LONDON: After two years of anticipation, Netflix has premiered its fifth season of “The Crown,” in which a new cast portrays the British royal family in the 1990s.
Viewers are shown a more vulnerable side of the late Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton), a monarch worn down through arguably the worst era of her reign.
However, the highly publicized breakdown of the fairytale marriage of Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) overshadows the queen’s issues.
And one of stars of the new season has been Palestinian actor Salim Daw, who plays Egyptian billionaire Mohammed Al-Fayed whose son Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) later becomes romantically involved with Diana.
His storyline emerges in episode three, titled “Mou Mou,” which follows him from humble beginnings as a street vendor in Alexandria in 1940. Catching sight of King Edward VIII, the young Al-Fayed (Amir El-Masry) develops a life-long fascination with British royalty hoping one day to rise to its level.
It is often difficult to find a Western depiction of the region that hits close to home. Yet, for Arab viewers, many of the scenes could have come from an old photo album, from Samira Khashoggi’s pinned-back curls to the scorching heat that seeps through the film’s warm hues.
Daw’s best performance comes when his character acquires the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Paris and switches to Arabic to call Madame Ritz out on her discrimination. While Dodi is translating for the room, it is Daw’s tone, dramatic pauses, and expressions that capture the force of his words.
As “The Crown” draws closer to the present day, forgiveness and repentance emerge as important themes in season five.
Princess Margaret forgives Queen Elizabeth after years of resenting her sister for forbidding her to marry the love of her life.
The newly divorced Charles and Diana also lay the groundwork for amends in the finale, before returning to blows.
The theme, however, plays out on a larger scale, exploring the painful relationship between Britain and the countries it had colonized.
In episode three, Al-Fayed’s father shares his contempt for the British but most of all the Egyptians who worshipped them as royalty.
Al-Fayed’s ability to rise above hatred, on the other hand, is the result of a distorted post-colonial Stockholm syndrome rather than forgiveness.
He has clearly internalized an attitude of ethnic inferiority, displaying racist sentiment toward a black waiter at the Ritz.
It will be interesting to witness his character development in season six, which is set to feature the deaths of his son Dodi, and Princess Diana.