Season 4 of The Crown, on Netflix November 15, has a number of cringeworthy and dramatic scenes. But none combines the two feelings so powerfully as when a newly engaged Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) meets Prince Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) former girlfriend and current mistress Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell) for a horrifyingly stressful lunch.
It all goes down in episode 3, ironically named “Fairytale.” Almost immediately after proposing to Diana and announcing the happy news with a fairly embarrassing press conference, Charles heads off on a royal tour of New Zealand for several months, with plans to return just days before the wedding. Diana, meanwhile, is left alone and bored in Buckingham Palace, where she’s meant to learn the rules of court etiquette and deportment. During that time, she receives a note from Camilla, inviting her to lunch so she can “see the ring.”
The two meet at the very literally named, and highly trendy, Menage A Trois restaurant in London (a real place, now closed), where Camilla wastes no time asserting her ownership over Charles. Almost immediately, she makes clear that she’s been in contact with the prince, whereas Diana has called over and over, to no avail. What’s more, in a series of quips and barbs, Camilla shows her rival just how little she actually knows about her future husband, making her feel even more insecure about her future.
It’s a perfect scene, the kind of highbrow soap opera drama that only The Crown can pull off without it feeling trashy. It’s also the moment that got Corrin her job. Originally brought in to read opposite Fennell in her own audition for Camilla ahead of season 3, Corrin wasn’t on casting director Nina Gold’s radar. But once she saw the two interact, she was struck by their dynamic, and decided to cast Corrin in the role of Diana.
“We actually brought her in for a really small role in season 3, and were struck by not only how good she was but also what a Princess Diana vibe she had,” Gold told Refinery29 in August. “Then, when we were auditioning people for Camilla, we read a scene from season 4 between Camilla and Diana, and we thought, We’ll get Emma Corin to come in and be a reader for the audition. She was so great, eventually, it really seemed like it had to be her.”
The scene in question was the lunch scene. “That was how [Emerald and I] met, reading that scene,” Corrin told Refinery29 over Zoom ahead of the season premiere. “[Showrunner] Peter [Morgan] had already written that scene in 2018, and that’s the scene we read together, which is so funny in retrospect.”
Aside from being a life-altering opportunity for Corrin, the scene is also based on a very real moment in Diana’s life. “The lunch really happened,” she said. “I know, crazy drama!”
Obviously, we don’t know for sure what was said, and The Crown’s version, like so many things in the show, is a fictional interpretation of the behind-the-scenes machinations of a real event. What is clear, however, is that this lunch was definitely a power play between Diana and Camilla over who would have ownership over Charles.
In Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words, Andrew Morton wrote: “The friendly note invited her to lunch. It was during that meeting, arranged to coincide with Prince Charles’s trip to Australia and New Zealand, that Diana became suspicious. Camilla kept asking if Diana was going to hunt when she moved to Highgrove.”
In the episode, Camilla not-so-subtly hints that Highgrove is her special place with Charles, who bought the estate partly because of its proximity to Camilla’s own country home with Andrew Parker Bowles. Diana, it soon becomes clear, is not welcome there.
For Corrin, the tense atmosphere of the scene was in sharp contrast to the relationship she and Fenell had off-screen.
“Emerald is fantastic, I’m obsessed with her,” Corrin. “She’s fantastic to act opposite. She’s the funniest, most direct person. She’s really sweet, and it’s hilarious to see her turn it on and basically be such a bitch.”
“It’s an awful scene,” she added. “I just wanted to die every time I read that script. Poor Diana.”