The Crown has caught up to the ’80s, and some royal watchers aren’t too happy with what they’ve seen.
As the Netflix show delves into the personal lives and public actions of people still in memory, some are pushing back against the “wild cruel distortions” the series created as it shifts focus to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
“Clearly, insiders briefing on the royals’ behalf have taken offence at some of the content, particularly that relating to the Prince of Wales,” said Camilla Tominey, a royal correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, in an interview with CBC News.
She was referring to Charles, who married Diana in 1981 before they divorced in 1996.
“They think he’s being really harshly depicted and that Diana is, effectively, being characterized as some kind of angel.”
WATCH | Official trailer for Season 4 of The Crown:
The show launched its fourth season on Netflix on Nov. 15 and takes place over 40 years past where it began in its first season. Season 4 introduced Diana, which Tominey said, has drawn much of the criticism, as parts veer from history quickly.
“The depiction of Princess Diana is accurate in the first instance in her being quite childlike and giggly and sort of in love,” Tominey said. “But it depicts the relationship as being difficult from the very beginning. Well, that’s not quite the case.”
Other aspects that deviate from historical fact is the portrayal of Thatcher, who joined the show in Season 4. Played by British actor Gillian Anderson, the late prime minister’s depiction was criticized almost immediately.
Andrew Bridgen, a British Conservative MP, said the way the show illustrated Thatcher’s decision to go to war with Argentina due to the disappearance of her son Mark was “utter rubbish.” Tim Montgomerie, a Conservative commentator, called it an “absurd, hateful portrayal.”
I can’t bear to watch any more of The Crown and its absurd, hateful portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. Such a shame.
Hugo Vickers, historian and author of The Crown Dissected, also found Thatcher’s role in the show difficult to watch, particularly a plot line in which Queen Elizabeth leaks a story through her press secretary, Michael Shea, that she is in deep disagreement with Thatcher.
While the real article — published in a July 1986 edition of the Sunday Times — did damage the relationship between the two women, Vickers said the true lead-up to the event was “absolutely the opposite.”
While Shea did leak the story, Vickers said, it had nothing to do with the Queen, who was upset about the move as “she would never ever betray her prime minister in that way.”
“That’s what’s so disgraceful, because people always believe it’s true, because The Crown is very well put together,” said Vickers. “It’s lavishly produced. It’s beautifully acted. It’s a well-written script. So, of course, you can’t just dismiss it as tabloid rubbish.”
“People will now go around believing that the Queen hated Margaret Thatcher and wanted the world to know this, which is absolutely untrue.”
It’s these changes, interspersed with real events and still-living figures, that have some upset. Tominey noted that, as earlier seasons were “much more true to detail” and dealt mostly with characters who have died, the “overly caricatured” nature of the current season stands out.
For their part, the actors in The Crown have generally defended the decisions made by creator and writer Peter Morgan.
WATCH | Josh O’Connor on his experience portraying Prince Charles:
“There’s a weird kind of disconnect between the character that myself and Peter Morgan have created and the real Prince Charles.… I was never trying to make it too accurate,” Josh O’Connor, who plays Charles, told CBC News in an interview prior to the release of Season 4.
“That’s what Peter Morgan does so well on The Crown, is that he humanizes the superhuman.”
Likewise, in an earlier interview, Emma Corrin — who plays Diana — called Morgan “a genius,” for his ability to take the historical events of the members of the Royal Family and “completely strip it back to a very relatable human experience.”
Morgan himself has defended the show’s fictionalized aspects. In the first episode of Season 4, Charles’s great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in a letter accuses him of bringing “ruin and disappointment” on their family, for pursuing the then-married Camilla Parker Bowles.
In the show, Charles receives the letter just after the IRA assassinates Mountbatten in August 1979.
In reality, there is no evidence such a letter existed. In a podcast released the same day as the series aired, Morgan argued that even though he “made up” the scene, he believes the sentiment is real.
“I think everything that’s in the letter that Mountbatten writes to his great nephew Charles is what I really believe,” Morgan said, “you know, based on everything I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to, that that represents his view.”
Vickers said he appreciates the use of artistic licence, but there is still the risk of vilifying real people for the sake of a story — particularly Charles.
The Royal Family itself has mostly refrained from commenting, though the Queen’s communications secretary did release a statement saying, “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 program’s accuracy.”