The Deceptive Crown
I love The Crown, but it's time to stop taking the outstanding TV Show as the gospel truth and historically fact.
NOVEMBER 14th, 2020
here is no denying the magnificence of Netflix’s lavish and unmissable series The Crown. The story of Queen Elizabeth’s reign is one of opulence, majesty, duty and drama. Peter Morgan’s universally praised series pulls back the curtain on an institution which is defining of the country it resides over. Yet, whilst many in the UK can effectively determine between what is fact and fiction, there are some fans across the world who hang onto every word the scriptwriters write and conclude creative license as historical accuracy. For the past three series this outlook hasn’t proved much of a problem, yet as The Crown enters modern history – one which many duly remember – could fantasy begin to impact on reality?
Tomorrow, season four is released on to the hugely successful streaming service, and after much anticipation, the Diana years are finally upon us. For many fans, specifically in the U.S., this is the period of the Queen’s reign they have been waiting for. Diana was a gamechanger within the world of royalty – her fashion, personal approach, charitable endeavours and star quality were elements which came to define her fifteen years as the Princess of Wales. But whilst some commentary has painted her as a saint or victim of an abusive marriage and family, the reality is much more complex and nuanced.
First and foremost, Diana was not a saint. Similarly, to her brother’s own eulogy at her funeral in 1997, he described the need to not canonize her memory. “Indeed, to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of you being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humour with a laugh that bent you double,” he said.
Although the great qualities the late Princess practised are forever cherished, this “perfect princess” ideology wasn’t the secret to her success, or the result of her everlasting stance in history. Diana was flawed, human and made mistakes – she willingly and naively played the media at their own games, as well as her husband. This more manipulative streak has never been fully explored before, and whilst season four of The Crown touches on it, the writers fail to take the plunge.
To an extent, there could be fear of a backlash; of a rebuttal which unfairly damages the idealistic version of a woman so famous that the series could flop. To continue the age-old narrative of “Diana the Victim” and “Charles the Villain” is much more certain to satisfy the masses than to take a different route. Yet, we must remember that almost twenty-five years have passed since Diana’s untimely death, and much more is now known of her marriage to Charles and the rudiments of which lead to the fracturing of a royal fairy tale.
The reality is, Diana was not solely a victim, and neither was Charles a villain – these are labels which are shared by both parties, but neither are defined by them. Diana was complex, an enigma who was greatly misunderstood by the palace. The pressures placed upon her tender shoulders at such a young and important age were unsurmountable. Yet the only options available to her were simply to either sink or swim. It is obvious in the evolved treatment and care offered to the Duchess of Cambridge that the Royal Family have perhaps accepted that – in areas – they got it wrong with Diana.
But we must also acknowledge that Charles was also neglected. Here was a man destined to be King, and although a lifetime of pressurised expectation eases with age, and every aspect of his life is planned and scheduled in some way; the impact of entering, what is in effect, an arranged marriage also devastated the wellbeing and happiness of the sensitive prince. No one can deny that there were factors pushing and pulling the future king towards a direction he never fully felt comfortable occupying.
Perhaps what is most frustrating around the storytelling of Charles and Diana, is the emotional turmoil experienced by the Prince of Wales has never been fully explored or explained. It has seemed much easier to typecast Charles as the villain; a cruel adulterer who never loved his wife and wished to see her fail at every turn.
But this isn’t true, and neither is it fair. Both parties partook in extramarital affairs and only once their marriage had irrevocably broken down. For Charles, Camilla was always regarded as his true love, the woman who ultimately completed him. Diana, sadly, never lived long enough to achieve such relationship happiness, and yet, it is wholly unfair to claim that neither Charles nor Diana never loved one another – they did. In fact, the Princess herself admitted that there was a time when the couple were truly happy, and even in the last few months of her life, she had come to accept Camilla in her ex-husband’s life and both parties were on good terms.
The accusation that Charles revelled in the missteps of his wife are also unfounded, and once again, the reality is much different to the fantasy. For those who followed the couple whether as staff or press, the prince was overjoyed at the positive reaction to his new wife. He adored her sense of humour and her loving skills as a mother, and whilst jealousy was a by-product of human stubborn pride, Diana’s success was paired with his own – if one failed, they both did.
However, this reality doesn’t make good television, and of course that is understandable. The Crown’s producers know that with Diana finally on the scene, the story can effectively write itself and audiences will lap up the drama with aplomb. Although by playing to the unquestioned narrative, there could be genuine blowback against The Prince of Wales, which is wholly unwarranted and has potential real-world repercussions.
Amongst the public, there has been an undercurrent of preference for Prince William to take over as monarch once the Queen’s reign ends – effectively bypassing the crowning of King Charles III. This partnered with William’s overwhelming popularity and youth, many see him as the true future of The Royal Family. Of course, there is an element of truth to this. For palace aides, William’s time on the throne will most likely impact the structure of the monarchy greater than his father’s, due to the expected length of his reign. But Charles’ favourability with the public has skyrocketed in recent years. We have seen how close the Prince of Wales is with his sons, and how his skills as a loving father have helped shape both William’s and Harry’s approach to life.
Most have put the ghosts of the past behind them, and finally the qualities with which the Prince of Wales should have always been judged by are reaping the spotlight. The Crown, however, could easily force them back into the shade.
Furthermore, Charles has never truly spoken about his marriage to Diana in great detail. Much of the narrative we have been told is acutely recounted from the Princess’ perspective. Whether it was briefing the press, talking to journalists, conspiring with Andrew Morton on an explosive biography or even sitting down with Martin Bashir in a history defining interview, Diana actively pursued to have her side of the story told.
What is obvious is that The Crown has used Diana’s narrative as the source of material for much of their “War of the Wales” plotline, and whilst it is understandably much more dramatic and detailed, and of course The Crown is a drama, will many be able to look beyond the spectacle and see the truth?
We should hope so, as although the narrative would be unfair to Charles, it would also be to Diana. Yes, the Princess had her struggles – most noticeably, suffering from bulimia – but she was a strong woman and far from the damsel in distress The Crown, or even herself, painted her as. She revolutionised what it meant to be a princess; her compassion and charitable accomplishments were fundamental to the progression of a more open and modern monarchy, and she was a phenomenal mother to her sons.
The Crown is a wonderful television show, but it is a show – it is not a documentary, and neither should it be treated as one. Although all the characters are real and based on real-life experiences, there has to be an area for creative license. No one really knows what went on with Charles and Diana, and no matter how long or forensically we speculate, the truth will always allude us in some circumstances. But irrespective of the narrative that is followed within the ten episodes of The Crown, we would better honour the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the role of the Prince of Wales to the country and Commonwealth, by accepting and understanding that reality is very different to fantasy, and that The Crown is an outstanding television show – and nothing more.
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