It’s a right royal scandal - as fake storylines tarnish The Crown. Kerry Parnell is not amused
When the highly-anticipated season four of The Crown launched this month, Netflix no doubt expected it to be received as rapturously as the previous three.
But while critics raved about the performance of newcomer Emma Corrin, who dazzled as the young Diana, and were complimentary about Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher, it’s the plot that has infuriated palace insiders. Because writer Peter Morgan appears to have lost it.
They say the truth is stranger than fiction, so the question is, why did he need to make so much up? The Crown season four is packed full of so many inaccuracies, unconvincing dialogue and historical revisionism that those close to the Royal Family are demanding a disclaimer be put on the show.
Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, says he’s worried younger viewers – especially American audiences - can’t tell fact from fiction. “The worry for me is that people see a programme like that and they forget that it is fiction,” he told ITV’s Love Your Weekend. “Americans tell me they have watched The Crown as if they have taken a history lesson. Well, they haven’t.”
It’s an issue that’s concerning many. Political journalist Andrew Marr has called it “grossly unfair and really quite sadistic,” The Mail on Sunday launched a campaign to get Netflix to label the series fiction and even Julian Fellowes, who knows all about how to write an upper-class drama with Downton Abbey, disapproves, telling the newspaper, “I can’t help feeling that the very brilliant programme makers sometimes forget that these are real people and they are leading real lives.”
The Queen’s former press secretary, Dickie Arbiter, also says The Crown has gone completely over the top on dramatic license and “should be viewed as, at most, fiction and entertainment, nothing more.”
In the first two seasons, we fell in love with Claire Foy and Matt Smith’s young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But Peter Morgan has turned them into emotionally-devoid caricatures - Olivia Colman’s Queen is actually horrible. And it’s never a good thing if your audience actively detests the protagonists. “I think it’s a mistake to assume that people are feeling any sympathy for us at all,” she says in episode six. It’s a mistake to assume we didn’t.
The arrival of Princess Diana seems to have clouded Morgan’s vision. Revisiting the sorry story four decades later does make it even more poignant, but The Crown’s Diana is portrayed as a one-dimensional victim. And Prince Charles has gone from sympathetic anti-hero to an all-out Iceman, torturing his young bride.
The Royal Family have become ogres, scoffing at Margaret Thatcher at Balmoral, then berating Diana for cocking up her curtsies. But Diana grew up on the Sandringham Estate, her father was an equerry to George VI and the Queen; she knew all the etiquette. She was no Meghan, which we’re clearly meant to think.
The invented conversations are clumsy, such as the imaginary last letter from Lord Mountbatten and Philip arguing with Charles over stealing his affection.
Then there’s the content they miss out. Fair enough, they can’t show every event in history, but they shouldn’t change it. The Falklands War is weirdly relegated to a sub-plot to Michael Fagan’s 1982 Buckingham Palace break-in. We’re told The Queen’s favourite child is Prince Andrew, so you’d think it would be pertinent that he served in the Falklands War and came back a hero. But no, he’s been cancelled in real life, so we must delete his history too. It is an inconvenient truth.
Some 255 British servicemen and 650 Argentinians lost their lives, but anyone too young to remember that, or know their history, would have no idea from watching The Crown season four.
Likewise, Charles wasn’t seeing Camilla from the start of his marriage – but social media is already full of people swearing he was, because they saw it on The Crown. And that’s why it’s more than a drama - it’s dangerous.
Here’s a news flash: we understand people are nuanced and can do both good and bad. If you are making a drama about historical events, keep the events real and elaborate around them. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in fake news. And a character assassination.
* For the hottest palace news, curated every week, sign up to Kerry Parnell's newsletter The Royal List. Kerry is the royal correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph, Sydney and News Corp Australia
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