It would be hard to invent a better symbol for the royal family in crisis than Windsor Castle on fire — and luckily, Peter Morgan didn’t have to. The opening shot of the new trailer for season five of The Crown is, like much of the series, drawn directly from real life, in this case a 1992 fire that contributed to the queen writing off the entire year as “annus horribilis.” Take a look at the trailer below, and then join us for a breakdown of the real events we’re getting glimpses of here.
In case the sight of Windsor Castle in ashes isn’t evidence enough, the trailer begins with an unidentified man saying it plainly: “The royal family is in genuine crisis.” And though the trailer shows some events that happen well after the fire — Diana’s 1994 revenge dress, her di lei controversial di lei 1995 Panorama interview — much of that crisis began at the start of the decade. The marriage between Diana and future King Charles was already in shambles, and Prince Andrew and Princess Anne, Charles’s siblings, were either divorced or on their way to it.
Charles and Diana would separate in 1992 and only officially divorce in 1996, but chaos swirled around them in those four years. The famous revenge dress, which Diana wore to a Vanity Fair—Hosted party at the Serpentine Gallery in June 1994, neatly symbolizes the “War of the Waleses” that dominated tabloid headlines for half a decade. She had initially RSVP’d no to the party but changed her mind two days beforehand, when it became clear that the party would happen the same night as the TV broadcast of a documentary about Charles in which he admitted to his affair with Camilla.
The Panorama interview happened a year later, a bombshell at the time that has become even more controversial in recent years, after Prince William and Prince Harry both spoke out against it. A 2021 BBC report concluded that interviewer Martin Bashir (played by Prasanna Puwanarajah on The Crown) used deceptive practices, including fake bank statements, to secure the interview, in which Diana was remarkably candid about Charles’s infidelity, her struggles with an eating disorder, and more. Harry in particular has not minced words about the damage the interview caused: “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life di lei,” he said last year. “Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.”
Though the trailer — understandably! —Focuses on the strain Diana brought to the royal family, there remained an ongoing tension about the purpose of the monarchy itself. Early in the trailer, Charles (now played by Dominic West) can be heard saying, “For years I’ve called for a more modern monarchy that reflects the world outside” —something the real Charles is very much known to support. But it’s the queen (now played by Imelda Staunton) who gets at what looks to be the real drama of the season: “I don’t think it’s my behavior that’s threatening our survival.” Charles’s relationship with future Queen Consort Camilla is still going strong as season five begins, and though the shot of them kissing in front of dramatic fireworks may be a hint toward their relationship’s unlikely happy ending, they’ve got plenty to endure this season before they get there.