Elizabeth Debicki ‘shocked’ by the media’s ‘destructive’ treatment of Diana

By Michele Manelis

<em>The Crown / Facebook</em>
The Crown / Facebook
The Crown’s long-awaited Season 5 brings considerable turmoil to the royal family, much of it thanks to Parisian-born Melbourne-raised Elizabeth Debicki, who takes the baton from Emma Corrin in playing Princess Diana. The stars reveal all in an exclusive interview with MiNDFOOD.

Set in the 90s, the series finds Dominic West’s Prince Charles hoping for changes in both the monarchy and his personal life.

His mother, Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) finally relents in allowing him to break with tradition and divorce his wife, Princess Diana, enabling him to eventually pursue true happiness with his longtime love, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Meanwhile, Princess Diana finds love, albeit short-lived, with Dr Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed), who struggles with his lover’s very public profile, before she meets Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), who appears to fully embrace it.

Conveying Diana’s strength and fragility

Debicki had her work cut out for her – and knew it. Conveying the complexity of Princess Diana’s fragility and strength as she endured the very public breakdown of her marriage, would have been challenging enough, without so much of its being public record.

“I feel like that’s what the journey is in this season, of somebody who’s incredibly raw, really, in the beginning, and then we watch her try to grab ahold of the reins of the narrative of who she is. And there’s always a duality, isn’t there?” she wonders aloud. “There’s what she wants the world to know and believe about her and have them on side, and then there’s also the truth of who she is, really, at her core. And I think the thing with Diana is they often are the same thing. Because what she is, is incredibly honest about herself. She was always so honest, which takes an incredible amount of courage, to be vulnerable, and be honest, and let people into that.”

The cast is rounded out by Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip. Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret, Timothy Dalton as her ‘forbidden’ lover Peter Townsend, Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker-Bowles, and Jonny Lee Miller as Prime Minister John Major.

A new Queen

Staunton’s turn as Queen Elizabeth saw her marking the beloved monarch’s 40 years on the throne. “The costumes, makeup, it was all just top drawer. Actually, I began to worry when I started to think, ‘I look rather good in this,’” the also beloved British veteran – married in real life to Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson, Jim Carter – chuckles. “Of course, the clothes are all tailor-made, and I’d never done anything where that was such an important factor. But of course, these are people that the world knows.”

This was a decade when the Queen grappled with the public’s questioning the monarchy’s relevance – with her response loud and clear. Her refusal to change with the times was met with either admiration or frustration, depending on where your beliefs stood. Prince Charles, who has long talked of modernising the monarchy, is clearly in the latter camp.

Staunton says of her illustrious alter-ego, “She really just stayed the same, and I think part of why people admired her is that she never tried to be anything else. She never said, ‘Maybe I should be trendy now; maybe I need to move with the times.’” Indeed, the Queen remained steadfast and cut a resolute and regal figure. Staunton nods. “‘This is what I am,’ the Queen conveyed. That’s why people feel like they knew her.”

In contrast to Princess Diana’s emotional unraveling, Queen Elizabeth resolutely maintained the stiff upper lip mandate. “You had to hold it in,” Staunton nods. “It’s hard to do. The challenge is getting the audience to come inside, hopefully, and see what you’re feeling without showing what you’re feeling.” She pauses. “I think for all of us, this family, apart from John Major and maybe Diana, we are locked. We are confined with our behaviour.”

‘The media was incredibly destructive in her life’

The next and final season of The Crown is currently shooting in Mallorca. Debicki will, of course, play ‘The People’s Princess’ to her final and tragic demise, resulting from that car accident in Paris, exacerbated when the paparazzi gave chase. “What I’ve learned in playing her is how the media was incredibly destructive in her life, and I think that shocked me. And in many ways, she was the symbol of invasion, in a way, from the paparazzi, of the chases. And we know that she’s emblematic of that.

But the actual slow destruction of trust, of understanding, of public rapport, of the consequences of being separated from the family, the loss of security, all that slow degradation was devastating for me to learn. In a way, I couldn’t believe that by the end of her life, she was just out on the street by herself. You just think, ‘How is that possible?’ She was so vulnerable.”

Debicki continues. “I hope the show conveys, despite how difficult things were for her, the strength that she possessed and the courage to continue. It’s sort of unfathomable to me that you would be broken down by so many things, and yet you would still possess the generosity of spirit to reach to people and give them the thing that you’re not getting from anywhere.”

We witness Princess Diana’s very private hospital visits to the terminally ill. “When we think of her, we think of this woman who was capable of giving people so much love. And also, the thing that she was able to do was to see people, really see people. And of course, the tragedy was that nobody really ever saw her, really, for who she was.

“They saw a construction. And by the end, they saw what they wanted to see, as a result of, really, how the British media was deciding one day to the next who they would support, who they wanted to throw under the bus,” she explains. “And I think that’s part of the tragedy of it.”

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