The first episodes of the final series of The Crown have been met with mixed reviews by critics, with many noting the focus on Diana, Princess of Wales, in the first four episodes means Imelda Staunton’s Queen is largely sidelined.

Trade publication Variety greeted the return of Netflix’s lavish royal drama warmly, praising its depiction of the relationship between Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana and Dodi Fayed, played by Khalid Abdalla.

Its review said: “In humanising the two in life and in death (there are no ‘ghosts’ here), juxtaposed against the reigning monarch’s stoicism and commitment to grating tradition, the show invites the audience to consider the choices made by the British royal family, which have contributed to its relic-like state.

“With this devastating first section of its final chapter, Netflix’s crown jewel bids farewell to an icon, and retakes its throne.”

However, the BBC said the show “leans into its flaws” after the “near-disaster of last season”, criticising “the endless, unenlightening reconstructions of the real images and videos that have become part of the culture, recognisable around the world even to viewers too young to remember the 1990s or Diana’s death first-hand.”

The Guardian was also left disappointed by “a crass, by-numbers piece of film-making, with a script that barely aspires to craft, let alone art, anymore”.

The Telegraph criticised the portrayal of the late Queen, saying the show “completes its demolition job on the late Queen’s character” and that the series “has taken us from Claire Foy’s bright young woman to Imelda Staunton’s sour old boot.

“It started in the middle years with Olivia Colman playing the monarch as emotionally constipated. Now she is little more than a hairdo: no interior life, no personality, no intelligence.

“She has all the warmth of Ena Sharples but none of the wit. Mouth permanently pinched in distaste, she is unable to show affection to her son and unwilling to accept the public’s love for Diana.”

The Crown
Imelda Staunton as the Queen in The Crown (Justin Downing/Netflix/PA)

Other critics mourned the sidelining of Staunton’s Queen, with the Independent saying: “The show routinely privileges gossip over emotional resonance: highly speculative conversations between Diana and Dodi are included – and drive the plot – whereas Charles breaks the news of Diana’s death to the prince, in a scene we, the audience, are not permitted to overhear.

“This tabloid tone relegates Staunton’s Queen to a side character, while Lesley Manville’s Princess Margaret slips by entirely unnoticed.”

The Hollywood Reporter described the first batch of episodes as “a pretty tidy four-episode mini-season tracing the two-month origins, rise and heartbreaking fall of the Diana-Dodi romance”.

But it noted: “These episodes are so fully focused that there’s almost no room for anything else, especially Staunton’s Elizabeth, who has maybe five minutes of total screen time in the first three episodes combined and does almost nothing.

“Jonathan Pryce’s Philip is similarly wasted, though he actually has the best line of the season thus far: a single beat during the fourth hour that I found shockingly effective in an episode that I generally otherwise found anything but.”

– The first episodes from the final series of The Crown are streaming on Netflix now.