Prince Charles blistering attack on The Crown

Engagement to enragement: Joseph O’Connor as Prince Charles and Emma Corrin as Diana. © Netflix

Has Netflix gone too far? The new series of The Crown, depicting the Prince of Wales’s troubled first marriage, has been widely criticised, and he himself is said to be furious about it.

Diana, Princess of Wales is remembered as one of the most beautiful and glamorous women of modern times. But the new series of the Crown paints her story in a darker light of infidelity, lies and palace plotting.

The Netflix drama, tracing the story of the British monarchy since the childhood of the present Queen, has been hugely successful. The critics agree: it has an excellent cast and is brilliantly directed. Some of the content of the earlier series may have raised eyebrows – such as the portrayal of Princess Margaret’s wild behaviour and hints of the Duke of Edinburgh having affairs. But as the programme depicted events that took place a very long time ago, the general feeling was that it did not particularly matter.

Season four is a different case entirely. It deals with events that many remember vividly, and whose reverberations are still felt by people very much alive today.

It raises two questions: how accurate are the scenes depicted – and should they have been depicted at all?

The undisputed facts are that Prince Charles’s marriage to Lady Diana Spencer went badly wrong. Both became very unhappy, and both had affairs – Charles with Camilla Parker-Bowles, an ex-girlfriend who later became his second wife, and Diana with more than one man. The royal couple had separated, though not divorced, by the time Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997.

Who was responsible for the marriage’s failure is hotly disputed. Friends of the royal family have spoken out against The Crown’s portrayal of Diana as an innocent young woman horribly mistreated by Charles, Camilla (now the Duchess of Cornwall) and the whole Buckingham Palace hierarchy. The fact that they have commented at all is remarkable, since courtiers usually maintain a strict silence.

“The new series paints the Prince and Duchess in a very unflattering light, but at least at the start of reality shows like The Only Way Is Essex they admit that some scenes have been invented for entertainment,” said one.

“There is no sense of telling carefully nuanced stories – it's all very two-dimensional. This is trolling with a Hollywood budget. The public shouldn't be fooled into thinking this is an accurate portrayal of what really happened”.

“These events are not the history of 100 or even 50 years ago. The pain is still raw and not enough time has elapsed,” said another. “Fiction becomes more attractive than fact, and to dramatise these painful events of marriage breakdowns and children upset is very insensitive”.

The series is particularly unwelcome for Charles and Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. William is reported to feel that “both his parents are being exploited and being presented in a false, simplistic way to make money”. Harry is in a difficult position because he and his wife Meghan have agreed to make a documentary with Netflix about their lives, for a fee said to be $100 million.

Has Netflix gone too far?

Prince of wails

Some say, no: The Crown is billed as a “drama that follows the political rivalries and romance of Elizabeth II's reign”, not a factual documentary. The basic story of the royal marriage is already widely known, and most viewers are intelligent enough to take this interpretation with a pinch of salt. Shakespeare took liberties with the facts in his history plays, and nobody minds about that.

Others argue that Netflix would never rake over the secrets of another living person’s marriage in the same way. They have singled the royal family out for this horribly intrusive and unfair treatment because they know they are very unlikely to be sued. Charles, William and Harry should be left in peace, not forced to think about a hugely painful episode in their lives.

You Decide

  1. Can an outsider ever really understand what goes on within a family?
  2. Is the whole idea of a monarchy outdated?

Activities

  1. The royal wedding in 1981 spawned a huge number of souvenirs, from mugs to tea towels. Design a souvenir to celebrate an important event in your own family.
  2. Write a scene for a TV drama in which the Prince of Wales meets the director of The Crown in a Knightsbridge restaurant.

Some People Say...

“Privacy – like eating and breathing – is one of life's basic requirements.”

Katherine Neville (1945-), American writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the series has gone to great lengths to get period details right, but not stuck to the historical facts. One scene shows Diana, just after her engagement has been announced, having lunch with Camilla at a Knightsbridge restaurant, and being very upset by what she learns of Camilla’s close relationship with Charles. In fact the lunch took place after Diana and Charles’s wedding, and according to the restaurant’s owner the conversation was “very amiable”.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether the writer of the series has manipulated the story to suit his own political agenda. Peter Morgan has admitted to republican sympathies and described the Queen as a “countryside woman of limited intelligence who would have much preferred looking after her dogs and breeding horses to being queen”. He has also compared the monarchy to “survival organisms, like a mutating virus”.

Word Watch

Princess Margaret
The Queen’s younger sister, who died in 2002. She had an unhappy marriage to a leading photographer, Lord Snowdon.
Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen’s husband, now 99. He was originally a member of the Greek and Danish royal families, and served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War.
Lady Diana Spencer
The daughter of an earl, she was 20 when she married Charles, who was 12 years older than her.
Car crash
Her car crashed in a tunnel in Paris while trying to escape press photographers.
Hierarchy
A system in which some people are senior to others. It was originally a religious term applied to angels or priests.
Nuanced
With different shades. It derives from a French word for cloud.

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