her casket during the funeral procession, the dramatisation is staying close to its subject matter when it comes to visuals.

And how couldn’t they? This was an event that many of its viewers remember playing out just over 25 years ago. These are images that have been burned into the minds of many.

Elizabeth Debicki, who reprises her role as Diana in the new episodes of The Crown, carried a huge weight of responsibility this season. Speaking to Radio Times the Australian actress described feeling trapped during the filming of those pivotal scenes. “You only have to be in a situation like that for a minute before you realise it’s completely unbearable,” Debicki said. “No one should ever have to experience what it feels like trying to get from one place to another, and to have this swarm around you. You feel very trapped.”

“I think it’s a unique challenge as an actor, to portray those days,” she said. “It’s [Morgan’s] interpretation and it made emotional sense to me, so I clung to that. Because, obviously, it’s devastating and it’s fraught and we can never know.”

Speaking on her approach to filming those scenes, Debicki told PA News that she never wanted to feel like a victim in it, so opted to try to get from A to B. “It’s just about getting somewhere, and that should be a set thing but because of the way the media were pursuing them so relentlessly and aggressively, what happens is the energy around your journey is just so panicked, it’s so kind of frazzled.”

“It’s just completely invasive. And it sort of feels like a stunt. Your body reacts to it quite strongly,” she says. “You have this very strong fight or flight response. You want to be able to, sort of like, escape what’s going on, but you just need to get to your destination.”

According to the actress, these scenes were revisited quite a bit, and the sequences were shot and reshot repeatedly. “After a while you sort of feel like you’re in this kind of groundhog day experience and it’s super unpleasant,” she said. “One thing that becomes immediately clear to you is that nobody should ever have to endure that. People should be able to be protected from that kind of behaviour.”

Speaking as part of a panel at the Edinburgh TV festival, the series producer Suzanne Mackie said it was important the team behind the series were thoughtful and sensitive. “The show might be big and noisy, but we’re not. We’re thoughtful people and we’re sensitive people,” she said. “And so there was a very, very careful, long, long, long conversation about how we do it – and I hope, you know, the audience will judge it in the end, but I think it’s been delicately, thoughtfully recreated.”

The first four episodes of The Crown season six are currently streaming on Netflix.