Inside the row that grows on The Crown

Annus Horribilis: Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in the fifth season of The Crown – Keith Bernstein / Netflix

In the new series of The Crown, we see Queen Elizabeth II deliver one of her most famous speeches. “1992 is not a year to which I will look back with pure pleasure”, she begins. “It turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis'”.

So far, so familiar. But the Queen, played by Imelda Staunton, goes further. She publicly apologizes for the way the royal family has conducted her personal affairs (we are in the midst of the Welsh War and in the wake of the Duchess of York’s escapades with her financial adviser). “No institution is blameless. And not even a member of it. The high standards to which we are held by the public in the monarchy must be the same benchmark that we personally adhere to, “she tells the audience at the Guildhall, there on the 40th anniversary of her accession.

It ends with a coded message to Princess Margaret, an acknowledgment that ruined her sister’s life by forbidding her to marry group captain Peter Townsend.

Except for the opening lines, the speech is entirely made up. It is another example of the Netflix series that distorts the truth, under the disclaimer (although, more importantly, not an on-screen disclaimer) that it is a “drama”. Indeed, in a letter to the Times this week Dame Judi Dench demanded that such a disclaimer be added to the show, accusing it of “blurring[ring] the boundaries between historical accuracy and raw sensationalism “.

The Crown, which began in 2016, has always been freewheeling with the truth, but its early inaccuracies have often been overshadowed by the passage of time. As events draw closer to the present day, what is fiction becomes easier to spot.

The War of Wales: the fifth season of the Crown shows the marriage between Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Prince Charles (Dominic West) - Netflix

The War of Wales: the fifth season of the Crown shows the marriage between Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Prince Charles (Dominic West) – Netflix

The “annus horribilis” speech, for example, is available for reading on Royal’s official website. Princess Margaret’s appearance on Desert Island Discs is also readily available online. In The Crown, Townsend is invited to reconnect with his former love in the early 90s after hearing his request for a song that was special to them: Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But the song doesn’t appear on his Desert Island Discs; nor would he have prompted Townsend to write to Margaret at the time, because the show had been on the air a decade ago.

Another problem with the transition to the 1990s is that many of the figures involved are still alive and able to point out that the plots are fabricated. In episode one, Sir John Major is approached by the then Prince of Wales seeking support for the queen’s abdication. Sir John called the scenes “harmful and malignant fiction”. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has claimed that a scene in which the Queen confides to him that her children’s marriage failures are the result of her failures as a parent “bears no resemblance to any conversation she has ever had. had”.

Jemima Khan joined the series as a co-writer last year to bring plot accuracy about her friend, Diana, Princess of Wales. She later demanded that her name be removed from the credits after discovering that the show, in her own words, would not tell the story “with respect or compassion”.

From time to time, the hand of nervous Netflix lawyers is felt. There are no romantic scenes between the Duke of Edinburgh and the Countess of Burma: it would be in her right to sue if there were. Instead, writer Peter Morgan portrays their friendship with a little nudge and a wink.

The show has a team of researchers – led by an American, Annie Sulzberger – and various royal advisers. But Morgan described his work as “conjecture” with “an underlying truth”, which gives him a lot of leeway. So far Netflix has ignored requests to add a disclaimer to the program.

Jonatahn Pryce as the Duke of Edinburgh and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma - Keith Bernstein / Netflix

Jonatahn Pryce as the Duke of Edinburgh and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma – Keith Bernstein / Netflix

Such a warning would benefit the king, because on screen here (now played by Dominic West as a middle-aged Prince of Wales) he is petulant and conceited. Queen Elizabeth II leaves the series as a poor mother. At one point, a furious Charles tells her: “If we were a normal family and social services came to visit us, they would have placed us in care and you in prison.” Critics would say this is grossly insensitive timing, so soon after the monarch’s funeral. But, for Netflix, the queen’s death was a listening opportunity.

So many people searched for the first royal drama series in the wake of the queen’s death that she returned to Netflix’s top 10. Viewing figures tripled in France, quadrupled in the US and increased by more than 800% in the UK. All of which explains a lot why the streaming service isn’t delaying the explosive fifth series out of respect for the royal family, but is going full steam ahead for its global release on November 9th.

Netflix needs hits – this year it announced its first drop in subscriber numbers in a decade – and the best way to grab attention is to escalate the controversy. The streaming service has made sure that every storyline that captures the titles in this series has been advertised in advance, in the hopes of attracting the largest possible audience.

At first glance, therefore, it seems strange that the creators of The Crown are “focused” on filming the sixth and final series, which covers the events leading up to Diana’s death in Paris in 1997.

“There’s a bombshell sensibility surrounding this,” a source on the production told the Deadline website. But it makes sense. Diana in the show is a victim of “The Firm”, carried in the arms of Al Fayed. The Crown would never have discredited it. Members of the royal family, however, are fair game.

Five storylines that are already causing a sensation

The dilapidated marriage of Charles and Diana

In 1991, as the new season begins, the marriage of the then Prince and Princess of Wales was in terminal decline (they separated the following year) and The Crown is expected to point the finger at Charles, counteracting his cold, indifferent attitude. towards Diana with her love for the then Camilla Parker Bowles, with whom she continues a relationship.

Charles’s impatience to be king

In addition to showing Charles’ cruelty towards Diana, the new season will also show the heir to the throne summoning Prime Minister John Major to a secret meeting in Highgrove where it will raise the possibility that the Queen abdicates to make way for her son. Last weekend, Sir John described the plot as a “barrel of nonsense”.

Prince Philip’s friendship with Penny Knatchbull

The Crown previously hinted that Prince Philip was unfaithful to the queen, and the new season casts insults on the friendship between the Duke of Edinburgh and his carriage companion Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. A source close to his family described the description of their Platonic relationship as “deliberately cruel”.

The queen and her children

In 1992, the Queen’s “annus horribilis”, both Prince Andrew and Princess Anne divorced and Charles and Diana separated. Reflecting on these broken relationships, Charles tells his mother that he should look to his own failures as a parent. The Queen later admits to the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, that he feels responsible.

The interview with Diana’s Panorama

According to reports, there will be an entire episode devoted to Princess Diana’s bombshell interview from 1995 with Martin Bashir, in which she talked about three people in her marriage. But the interview itself will not be recreated. Instead, Bashir will be seen forging documents and lying to Diana’s brother Earl Spencer to get the princess to participate.

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