The Crown and Netflix: There are no depths of bad taste


There are no depths of bad taste that writer Peter Morgan does not plumb in the new ten-part series of The Crown on Netflix.

Divorces, infidelities, the most intimate conversations, the infamous interview with Princess Diana and Martin Bashir, even the death of a five-year-old from cancer – all are exploited for lurid drama.

As the eight-and-a-half hours of new film were made available to journalists last night, under a stringent embargo, the sheer virulence of the storylines became shockingly clear.

Charles, Philip and at times the Queen herself are portrayed with disdain bordering on mockery. A teenage Prince William is also shown in an unflattering light, as slightly dim and sulky, though his younger brother Harry is let off lightly and barely features.

Netflix may well find that, with the international grief and mourning that marked the death of the Queen less than two months ago, viewers’ appetite for royal muck-raking has disappeared.

Insiders at the streaming giant say the mood in the company is already uneasy, with some American executives surprised by the backlash from fans who fear the death of the Princess of Wales will be re-enacted in graphic detail.

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales from season five of The Crown, which will air next week

Bashir is shown meeting Diana in a dimly lit car park and feeding lies to her, urging her to trust no one

Bashir is shown meeting Diana in a dimly lit car park and feeding lies to her, urging her to trust no one 

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales, Dominic West as Charles, Teddy Hawley as Prince Harry and Timothee Sambor as Prince William, from season five of The Crown

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales, Dominic West as Charles, Teddy Hawley as Prince Harry and Timothee Sambor as Prince William, from season five of The Crown

Divorces, infidelities, the most intimate conversations, the infamous interview with Princess Diana and Martin Bashir, even the death of a five-year-old from cancer – all are exploited for lurid drama. Pictured: The recreation from the series

Divorces, infidelities, the most intimate conversations, the infamous interview with Princess Diana and Martin Bashir, even the death of a five-year-old from cancer – all are exploited for lurid drama. Pictured: The recreation from the series

Olivia Williams as Camilla and Dominic West as Charles, from season five of The Crown

Olivia Williams as Camilla and Dominic West as Charles, from season five of The Crown

Diana pictured during her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC in November 1995

Diana pictured during her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC in November 1995

A teenage Prince William is also shown in an unflattering light, as slightly dim and sulky, though his younger brother Harry is let off lightly and barely features

 A teenage Prince William is also shown in an unflattering light, as slightly dim and sulky, though his younger brother Harry is let off lightly and barely features

This series stops short of that moment. It ends with Diana, divorced from Charles, preparing for a Mediterranean holiday with her friend Dodi Fayed.

Full reviews, with assessments of individual performances and an analysis of how far the script strays from historical fact, are embargoed until Saturday morning.

But no spoiler alert is needed when I say that this series of The Crown is unrecognisable in its tone, compared to the original series in 2016.

This show with its almost unlimited budget and all-star cast has become a monstrous perversion of itself.

At the beginning, The Crown charted the affectionate romance of the Princess Elizabeth and her prince, the Duke of Edinburgh, played with touching vulnerability by Claire Foy and Matt Smith.

But it has descended into scandal-mongering, intent on inflicting every possible embarrassment on the Royal Family.

The Crown is now a nakedly republican polemic, using embarrassment as its chief weapon against the monarchy.

Chief victim is the monarch himself. Perhaps Morgan and his Netflix paymasters imagined, like most of us, that the Queen would survive, ruling above reproach, for a number of years to come – and that the former Prince of Wales was fair game.

Certainly, none of the preview episodes (labelled, it ought to be said, as ‘work in progress’) carried an acknowledgment of Her Majesty’s death. Any viewers expecting a respectful caption, saluting her 70 years on the throne, will be disappointed.

But from the outset, the campaign against Charles is lacerating. In scene after scene, he is depicted as devious, impatient, resentful, devoid of self-awareness in his desperation to be king.

How Prince Harry, who professes hatred of any media exploitation of his mother's memory or intrusion into his own life, can continue to be associated with Netflix defies belief

How Prince Harry, who professes hatred of any media exploitation of his mother’s memory or intrusion into his own life, can continue to be associated with Netflix defies belief

When the interview airs, long sections of it are restaged, despite Prince William's insistence that it should never be aired because it harmed his mother so much

When the interview airs, long sections of it are restaged, despite Prince William’s insistence that it should never be aired because it harmed his mother so much

Insiders at the streaming giant say the mood in the company is already uneasy, with some American executives surprised by the backlash

Insiders at the streaming giant say the mood in the company is already uneasy, with some American executives surprised by the backlash 

This prince is a plotter whose mind works constantly, even during holidays with friends, on ways to dislodge his mother and force her aside. His aides talk of little else.

Despite the fact that former Prime Minister John Major has categorically dismissed this picture as nonsense, Charles is seen making a pathetic fool of himself as he tries to recruit the Tory PM into his treacherous schemes.

Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles – now the King and Queen Consort, a fact shamefully ignored by Netflix – suffer greater indignity still, with the replay of that excruciating phonecall.

Dominic West as Charles and Olivia Williams as Camilla, then his married mistress, re-enact every word of it… including that awful extended metaphor about being reincarnated as a tampon.

It is performed without mercy, and to emphasise the humiliation we see the reaction of other royals when the transcript is published. Princess Margaret reads it in bed. Diana holds her head in her hands.

But even this is overshadowed by Netflix’s relish for the way the Princess of Wales was tricked into a damaging TV interview by Martin Bashir of the BBC.

The affair is spread across two episodes, as Bashir is shown meeting Diana in a dimly lit car park and feeding lies to her, urging her to trust no one, at a time when her mental health was at its most fragile.

When the interview airs, long sections of it are restaged, despite Prince William’s insistence that it should never be aired because it harmed his mother so much.

We hear Elizabeth Debicki, as Diana, discussing her post-natal depression after William was born, her conviction that allegations that she was ‘crazy’ were used to discredit her, her fears for her children and her belief that Charles would never be king.

Some of these lines are spoken as we watch other members of the Royal Family – either glued to their TV sets or pointedly ignoring the broadcast. Charles reacts with rage, shouting: ‘What the hell is she doing?’

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales appearing in the fifth season of the streaming website's show, The Crown

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales appearing in the fifth season of the streaming website’s show, The Crown

The infamous interview is spread across two episodes, as Bashir (pictured) is shown meeting Diana in a dimly lit car park and feeding lies to her

 The infamous interview is spread across two episodes, as Bashir (pictured) is shown meeting Diana in a dimly lit car park and feeding lies to her

Prince William (played by Senan West, Dominic’s son) is seen at Eton: a teacher asks if he is all right, and the boy, then 13, says, ‘Yes, I’m fine,’ before getting up and walking away.

But the camera is trained on Diana’s face as she murmurs the most famous line from the interview: ‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’

Equally callous is the decision by Morgan to include the death of Leonora Knatchbull, granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten, who was just five when she died from kidney cancer in 1991.

We see her in the first ten minutes of episode one, as Charles and the girl’s father, his friend Norton, admire the child’s curly hair and discuss her treatment.

In the second episode, Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) visits Leonora’s grave with her mother, Penny. Both Norton and Penny are still alive, and friends say they are distressed at the thought of their child’s death being presented on screen.

Their feelings, and those of all the Royal Family, are ignored. Netflix and Peter Morgan treat them with cold-blooded contempt. Rarely has a drama been more cruel.

How Prince Harry – who professes hatred of any media exploitation of his mother’s memory or intrusion into his own life – can continue to be associated with Netflix defies belief.

His own media company, Archewell Productions, has signed a deal with Netflix worth a rumoured $100 million (£86.7million). That will have to be a matter between Harry and his conscience.

‘Let’s stop talking about it and move on’: The Crown star Elizabeth Debicki urges critics to stop complaining about show’s plotlines now producers have added disclaimer to latest trailer

Critics who have condemned The Crown for its portrayal of the Royal Family have been told to ‘move on’ by one of the show’s stars.

Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Princess Diana in the upcoming season of the Netflix show, said it was an ‘interpretation’ of events and ‘we can maybe stop talking’ about the controversy.

The streaming giant was recently forced by the row to add a disclaimer to its trailer for season five saying it was a ‘fictional dramatisation… inspired by real events’.

It followed accusations of callousness amid reports the show will recreate the Paris car chase that resulted in Diana’s death and scenes of young princes William and Harry following their mother’s coffin in a future season.

Crown's Diana: Critics who have condemned The Crown for its portrayal of the Royal Family have been told to ‘move on’ by one of the show’s stars Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Princess Diana

Crown’s Diana: Critics who have condemned The Crown for its portrayal of the Royal Family have been told to ‘move on’ by one of the show’s stars Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Princess Diana

But Miss Debicki, who features in new photos as Diana in Radio Times, told the magazine: ‘I respect people’s points of view and I, being an actor in the show, understand the nature of what the show is.

‘It was always very clear to me that one can never know what happens behind closed doors and that a writer is interpreting what may have happened.

‘Now the disclaimer is up there, we can maybe stop talking about it and move on. If that’s helpful for certain people, so be it, and now the conversation can be returned to the creative endeavour of what the show is.’

She added: ‘There’s a huge amount of room for interpretation and that’s the value and beauty of The Crown as well, that you receive a different message depending on who you are. That’s good drama to me.’

New series: It will document Diana’s split from the then Prince Charles. It includes a re-enactment of the moment the princess wore what became known as her ‘revenge dress’ (pictured)

New series: It will document Diana’s split from the then Prince Charles. It includes a re-enactment of the moment the princess wore what became known as her ‘revenge dress’ (pictured)

The new series, which begins next week, will document Diana’s split from the then Prince Charles. It includes a re-enactment of the moment the princess wore what became known as her ‘revenge dress’ – an off-the-shoulder silk number by Christina Stambolian. 

Diana wore it to a Vanity Fair party at the Serpentine Gallery in June 1994 on the same night a documentary was broadcast in which Prince Charles admitted to being unfaithful with Camilla.

Miss Debicki, who has replaced Emma Corrin as Diana, revealed she had been so nervous after accepting the role that she was unable to get on with simple chores at home. 

The Australian-born actress said: ‘My sister would find me staring at the sink full of dishes and would go, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” and I’d say, “I can’t do it. I don’t know how to do it.” 

‘It was enormous pressure. It feels insurmountable until the scripts get delivered to you and the entire process begins.’

Friends: Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull, who bonded over a shared passion for equestrian sport

Friends: Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull, who bonded over a shared passion for equestrian sport

The upcoming series covers the 1990s and will reportedly include controversial scenes such as a re-enactment of the ‘tampongate’ phone call between Charles and Camilla. 

Taped by an amateur radio enthusiast and leaked to the press, it recorded them discussing their intimate relationship.

Dominic West, who plays Prince Charles alongside Olivia Williams as Camilla, said his research on the 1993 scandal showed him ‘how badly Camilla was treated’.

‘I don’t think that would happen today. It happened for many reasons, one of them being she’s a woman,’ he added.

Striking resemblance: Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in a gold sweater vest

Striking resemblance: Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in a gold sweater vest

‘I remember thinking it was a sordid, embarrassing discussion but, revisiting it, I found it was just an intensely personal conversation, and what was sordid was the prurient interest in it.

‘It’s very sweet, tender and gauche but, like any intensely personal conversation, just not for public consumption.’

The series will also air fictional scenes in which Prince Charles discusses the possibility of the Queen’s abdication with Sir John Major, which the former prime minister has dismissed as ‘malicious nonsense’.

New pictures also show Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip with his confidante Penny Knatchbull, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, played by Natascha McElhone, on a carriage ride after the pair bonded in 1975 over their shared love for equestrian sport.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk