The British Government Wants You to Know That 'The Crown' Isn't Real

'The Crown'
'The Crown'Credit: Netflix
Why is The Crown so mean to Prince Charles? 

Netflix released another incredibly successful season of The Crown recently, and the entire globe is buzzing about the saucy details in this season. We get Prince Charles' rocky romance with Princess Di, a crazy voice for Margaret Thatcher, and all the bickering and backstabbing you can handle. 

It's not surprising the actual royals don't love it. 

"I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact," said culture secretary Oliver Dowden in a Daily Mail article this week.

The culture secretary acknowledged the show was well done, adding it was a "beautifully produced work of fiction," but it "should be very clear at the beginning it is just that."

In short, he's asking for Netflix to run a warning before each episode to let people know they're watching fiction, not reality. 

'The Crown'
'The Crown'Credit: Netflix

Donal McCabe, the Queen's communications secretary, said in a letter to the UK's Times, "The Royal Household has never agreed to vet or approve content, has not asked to know what topics will be included, and would never express a view as to the programme's accuracy."

I don't know about the accuracy, but tens of millions of people are learning from the show. A total of 73 million households worldwide have watched the royal drama, according to figures released by Netflix

The main concern is that writer Peter Morgan is doing damage to the monarchy, and Prince Charles in particular, in the eyes of the world. He's portrayed as a sort of louse, and viewers tend to side with his wife, Diana.

According to the Daily Mail, an unnamed friend of the prince said, "It is quite sinister the way that Morgan is clearly using light entertainment to drive a very overt republican agenda, and people just don't see it. They have been lured in over the first few series until they can't see how they are being manipulated. It is highly sophisticated propaganda."

'The Crown'
'The Crown'Credit: Netflix

Whatever the show's agenda, it's gaining a lot of traction as we get into the 1990s and people get interested in more current history, including the salacious details of Diana's tumultuous relationship with the royal family.

When you're adapting, you have to make some concessions to move the story, but this does raise an interesting ethical question. 

Morgan defended his writing to CNN earlier in the year, saying, "I made up in my head—whether it's right or wrong—what we know is that Mountbatten was really responsible for taking Charles to one side at precisely this point and saying, 'Look, you know, enough already with playing the field. It's time you got married and it's time you provided an heir.'"

He continued, "I think everything that's in the letter that Mountbatten writes to Charles is what I really believe—you know, based on everything I've read and people I've spoken to, that that represents his view. We will never know if it was put into a letter, and we will never know if Charles got that letter before or after Mountbatten's death but in this particular drama, this is how I decided to deal with it."

But what about historians? 

They're on the royals' side, mostly.

'The Crown'
'The Crown'Credit: Netflix

"People actually do believe it because it is well filmed, lavishly produced, well-acted with good actors. You can't just dismiss it as tabloid rubbish," Hugo Vickers, historian and author of The Crown Dissected, told CNN. "In this particular series, every member of the royal family, in my view, comes out of it badly, except the Princess of Wales. It's totally one-sided, it's totally against Prince Charles."

I am not an authority, but I do think there's room on both sides of the argument. Being particularly mean to one character seems a little comical to me, but I guess there can be bias in the writing. This is not a documentary, and I do not think anyone thinks every bit is true, but it will be interesting to see how future seasons deal with these criticisms. 

Did you watch The Crown? Do you accept it as wholly fact, or just fiction? Let me know what you think in the comments!     

Your Comment

3 Comments

There is nuance to the character development...while I can see how people "side with Dianna", as I watch the show, I feel more like "two immature selfish people trying to find happiness", and not so much "Charles is bad, Dianna is good".

Besides, I view good storytelling as illuminating deep truths about human nature and emotion, and not as "how accurate to reality is this". The show is powerful, and excellent, and deeply moving on many levels. The royals might consider being proud to have their lives and stories as an undercurrent for such a fantastic show. maybe they are. But more likely, they'd go "Who is this 'Netflix' you speak of'?" :)

December 1, 2020 at 11:33AM, Edited December 1, 11:33AM

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Well said, Jered. Dianna's character admits to enjoying the limelight, and the Queen comes down on both of them equally hard. I think the show does a great job making each of them seem very human, generating sympathy while also exposing their weaknesses.

December 1, 2020 at 12:23PM

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Cameron Sprinkle
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Hi Cameron. You appreciated how the authors of The Crown, made their subjects "seem very human" while exposing their weaknesses. I don't think this is something to be appreciated. The problem I see with that assessment is that, since we're talking about a piece of historical fiction, we don't know whether and to what extent the authors "exposed" "exaggerated" and/or "fabricated" their pictures of the characters' alleged weakness.

Here's one piece of evidence that the filmmakers' account skews away from reality: If you look at footage of Prince Charles from around the time of his courtship and marriage to Diana, you'll see a man with generally good posture. The Netflix series has him constantly slouching. Why would they get this elementary fact wrong? (The fake Charles left me with the impression of a man lacking confidence. But since I know that every thing about movies can be fake, I can't help but wondering if this slouching was an artistic choice made for the purpose of supporting a pre-conceived notion about the real Charles maybe lacking confidence? They treated Margaret Thatcher similarly. Again, compare real Thatcher footage to the fake.)

I remember when "Saving Private Ryan," came out and its gory beginning had people praising its "reality." There was a letter in the LA Times from a moviegoer who had actually been at Normandy. He said that he wasn't impressed by the movies' claims to be "real." He said something like, if the movie wanted to be real, they would have needed to have someone behind the screen, shooting live bullets at the audience.

Storytelling is a powerful thing, and its back and forth with "reality" would be a very interesting subject to explore. I think that sometimes stories are consolidations of an author's recollection of real world experience; sometimes they are poetic fabrications of ways the world could be; sometimes (as in fables) they are easy to remember devices for imbedding practical advice in children; sometimes they are re-fabrications of a variety of contemporary accounts collected and re-compiled by the author (which is what The Crown seems to be.) At any rate, one should be aware of the hazards of making unflattering portraits of living people for the purpose of making a movie (think of poor Richard Jewell and the injustice he needlessly suffered.) Every movie maker will decide for themselves if they really want to risk the kind of villainy that is the ruining of a living person's life for the purpose of making a buck.

December 1, 2020 at 2:15PM

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