New season of ‘The Crown’ set to air after backlash
The latest season of “The Crown” hits the small screen next week, with streaming giant Netflix adding a disclaimer after a furore over untrue storylines.
Series Five, which airs on Wednesday just over two months after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of her son King Charles III, sees the action move to the 1990s.
Princess Diana’s bombshell television interview, emotional turmoil and divorce from Charles are all documented, along with his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and tensions with his mother.
It was not clear, however, how the series deals with the death of Diana in a car crash in Paris in 1997 or if a disclaimer would be added before each episode.
Following outrage from prominent figures including Oscar-winning actor Judi Dench and Britain’s former prime minister John Major last month, Netflix added a description of the show as “inspired by real events” to its program page.
Dench blasted Netflix for “crude sensationalism” after reports of scenes showing Charles manoeuvring to force his mother’s abdication.
“No-one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than I, but this cannot go unchallenged,” wrote Dench, who won an Academy Award for playing Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love” and was nominated for her portrayal of Queen Victoria in “Mrs Brown”.
The strength of the criticism has forced Netflix to defend both itself and screenwriter Peter Morgan.
It said the series was not meant to be taken as fact but as an imagining of “what could have happened behind closed doors”.
Its stars too have rallied to its defence, with Diana actress Elizabeth Debicki calling for people to move on “now the disclaimer is up there”.
“There’s a huge amount of room for interpretation,” the Australian actress said.
“That’s good drama to me.”
Jonathan Pryce, who plays the queen’s husband Prince Philip, even went as far as to criticise his fellow actors.
Pryce said he was “hugely disappointed by my fellow artistes” after acting powerhouses Eileen Atkins and Harriet Walter, both of whom have appeared in “The Crown”, expressed reservations.
“The vast majority of people know it’s a drama. They’ve been watching it for four seasons,” Pryce said.
But with most of the royals depicted still alive and an apparent upping of the creative licence, even a disclaimer may be too little for critics who accuse Morgan of an undeclared anti-monarchist agenda.
Television reviewer Christopher Stevens, who saw an eight-and-a-half-hour preview, wrote this week that “the sheer virulence” of the latest story lines was becoming “shockingly clear”.
The show, he said, was now unrecognizable compared to the first series in 2016.
“The Crown” was now “a nakedly republican polemic, using embarrassment as its chief weapon against the monarchy”, he wrote in the Daily Mail.
Writer and royal biographer William Shawcross said the plotlines were deliberately hurtful attempts to damage the institution of the monarchy – “something that millions of ordinary people treasure”.
“I think a lot of people do (believe them), why would they not? They see this beautifully produced thing… Most people in the world don’t have any other yardstick. It’s terribly dishonest,” he told AFP.
He said Netflix had taken advantage of the unique position in which the royal family found themselves.
“Almost any other living family is in a position to complain or stop or sue. The royal family don’t have the right or the ability to do that,” he said.
Philip Murphy, of the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research, however, said the royal family’s plight was “partly” their own fault.
The palace had made “strenuous efforts to prevent historians from gaining access to records on the queen’s 70-year reign”, he said in a letter to The Times.
“If scholars are unable to write an accurate history of the monarchy, the field will be left to dramatists and to those with vested interests in leaking information,” he wrote.