The fourth season of The Crown debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago. My wife and I binged the whole bunch of new episodes in a couple of days as this latest season, dealing primarily with the rise of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the courtship and marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana – and the former’s betrayal of the latter with Camilla Parker-Bowles – is riveting stuff. It’s also a bunch of bollocks.
While The Crown is based on real-life figures and deals with major real-life events over the decades, creator Peter Morgan and the rest of the writers at the acclaimed Netflix drama often take narrative license when it comes to filling in the gaps of the interpersonal exchanges and relationships of the British royal family. After all, there isn’t a word-by-word behind-the-scenes account for them to refer to so they often just guess at how things may have played out or even twist things around to make for better TV. And the UK government wants to ensure that this approach is declared upfront.
Speaking to The Daily Mail, British Cultural Secretary Oliver Dowden described The Crown as “a beautifully produced work of fiction”.
…So as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that. Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.
The Crown has always taken these types of historical liberties across its previous three Golden Globe-winning series, but it was less noticeable when the show was set in post-WWII Britain dealing with events mostly relegated to dusty history books or our grandparents’ vague recollections. Now that the show has moved up to the early 1990s and is dealing with people who are not just very much still around and in the public eye, but also hugely obsessed over, it’s getting a bit testier.
Dowden is reportedly asking that Netflix include a “health warning” at the start of each episode to make clear that the events are fictionalized as the “fabricated scenes written by screenwriter Peter Morgan are doing lasting damage to the monarchy and Prince Charles in particular.” This particularly refers to the show’s allegations that Prince Charles’ romantic relationship with Parker-Bowles – his current wife – continued throughout his marriage with Princess Diana as opposed to the public record of them only rekindling an earlier relationship after Charles’ marriage had already broken down.
This particular storyline has given Dowden an ally in this fight for historical accuracy in the form of the late Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Charles Spencer. In a recent interview with ITV (via Today), the Earl revealed that he refused to let the production film at their ancestral family home and takes umbrage with how it twists the truth.
The worry for me is that people see a program like that and they forget that it is fiction. They assume, especially foreigners, I find Americans tell me they have watched The Crown as if they have taken a history lesson. Well, they haven’t.
There is a lot of conjecture and a lot of invention, isn’t there? You can hang it on fact but the bits in between are not fact.
It would help The Crown an enormous amount if at the beginning of each episode it stated that, ‘This isn’t true but is based around some real events’. Because then everyone would understand it’s drama for drama’s sake.
One particular bit of invention has also drawn controversy in Australia. One of the fourth season’s episodes covers Charles and Diana’s tour of the land down under in 1983. During the episode, then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke is depicted as being opposed to the Royal Family and publicly very vocal about Australia becoming independent from its British colony masters, particularly Queen Elizabeth who he described in the show as “An unelected non-Australian who lives on the other side of the world and, for all their good intentions, is a different breed.” That was all mostly true. What wasn’t was Hawke’s speech during an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company in which the screenwriters had him saying “You wouldn’t put a pig in charge of a herd of prime beef cattle, even if it did look good in a twinset and pearls.”
The ABC had to make a public statement that the former Aussie PM had never called the Queen a “pig”. Another ABC show, 4Corners, actually took it a step further with a Twitter thread in which they pointed all the inaccuracies of the episode. They even included the original video interview as proof.
Further criticisms against The Crown’s storylines include some allies of former PM Thatcher being infuriated that the show portrays her asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament to save her job, or the Queen being reluctant to show support for British soldiers during the Falklands War. Thus far, Netflix is yet to officially respond to these criticisms of the show’s creative screenwriting.
Last Updated: November 30, 2020
November 30, 2020 at 13:43
Entirely valid criticism, IMO.