Does it Matter if The Crown is Historically Accurate? – Liberal Article
It was bound to happen eventually. The Netflix sensation of The Crown has begun to ruffle the feathers of the people it is portraying. The dramatized, semi-biographical series has just released it’s fourth season which has been met with praise and concern. (Quick warning, there might be spoilers in this article. To the extent that you can spoil history…)
We are now getting to the juicy bits of Royal affairs; Margaret Thatcher’s tumultuous relationship with the Queen, the three-way drama that was Diana, Charles and Camilla, as well as being introduced to some very angering portrayals of Prince Edward and Prince Andrew.
Royal commentators were quick to point out that this season had made far more use of their creative licence than the previous three. Some have called for the programme to contain a fiction warning. It is easy to see where they are coming from. By all accounts the majority of Diana and Thatcher’s storylines have been manipulated to better fit a dramatic story. However, The Crown has never been framed or marketed as a documentary. Peter Morgan, the show’s creator, frequently reminds viewers in interviews that it is not an entirely accurate portrayal.
So, should it have a fiction warning?
I think “fiction” might be a stretch. However, I think more needs to be done to highlight the fact it was never meant to be accurate either. While the show might not be entirely true to life, the storylines do contain truths. Diana really was that sad, and Thatcher and the Queen did disagree. Princess Margaret might not have had anything to do with the Bowes-Lyon sisters, but they did exist.
The Crown is not and never was meant to be a ringing endorsement of the Monarchy; it has always been a dramatization of the supposed actions behind the scenes. A portrayal of a family navigating a changing world and a monarch sitting atop a declining nation. It hasn’t shied away from difficult points in the Monarchy’s past either. The series has covered events such as Edward VIII’s pro-Nazi sympathies, and Lord Mountbatten’s involvement in a coup attempt.
The Crown has also done a good job so far of effectively portraying the queen as a complex character, contrary to her steely exterior. While the inaccuracies prevent The Crown from ever being included as a GCSE History resource, it is nonetheless an introduction to the lives of people who have fascinated generations.
This season was always going to be contentious. After all, the decade in which the season took place is one of the most contentious in modern history. Anything with Thatcher in it is contentious. Anything with Princess Diana in it is even more so. Yes, there had to be some artistic licence in order to condense a decade into 10 hours, and some more to build drama and suspense. However, it would be wrong to fully throw The Crown in with “fiction” alongside Harry Potter or Star Wars.
These are real events and real people; not fantasy. Yes, they don’t paint the monarchy in the best light, but frankly, that is the point. The producers were truly in between a rock and a hard place with this season. If they downplayed Thatcher and the very real economic crises of her tenure it would have lost the cinematic juxtaposition of the poverty of the working classes against the affluent abundance of the Monarchy. Without exploring Diana’s struggles with mental health and the relationship between Charles and Camilla, The Crown would have missed a fundamentally defining part of the modern Monarchy.
The need to remind people that The Crown is not entirely accurate is important as it is how most of the public learn of the royal dramas that have occurred. It is, after all, entertainment. However, to go as far as calling it fiction is to shield them too greatly from rightful criticism.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones
Point of Information
Is historical inaccuracy in The Crown the main problem for viewers? – A Conservative Response
Daniel does a great job of highlighting the power that television has in criticising historical and political events. The Crown has done this particularly well, much to many people’s dismay. The critical aspect running through the first 3 seasons was an attribute that I personally appreciated a lot as a spectator. It added a quality of humanness to the Royal Family which I found lacking in previous documentation of them.
I do, however, question how much the criticism of season 4 is an issue of historical inaccuracy or of temporal distance from such events. Yes, Peter Morgan certainly used his creative license a lot more than he had done beforehand. However, I strongly believe that it is the personal association with these moments of history that viewers may struggle to view in a critical way.
It begs the question: how long must we wait before it is acceptable to document historical moments with the intent of entertaining?
This brings me to what Daniel describes as “a dramatization of the supposed actions behind the scenes”, of which I completely agree. The Crown never claims to be historically accurate. It is ultimately a drama with the sole purpose of entertainment. However, one must not underestimate the significance that the drama has in the wider understanding of these moments of history.
In January 2020, Netflix announced that 73 million households had watched the series since it began in 2016. There is clearly a huge international interest in one of the most famous Royal Families. It is also important to recognise the large scale of production and how that might impact the way that the moments in the series are received. The quality of production can lead to it being viewed as more historically accurate than it really is. Whether this is the responsibility of the creators, however, is another discussion.
I agree with Daniel in saying that a disclaimer labelling the series as fictional would very much be a sweeping statement. The series covers a range of events that really did happen. There should, however, be a disclaimer stressing that the show is based on historical events. I believe that there is some duty from the creators to acknowledge the influence that the show can have on public perceptions of the Royal Family and their history.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Is this really all about historical accuracy? – A Labour Response
I broadly agree with Daniel’s article. The addition of a “fiction warning” is surely unnecessary for a drama that has never claimed to be historically accurate. On Netflix, the show is listed as a drama. Moreover, as Daniel points out, a fiction warning would be ill-suited because the show is certainly not entirely fiction. Rather, The Crown is the result of the artistic license necessary to make an engaging drama with just ten episodes per season.
I have found the concern raised by the latest season quite bizarre. One friend of Prince Charles went as far to claim that director Peter Morgan is using the Crown to drive a “republican agenda”. However, given that there were little issues with Peter Morgan’s prior work, The Queen (2006), or even the prior three seasons of The Crown, this seems strange. In reality, such an allegation against Morgan is likely driven by the importance of the public perception of the events covered in the latest season to the Windsors.
Given Charles is next in line to be king, his popularity among the public is very important to the Royal Family. And although The Crown does not portray him positively in his treatment of Diana and the breakdown of their marriage, I am unconvinced a documentary would either. Considering both his affair with Camilla and apparent lack of care for his wife’s wellbeing, perhaps the “facts” also don’t portray Charles in a positive light.
Moreover, this spotlight on his relationship with Camilla must also trouble the Royal Family. Should Charles become King, it remains unclear how they will deal with Camilla’s divorced status. The Royal Family has faced similar issues from the abdication of King Edward VIII, although a long time ago. The public perception of Prince Charles and Camilla’s long relationship certainly matters.
Therefore, the real reason there has been much contention over the latest season is more because of what’s at stake for the monarchy. Not because of a lack of historical accuracy. Furthermore, I find it slightly alarming that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden finds time to call for a “fiction warning” in a drama. We are currently in a time where our theatres and music industries are in an unprecedented crisis. Surely he has more important jobs at hand?
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Brian Byrne
I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.
I am a third year student studying English and Film Studies at the University of Exeter. After completing my degree, I will be converting to law to begin my journey of becoming a commercial lawyer. As an avid reader of the Financial Times, I have begun to understand how important the commercial market is in forming global politics.