The arrival of The Crown‘s fifth season couldn’t come at a more controversial time. Shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of her son Charles to the throne, Netflix has been accused of unleashing unto the masses a show that’s not only insensitive to historical accuracy but also damaging to the monarchy’s reputation. But should viewers even think of the series as a factual piece of work? To keep the long answer short: no.
Though The Crown is clearly based on real events involving the monarchy—especially the various scandals and rumors that have embroiled the royal family over the years, from Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s contentious marriage to Prince Philip’s alleged infidelity—the people behind the Emmy Award–winning show have made it clear that it’s also a work of fiction.
Showrunner Peter Morgan previously told The Hollywood Reporter, “I think when you’re doing a drama based on real people, real events, you have to constantly ask yourself where you stand in truth and accuracy, and what the responsibility of that is.”
He added that the truth gets even more blurred depending on which perspective from which historian you’re relying on. “I have to join the dots, and that’s where the act of imagination comes in,” he said. “I think that there’s a covenant of trust with an audience where they think, I’m watching something. … But too often I get shocked when people say, ‘Oh! But when that happened,’ and I go, ‘Well, no. Actually, I had to imagine that.'”
In past seasons of The Crown, Morgan took creative liberties with history to tell a more compelling story onscreen. For instance, Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s assistant, Venetia Scott, tragically dies after being struck by a bus in Season 1. But as it turns out, Venetia wasn’t a real person. And in Season 4, Charles and Diana’s first meeting—in which the prince happens upon a teenage Diana who’s dressed in a tree costume for A Midsummer Night’s Dream—was also an invented work of fiction, rather than a reflection of their real-life first encounter.
“There are two sorts of truth. There’s historical truth and then there’s the larger truth about the past,” Robert Lacey, The Crown‘s historical consultant, told Town and Country. “Peter is very, very insistent, and so am I, that this is not a history documentary. We’re not pretending this is a chronological record of those years. There are lots of documentaries that do that sort of thing. This is a drama which picks out particular objects.”
Season 5 of The Crown delves ever deeper into the drama of Charles and Diana’s divorce, the queen’s infamous “annus horribilis” speech, Diana’s budding romance with Dodi Al Fayed, Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’s so-called Tampongate, and more. Undoubtedly, the show will continue to take creative license with any and all of these affairs.
To further drive home its lack of commitment to historical accuracy, Netflix released an updated logline for the new season ahead of Season 5’s drop: “Inspired by real events, this fictional dramatisation tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and the political and personal events that shaped her reign.”
From Harper’s Bazaar US