The first time Diana Spencer appears onscreen in the fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown, she’s 16 and trying to blend into the scenery. It’s 1977. Prince Charles has come to pick up her older sister, Sarah. Diana, still wearing a tree costume from a school play, wants to see but not be seen, so she tries hiding in some foliage. But even as a teenager, the future Lady Di – played by eerily resemblant newcomer Emma Corrin – is unmissable. Charles (Josh O’Connor) can’t help but fall into her magnetic pull.
“She’s just such an extraordinary character,” said Peter Morgan, the Oscar-, Emmy- and Tony-nominated screenwriter and creator of The Crown, who has spent the last decade and a half – since his film The Queen – imagining what Buckingham Palace looks like behind the scenes. “She was very much the British Eva Perón – such a mythic figure, so much bigger than anything we’d been used to.”
The first three seasons of the Netflix drama plumbed dark palace halls and cold Windsor hearts, wringing emotion from unspoken words, unfulfilled ambitions and affections, and other collateral damage of constitutional duty. But Corrin’s Diana bursts into the series in a cloud of naïveté, baggy jumpers and Stevie Nicks songs – ready for a fairy tale only to be served a depressing reality. Her prince? His heart already belongs to Camilla Parker Bowles. Her new family? Aloof and disinterested. Her palace? A posh prison. Diana’s heart-wrenching season four storyline follows her from her fast-tracked courtship to her marital dissolution – with stops in motherhood, inlaw clashes and affairs along the way.
“You really see her turn from a girl into a woman,” says Corrin, the 24-year-old Brit cast in the iconic role. (Elizabeth Debicki will continue the Princess Diana transformation when she succeeds Corrin for The Crown’s final two seasons.) “We see her before she goes into the palace, when she is living with her flatmates, and how normal she was before she was plucked from obscurity.”
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