5 Heartbreaking Ways Princess Diana Defines "The Crown's" New Season
It's Diana's devastating story that anchors this new season, making it one of the show's best yet.
Just as she did in life, Princess Diana steals the show from the rest of the royals on the new season of Netflix's The Crown. The fourth installment of the lavish series, which begins streaming on Sunday, Nov. 15, opens in the late '70s when Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) gets his first glimpse of 16-year-old Lady Diana Spencer. While he was not immediately smitten, fans of the series are sure t0 become captivated, thanks to the luminous performance of newcomer Emma Corrin as the Princess of Wales. On the new season, the trajectory of Charles and Diana's doomed relationship throughout the '80s runs parallel to the election and controversial tenure of Margaret Thatcher (played with relish by Gillian Anderson) and her fraught relationship with the royals. But it's Diana's heartbreaking story that truly defines this new season, making it one of The Crown's best yet.
While Diana has become an almost mythical figure since her tragic death in 1997, there are several little-known facts about her life inside the Palace that will still shock—and sadden—the most faithful royal watchers. This season of The Crown, more than any other of the series, offers an unstinting look at the royals' cruelty and consternation directed towards outsiders, including Diana. We all know how this fractured fairy-tale ended, but there were plenty of moments along the way that foretold the tragedy that would change the royal family forever. Here are five fascinating facts about Diana's early years as the Princess of Wales that you'll see play out in all their drama on The Crown's new season. And for more on stars who've stepped into the princess' shoes, check out The Definitive Ranking of Every Actress Who's Played Princess Diana.
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Diana had set her sights on Prince Charles long before he became interested in her.
In the first episode of Season 4 of The Crown, Charles meets then 16-year-old Diana when he arrives at the sprawling and stately Spencer family home to see her older sister, Sarah Spencer, who was dating the prince at the time. Fudging a bit, showrunner Peter Morgan sets the event in 1979 (so the beginnings of the couple's story could coincide with Thatcher's rise to prime minister the same year). In reality, Charles and Diana actually met for the first time in 1977.
Diana is shown to be hiding behind a pair of tall, potted plants as Charles waits in the grand and desolate foyer of the Spencer home for Sarah. She’s been warned not to talk to Charles, but Diana can’t help herself.
Later, Sarah tells Charles that the shy, slightly nervous teenager planned their meet-cute. “She was obsessed with the idea of meeting you,” Sarah clucks about Diana. “Obsessed.” And for more drama surrounding this series, find out Why the Queen Could Be Upset About Dominic West Playing Prince Charles.
Diana desperately sought Queen Elizabeth's approval.
While no outsider in terms of class, Diana was still a mystery to the royals. The second episode of Season 4, "The Balmoral Test," refers to the trial new prospects are subjected to when invited to the royal's vacation home for the first time. As you'll see, Diana is very much a stranger to Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the royals because she wears her emotions on her sleeve. In one particularly uncomfortable scene in another episode, a desperately unhappy Diana puts her arms around the Queen and hugs her. But the perpetually stoic monarch simply stands there with her arms by her side, clearly mortified by this uncomfortable display of PDA.
While Her Majesty has been sympathetically portrayed by both Claire Foy and Olivia Colman in previous seasons, the arrival of Diana seems to underscore the Queen's emotional constipation and remoteness towards her own children. The Queen’s maternal shortcomings are painfully obvious in an episode where she schedules lunch with each of her children, and first instructs a Palace aide: “Please prepare a short briefing document ahead of each meeting, focusing on each child’s hobbies, interests and so forth. One would hate to appear uninformed or cold.” And for more on how Her Majesty views the show, find out What All the British Royals Really Think About "The Crown."
During the couple's first trip to Australia, Charles first began to feel the pangs of jealousy towards his wife.
In the sixth episode of Season 4, "Terra Nullis," The Crown centers on Charles and Diana’s six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1983. It was their first overseas tour together, having been married for two years and now parents to their first son, Prince William (who Diana insisted on bringing along, bucking long-standing royal protocol). Moments of true closeness between the couple are depicted as they laughingly twirl across the dance floor at a charity event and laugh together in public.
But almost overnight, things went horribly wrong. The trip was a pivotal moment for the couple as 21-year-old Diana began not only to recognize her star power, but learned to draw strength from public adulation. At the same time, Charles came to the realization that his young wife, who he and the royals had thought would quietly enhance the prince's popularity, had eclipsed him on the world's stage. "This is supposed to be my tour!” he fumes at her in the episode as the crowds call her name.
For Diana's loyal fans, the episode also provides an '80s retrospective on some of the princess's most unforgettable early fashion moments—faithfully recreated in painstaking detail—where she publicly emerged from her chrysalis as a global superstar, but remained a complex and emotionally fragile young woman behind the Palace walls. And for Diana's biggest fashion legacy, find out The Real Story Behind the Drama of Princess Diana's Iconic Wedding Dress.
Diana unknowingly infuriated Charles with a birthday surprise.
Before it all really went downhill, Diana was intent on winning her husband's love. She badly miscalculated his reaction in 1985 when she surprised him on his birthday by sensationally taking the stage at the Royal Opera House for a surprise dance with Wayne Sleep (to the tune of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl") while Charles seethed in the audience.
Diana had always wanted to become a ballerina, but let go of her dream when she grew too tall to dance professionally. Having practiced in secret for six months, she pulled out all the stops on the big night. Many royal biographers have recounted these same events surrounding the infamous dance. On The Crown, a clearly jealous Charles sputters: “What were you thinking? Eight minutes they were on their feet cheering for you." And for more royals news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
The Queen directed the couple to maintain a facade of marital bliss to avoid scandal.
Increasingly resentful over having to marry for duty instead of love, Charles's jealousy over Diana's growing popularity—which resulted in escalating angry rows—is shown to be one of the main reasons for the cratering of their marriage.
On screen, the prince's cruelty to the princess as she struggled with an out of control eating disorder is heartbreaking to watch. As the stress of her tumultuous marriage takes its toll, Diana is depicted binging and purging—which fuels plenty of royal gossip. When Margaret (Helena Bonham-Carter) relays the news to her sister, the Queen is unable to empathize. Throughout the season, Diana tries to elicit sympathy or a glimmer of acknowledgement from her mother-in-law—she even calls her “Mummy”—only to be rebuffed with an icy wall of decorum.
Just as she did in real life, Her Majesty directs the couple to keep calm and carry on so as not to damage the royal "brand." Diana is crestfallen, while a bitterly disappointed Charles sees himself a martyr. He has always known, given the choice, his mother would choose her loyalty to the crown over her son's happiness. And for more on Diana's relationship with the royals, check out Diana and Meghan Markle Made the Same Shocking Claim About the Royals.