By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Netflix series The Crown will undoubtedly gain more attention this year, as its fifth season, to be released today (9), comes just months after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, after which the throne passed to her son Charles.
The season will look at the British royal family in the 90s, with focus on the relationship between Charles and Diana. The synopsis for the season is: “It’s a new decade, and the royal family are facing what may be their biggest challenge yet: Proving their continued relevance in 90s Britain. As Diana and Charles wage a media war, cracks begin to splinter the royal foundation.”
Concerns have been raised about the accuracy of this portrayal and if the line between fact and fiction will blur significantly. In fact, when the trailer was released on 20 October, Netflix added the disclaimer: “Inspired by real events, this fictional dramatisation tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and the political and personal events that shaped her reign.”
BBC stated that while such language has been used in press statements before, no previous trailers or synopsis descriptions have carried the word fictional.
While each era depicted by previous seasons of The Crown have each given us a closer look at the events that take place within Buckingham Palace as well as the relationships between the various characters, season five gives us more of Diana, who has remained a popular figure in the UK as well as the rest of the world, and her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997 led to extensive public mourning and media attention globally.
In the latest season of The Crown, Imelda Staunton will play Queen Elizabeth II, Jonathan Pryce will play Prince Philip, Dominic West will play Charles, and Olivia Williams will play Camilla Parker Bowles.
Elizabeth Debicki will play Diana, which many fans of The Crown are looking forward to seeing. In the trailer for season five, we see a recreation of the 1995 interview of Diana with Martin Bashir. In the trailer, Diana tells Bashir, played by Prasanna Puwanarajah: “I won’t go quietly, I’ll battle until the end.” In real life, Princess Diana did not say that in the interview.
BBC recently highlighted that younger audiences are likely to have their views of the British royal family “heavily influenced” by the series, since they don’t have first-hand memories of the 90s.
“I think it’s very likely that these Netflix films will be taken as a quasi-documentary,” said University of London Centre for the Study of the Modern Monarchy at Royal Holloway Professor Pauline Maclaran, adding that it is a known fact that the royals are much less popular with this generation.
Prof. Maclaran went on to say: “They are likely to understand Diana as the victim of Charles’ treatment of her.”
In the days leading to the airing of season five, several calls were made to include a disclaimer so viewers would know the series is not 100% historically accurate. One such call came from actress Judi Dench, who is close to Charles and the British Queen Consort. In a letter to The Times, Dench wrote: “While many will recognise The Crown for the brilliant but fictionalised account of events that it is, I fear that a significant number of viewers, particularly overseas, may take its version of history as being wholly true.”
She adds: “Given some of the wounding suggestions apparently contained in the new series — that King Charles plotted for his mother to abdicate, for example, or once suggested his mother’s parenting was so deficient that she might have deserved a jail sentence — this is both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.”
While saying that no one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than she is, the actress goes on to say that this cannot go unchallenged, and asks that a disclaimer is added at the start of each episode.
Former UK Prime Minister Sir John Major, played by Johnny Lee Miller in the fifth season of The Crown, is quoted as calling a scene depicting a plot to oust Elizabeth II as “a barrel-load of malicious nonsense”.
Major was Prime Minister at the time, and the scene is said to include a conversation between him and Charles, when he was the Prince of Wales; but his office told the media that such a discussion never occurred.
“Sir John has not co-operated in any way with The Crown. Nor has he ever been approached by them to fact-check any script material in this or any other series,” a statement from his office read, adding: “As you will know, discussions between the monarch and Prime Minister are entirely private and – for Sir John – will always remain so. But not one of the scenes you depict are accurate in any way whatsoever. They are fiction, pure and simple.”
Meanwhile, Malcom Rifkind, who was Foreign Secretary under Major, also criticised the show, telling The Mail on Sunday that the scene in question was “pathetic and absurd”.
Netflix defends the series
Despite the criticism, Netflix has defended The Crown, with a spokesperson for the show saying the series has always been presented as a drama based on historical events.
“Series five is a fictional dramatisation, imagining what could have happened behind closed doors during a significant decade for the royal family – one that has already been scrutinised and well-documented by journalists, biographers, and historians,” the spokesperson added.
Last year, Prince Harry said in an interview that the show gave one a rough idea of what life was like as a member of the royal family.
“They (referring to The Crown) don’t pretend to be news. It’s fictional. But it’s loosely based on the truth. Of course, it’s not strictly accurate, of course not, but loosely it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle is, the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, and what can come from that,” he added.