The people of the UK are in the midst of a challenging time.
Queen Elizabeth II, who was a quiet, electrifying presence in British life for 70 years, died in September. The country is on its third prime minister in as many months. The economy, shaken by inflation, Brexit and record energy costs, is in a desolate state.
You can also expect a new season of “The Crown”.
The Emmy-winning series about the reign of Elizabeth II returns to Netflix on Wednesday, just two months after the Queen’s death at the age of 96. The timing, while random, is undeniably unfavorable: just as 73-year-old King Charles III is finally settling into his role as monarch, the 10-episode season will transport viewers back to the most unseemly and turbulent chapter of his life.
Season 5 of The Crown spans much of the 1990s and dramatizes the very public dissolution of Charles’ marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, and the untold damage it has done to the monarchy.
Writer Peter Morgan delves into some of the most notorious scandals from the period, including Diana’s lengthy 1995 interview with BBC news reporter Martin Bashir, obtained using forged documents, and the incident known as Tampongate, which involved an intimate phone call leaked Prince Charles expressed his desire to become a hygiene product so he could live inside Camilla Parker Bowles, his longtime lover (now his second wife and Queen consort). Viewers are not only excited about the new cast – Dominic West as Charles, Imelda Staunton as Elizabeth and Elizabeth Debicki as Diana – but also excited to see how Morgan will navigate the melodramatic minefield of the ’90s.
Though these events have been chronicled countless times before in a slew of TV documentaries, podcasts, books and biopics, the who’s who of British society – including some former Prime Ministers and at least one Oscar winner – raged with pre-emptive outrage at “The Crown” and the Condemnation of a show most haven’t seen yet based on incomplete second-hand accounts. The drama, in her view, is nothing short of a monstrous carbuncle in the face of British society.
While the royal family has officially remained silent on the controversy, members are circling the floats.
“[Buckingham] Palace is obviously very sensitive to this as Charles is only just becoming king and is keen to build his own distinctive image as a monarch,” said Philip Murphy, director of history and politics at the Institute of Historical Research in London. “The events of the 1990s clearly don’t reflect him very well.”
At the time, the public was largely on Diana’s side “because she was young, beautiful and vivacious and Charles square, unattached, pompous and distant,” said Stephen Bates, author of Royalty Inc: Britain’s Best-Known Brand. a royal correspondent for the Guardian newspaper for more than a decade. “He was largely portrayed – certainly by the tabloids over here – as the villain of the play. He had a very slow rebuild dealing with his sons but also dealing with the British public which bothered him for a number of years.”
Three decades later, attitudes have changed.
Thanks to projects like “The Crown”, Diana is posthumously not considered a blushing naïve, but a woman who is as media-savvy and manipulative as she is attractive. The public that once despised Camilla for being the other woman has gradually accepted her and even admired her accessibility. (“She knows what it’s like to shop at a supermarket,” as Bates put it.) Charles earned high marks for leadership after the death of his mother.
That broader shift may explain the monarchist backlash against Season 5, which began when former Prime Minister John Major last month denounced “The Crown” as “a barrelload of nonsense.” Successor Tony Blair and royal biographers Jonathan Dimbleby and Sally Bedell Smith have since joined the chorus of naysayers.
Then Judi Dench, an international acting sweetheart who also happens to be friends with the royals, poured gas on the fire by publishing a letter in the Times of London. She criticized the series as “an inaccurate and hurtful portrayal of history” and called on Netflix to add a disclaimer to the new season “on behalf of a family and a nation recently betrayed, as a mark of respect for a sovereign who served.” has her people dutifully for 70 years and to uphold her own reputation in the eyes of her British subscribers.” And who among us wants to be on Dench’s bad side?
Conservative media outlets like the Daily Mail have been beating drums of outrage for weeks, churning out dozens of stories about the show and its creator’s alleged mendacity (while poring breathlessly over every detail of the lavish production). Even the Liberal Observer, hardly a bastion of monarchist sentiment, deemed the new season “so distasteful as to be enough to make the most staunch Republican wince in sympathy for the royals”.
The excitement has gotten so loud that Netflix has reportedly delayed the release of a docuseries about Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by a month lest the streaming service appear to be building a royal stack. It also added a brief note below the Season 5 trailer on YouTube describing The Crown as a “fictional dramatization.”
Much of the outrage centered on the first episode of the season, “Queen Victoria Syndrome”, which began in the early 1990s after the publication of a poll in the Sunday Times showing that a sizeable section of the public believed Elizabeth should be in favour abdicate by Charles.
In a private conversation, Charles Major, Britain’s new Prime Minister (played by Johnny Lee Miller), asks what he thinks of the election. He seems restless and whiny – not treacherous. At no point does he suggest overthrowing his mother or staging a coup, as has been reported.
Indeed, the possibility of Queen Elizabeth II’s abdication was widely publicized in those years; It is not difficult to imagine Charles discussing these reports with his colleagues. (According to a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, “Some British monarchists are even suggesting that the 65-year-old Queen, who has reigned since 1952, should abdicate within the next five or at most 10 years to make way for her son while he is still at the height of his physical and mental abilities.”)
The string of pearls has the appearance of a fabricated controversy – one that’s fueling ads for The Crown and page views for the British tabloid, while ignoring the myriad other projects that have already portrayed the Windsor family saga and occupied a much broader creative license to have. (To cite just two of many recent examples: “Spencer,” a gothic horror tale starring Kristen Stewart as the emotionally unstable Diana, and “The Windsors,” a satire airing on state-owned Channel 4 that portrays Camilla as a devious schemer .)
There is also a long, cherished tradition of dramatizing the British monarchy. “If you look at a Shakespearean play about a medieval British king, don’t expect it to be absolutely true,” Bates said, “and I think you should probably look at ‘The Crown’ as something similar.”
Thanks to a lucrative production deal Harry and Meghan signed with Netflix two years ago — shortly after they left official duties, headed to California and instantly became the villains in the royal family’s soap opera — the streaming service makes it a comfortable destination for royalist wrath. But the season’s worst moments are part of the historical record, not a product of Morgan’s imagination. Anyone with internet access can hear Charles cooing at Camilla or watch Diana spill her guts at Bashir whenever they want.
If anything, Charles should write a thank-you letter — and not just to the casting director who thought he should be played by the dashing west. Beginning with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Queen (2006), which offers a compassionate portrait of Elizabeth in the days after Diana’s death in 1997, Morgan has spent much of his career humanizing the royals as imperfect humans, dealing with the limits of life an unforgiving institution.
“The Crown,” which premiered in 2016, also breathed life into people who are often treated as caricatures. Ever since the adult Charles was introduced in Season 3 (then played by Josh O’Connor), Morgan has painted a more rounded portrait of the heir-waiting, as a literal young man pushed into an ill-conceived marriage by his parents.
In the new season’s fifth episode, “The Way Ahead,” he even manages to put a positive spin on the cheesy Tampongate debacle by describing the conversation between Charles and Camilla (played with earthy charm by Olivia Williams) as an odd one tender moment between two people who share a naughty joke that was never meant for the public. As if to make Morgan’s point clear, Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison) even praises her brother after the tapes come out for “being so wonderfully human and completely in love”. Improbably, the episode ends with Charles break-dancing to Eric B. & Rakim, while an afterword praises the billions of pounds his charitable organization, the Prince’s Trust, has given back to society.
Complaints about inaccuracies in The Crown also detract from a larger problem, Murphy says: a lack of access that makes it difficult for historians to write fact-based accounts and inevitably means dramatizations like the series will carry additional weight.
“Without a solid foundation of written evidence, the story of the Queen’s reign tends to operate at the level of anecdote and gossip,” Murphy said. “In this atmosphere, fictional narratives can easily merge with first-hand accounts and become part of the popular memory of a particular episode.”
But true historians, unlike some prominent royalists, are not too upset about The Crown or similar schemes, he added.
“They know that good history is very different from good drama.”
When: At any time. Season 5 starts on Wednesday
Valuation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-11-08/the-crown-season-5-controversy-queen-elizabeth-death-charles-diana-tampon Why ‘The Crown’ Season 5 has royal allies in an uproar