Editor’s Note: This story contains some spoilers about season 5 of “The Crown.”
“The Crown” has been criticized by some for making fiction appear to be fact.
Netflix’s incredibly popular retelling of the lives of the modern day British royal family is rife with drama – too much for some people’s liking.
Season 5 debuted Wednesday and it was controversial even before it premiered.
That’s because former British Prime Minister Sir John Major complained that a scene purporting to show him and then Prince Charles (played by Dominic West) discussing a plot to oust his mother Queen Elizabeth from the throne when Major was in office was a “barrel load of malicious nonsense.”
“No one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than I, but this cannot go unchallenged,” Dench wrote. “Despite this week stating publicly that The Crown has always been a “fictionalised drama” the programme makers have resisted all calls for them to carry a disclaimer at the start of each episode.”
But the series does feature some history that is factual – even if it does have the tendency to spice things up here and there.
Here are some examples, subtle and substantive, of where the show leans into actual history.
The series kicks off with the beloved royal couple heading off on what was supposed to be a romantic holiday, but doesn’t end up that way.
Granted we have no idea if a young Prince William and Prince Harry actually did ally with their mom over their dad on vacation activities, but the show does a pretty good job of documenting how unhappy Princess Diana and then Prince Charles were.
They cover it all – from Andrew Morton’s bombshell “Diana” book (which she cooperated on from behind the scenes) in 1996 to the utter cringe that was the leaking of then Prince Charles and his now wife Camilla’s salacious phone conversations that caused a huge controversy because of their infidelity.
One senses that as tortured as it’s portrayed on the screen, it was even worse for the couple in real life.
During the speech she made to mark her 40th anniversary on the throne, Queen Elizabeth makes a speech about the year 1992 being her “annus horribilis.”
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she said.
One of the reasons she had such an awful year was because of a fire at Windsor Castle that destroyed more than 100 rooms.
The fire is not a major storyline, but a scene showing Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth surveying the destruction seems to serve as a symbol of the troubles in her family and – by extension – her country.
Penny Knatchbull married the godson of the Duke of Edinburgh, but her friendship with Prince Phillip was solid in a way that went beyond that.
The series features Prince Phillip stepping in to help Knatchbull after a family tragedy which leads to years of them growing closer.
She became “the second-most important woman in the Duke of Edinburgh’s life — a constant confidante, loyal companion and ‘keeper of secrets’” Ingrid Seward wrote in her 2020 book “Prince Philip Revealed.”
“The Crown” makes a point to show that the much older Prince Phillip was not romantically involved with Knatchbull, but rather bonded over their common interests like carriage riding.
After Prince Charles admitted during an ITN documentary in 1994 that he had not been loyal to Princess Diana, she stepped out in a black, off the shoulder Christina Stambolian dress that was dubbed “the revenge dress.”
The now iconic scene is recreated in the show by Elizabeth Debicki, who is winning raves for her portrayal of Princess Diana.