The Crown: Why all the fuss when the facts of what happened still shock as much as the fiction? | UK News


Whatever the critics or the Royal Family might think about The Crown, you cannot avoid the fact that the reality of what happened in the 1990s is just as shocking as anything they could have made up.

That is what immediately hit me as I watched season five of the hit TV show.

The soap opera of what played out for the Windsors 30 years ago is still just as unbelievable as any of the fictional events or conversations they made up.

It’s all in there.

The collapse of Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage playing out publicly in such a grotty way through tell-all books and interviews, details of those tapes where Charles said he wanted to be Camilla’s tampon, three of the Queen’s children getting divorced, and discussion of those pictures of the Duchess of York sucking the toes of a lover.

The basics, what we know is true, are a dream for any scriptwriter.

You couldn’t make it up, but it all happened right at the heart of one of Britain’s most important and influential institutions.

Of course, the debate over whether the programme needs a health warning because not everything we see is real is very much alive.

There’s been outrage that such a painful part of the Royal Family’s history should have been made into entertainment, almost pantomime.

I couldn’t help but think how ironic it is that newspapers and commentators who relished the scandal and the implosion of the Royal Family at the time are now so critical of the events being raked over again.

The Crown's Princess Diana. Credit: Netflix
Diana, played by Elizabeth Debicki, in the trailer for the fifth series of The Crown. Pic: Netflix

From the start you have a very clear villain.

Prince Charles is again portrayed as an uncaring cheating husband, but also this time shaped as a man desperate to get his hands on the crown, and setting up a rival court to compete with his mother.

It’s a narrative that couldn’t be put into the minds of the viewers at a more sensitive time as now, in real life, he settles into his life as King.

So far the settling in period has played out very well for him, with the King and his team getting the right balance between respectfully mourning the Queen and setting out his stall on how he wants to reign.

Can a TV programme really sway how people feel about his motives?

Don’t forget season four of The Crown did cause concerns for the palace, as it dragged up the Diana days, bringing that story to a younger demographic.

At the time one journalist who works for US magazines told me how it had played particularly badly with American audiences, making a visit by Charles and Camilla unimaginable.

The appearance of a young Prince William and Prince Harry makes it uncomfortable to watch at times.

Both have now spoken about the trauma of living through their parents’ break up and their mother’s death.

Olivia Williams and Dominic West as Camilla and Prince Charles in The Crown. Pic: Netflix
Olivia Williams and Dominic West as Camilla and Prince Charles in The Crown. Pic: Netflix

The hoards of photographers and reporters you’ll see on screen following their every move were real to them, a reminder of why they felt hounded and are now doing everything they can to stop it happening to their families.

At points you can’t help but feel this walk down memory lane is also designed to be a commentary on how the institution is viewed now.

Such as the writers weaving in make-believe monologues from the likes of Charles, Andrew, Margaret and Anne to question the monarchy’s role and the way it functions as they all talk about the constraints of “the system”.

In one scene the actor playing Andrew explains how they’d been excited about Sarah Ferguson marrying into the family, talking about how newcomers “make us look all modern, normal, human”.

But he adds: “No one with any character or spark has a place in the system.”

You could say a less than veiled dig about Meghan and Harry’s experience within “the firm”.

Read more:
The Crown stars on becoming the royals and managing the hype of the hotly anticipated show
Trailer for The Crown’s latest series released – and it features Diana’s infamous interview

Of course, all this comes just two months after the Queen’s death.

The programme could not feel more distinct from the glowing tributes that have flowed since she died.

There are moments that reflect on her sense of duty, her influence on the world stage, but you can’t escape that the 1990s was one of the most difficult periods of her reign.

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While it may reflect badly on some of her living relatives, it is more positively a reminder of how remarkable it was that the Queen got things back on track.

During the 2000s she adapted to rebuild the monarchy’s reputation, and leave the overriding legacy of a much-loved monarch who rarely put a foot wrong.

It’s now her son, her other children and grandchildren who must face the added scrutiny that may come from The Crown, and more significantly deal with the other family issues that will undoubtedly come.

Season five of The Crown streams on Netflix from 9 November.


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