How Color Was Used to Depict a Dark Era for the Royals in The Crown

the crown season 5 costume color
How Color Played a Role in Season 5 of The CrownNetflix

Spoilers ahead: If you don't want anything spoiled about the new season of The Crown, stop reading now.

The latest season of The Crown retells a very dark era in the royals' life. Three of four of Queen Elizabeth's children split from their respective partners, and Windsor Castle catches fire during Her Majesty's so-called "annus horribilis" (or horrible year); a revealing biography about Princess Diana's time in the royal family comes to light; Prince Charles causes public scandal within The Firm after a private conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles infamously known as "Tampongate" is leaked to the media; the newly-separated Waleses televised interviews become tabloid fodder; and the beloved Royal Yacht Britannia gets decommissioned. While the actors portraying members of the family and the dialogues perfectly capture that period in the mid-to-early '90s, it's the color palette that really pushes the storyline to the next level.

the crown season 5
The costume department leaned towards deeper hues to depict the hard times of the ’90s for the royal family. Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein

According to Amy Roberts, head costume designer for the hit Netflix series, she and her team leaned towards autumnal colors and heavier fabrics to add layers to the plot. Several of the characters—especially Queen Elizabeth (played by Imelda Staunton)—are often dressed in deep greens, blues, and reds during that particularly hard period. "We were quite keen to encapsulate that feeling about this particular series," Roberts said during a recent roundtable with Sidonie Roberts, associate costume designer and head buyer, and Cate Hall, hair and makeup designer.

"Every episode has a flavor, a sense of, this is very autumnal," Amy, who's been creating the costumes for the show since season three, continued. "There is a melancholia about these episodes of as you are getting older, your family has grown up, your expectations have been dashed and blown, and it's tough. And I think that obviously comes from the writing and the acting, but you help it along [with] autumnal tones."

The color palette has certainly evolved quite a bit since the show's premiere in 2016. Earlier seasons used cooler tones, perhaps to depict the young Queen's vulnerability as she navigates her new role as head of the throne. Several of Princess Margaret's outfits consist of deeper colors as a way to reflect her troubled life. As a young Diana is introduced in later seasons, her iconic taste in style brings a vibrant touch to the series yet viewers also see her character in flatter hues to possibly emphasize her struggles behind the scenes. Roberts previously said fashion was an "integral part in Diana's journey" and being able to show her transition from a "very normal girl with very average taste in clothes" to the Princess of Wales's exquisite taste in style was crucial in furthering the story.

the crown season 5 color
Senan West as Prince William, Marcia Warren as The Queen Mother, and Staunton as Queen Elizabeth in a scene of season five of The Crown. Netflix

While the tones of season five often lean on the desaturated side, the hair and makeup department tried to incorporate color through beauty looks. "The color palette for The Crown, it's so sumptuous and deliberate and considered, and it is like a painting," explained Hall. "Whereas I think what we are doing is a slightly different thing where we are using color to maybe indicate moments of fragility, those private moments. Because of the grade and the fact that it's desaturated and it has this look, sometimes we are actually just playing with color to try and naturalize and overcome that stuff."

Of course, the costume department led by Amy thoughtfully recreated many of the royal family's actual ensembles for the silver screen—like the infamous revenge dress—but getting to put their twist and interpretation on new designs gave them more creative license to depict what was happening to the royal family behind closed doors. "There's so much space in Peter Morgan's scripts of an emotional journey for pretty [much] all of our characters that you can guide by color choices," noted Amy. "And that's what makes it such a rewarding project to do I think."

Season five of The Crown is available to stream on Netflix now.

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