The Crown is lauded for its dramatization of history, but some aspects of the show are not entirely accurate, according to historians. The Crown Season 4 dropped on Netflix this weekend, sending many fans spiraling back down a rabbit hole of recent British history. For those who want the full picture, it's worth looking at some of the Netflix original series' inaccuracies.
The Crown takes pains to stick as close as possible to true history, but it needs to take liberties from time to time for one reason or another. In some cases, the show fills in the blanks where objective information is not available or else makes guesses about certain characters' emotional states at certain times. In other cases, the show may portray events according to one account, ignoring contradictory versions of history from equally reliable sources. Of course, there are also cases where the show alters the facts for dramatic effect.
The Crown has largely been praised for its portrayal so far, and it has clearly made a significant impression on fans. It has introduced a whole new generation to some of the biggest scandals of the 20th century, in a way modern audiences are prepared to absorb. The show is planned for five seasons in total, and Season 4 introduces some new characters that will be vital going forward.
As historically accurate as it strives to be, at the end of the day, The Crown is a dramatization. Here is a look at some of the show's most objective inaccuracies so far.
In Season 1, Episode 4, "Act of God," a character named Venetia Scott becomes the lynchpin of the debate about the smog falling over London, England. In actuality, Scott was just that: a character — not a historical figure.
In the show, Scott is Prime Minister Winston Churchill's personal secretary, and she is killed by a bus that she does not see coming in the fog. This scenario was a way for the writers to personify the London smog issue, but there was not a single person that pushed the government into action in reality. Instead, Churchill's administration reacted slowly simply because it was ill-equipped for this then-unprecedented problem.prevnext
Speaking of Churchill, the show misrepresented his relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. In Season 1 of the show, Churchill and the queen seem to have a tense, combative relationship, but they had a friendly rapport in real life by most accounts. Queen Elizabeth, herself, once told The Sunday Post that Churchill was her favorite prime minister of her lifetime, "because he was so much fun."prevnext
Prince Philip and Prince Charles
It is hard to know when The Crown is exaggerating or misrepresenting the dynamic of relationships behind closed doors. But in the case of Prince Philip and Prince Charles, it seems relatively clear that they missed the mark. In Season 2, Episode 9, Prince Philip called his son "bloody weak" and appeared to be cold and distant towards him. There was nothing to back this version of their relationship up, and the royal family was reportedly upset by it.
After Season 2 aired, a palace insider told Glamour: "The queen realizes that many who watch The Crown take it as an accurate portrayal of the royal family and she cannot change that... she was very upset by the way Prince Philip is depicted as being a father insensitive to his son's well-being. She was particularly annoyed at a scene in which Philip has no sympathy for a plainly upset Charles while he is flying him home from Scotland. That simply did not happen."prevnext
The Aberfan Disaster
Season 3, Episode 3 turned the "Aberfan disaster" into a personal trial for Queen Elizabeth II, but some critics argued that it downplayed the incident's real political implications. It was about a mining accident in Aberfan, Wales, that took 144 lives, and in it, the queen struggles to project a public emotional response that will satisfy the nation.
In reality, the queen was criticized for taking eight days to visit Aberfan. Years later, her press officer Sir William Heseltine said that it was one of her greatest regrets in the documentary Elizabeth: Our Queen. Jeff Edwards, a survivor of the disaster, told The Radio Times that he disliked the portrayal as well, having been there at the time.
"I am uneasy about the way in which the Queen was portrayed... I think she came over [in the show] as a very uncaring person who didn't show her emotions, and in reality that wasn't the case, and isn't the case today," Edwards said. "When she did arrive she was visibly upset and the people of Aberfan appreciate[d] her being here... She came when she could and nobody would condemn her for not coming earlier, especially as everything was such a mess."
Other historians challenged this portrayal as well, including the biographers who have written about Queen Elizabeth. Again, it is difficult to say whether the portrayal of emotions is objectively wrong in The Crown, but critics are right in saying that the show downplays the systemic negligence of authorities and labor protections in Aberfan.prevnext
Prince Philip's Mother
In Season 3, Episode 4, Prince Philip's mother, Princess Alice, movies into Buckingham Palace with the royal family to escape Greece's political turmoil. At the same time, a documentary about the royals airs on the BBC, depicting their privileged lifestyle. When the public grows angry about this documentary in the show, Alice gives an interview with The Guardian, which helps soothe the tensions.
In real life, the BBC documentary was not as big of a disaster as the show made it out to be, and Alice's apologetic interview with The Guardian never happened at all, according to a report by Ranker. Alice was institutionalized, and scholars are often hesitant to speculate about the truth of her mental health and her relationship with Prince Philip.prevnext
Mark Thatcher's Disappearance
The Crown depicts a tense personal episode between the queen and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher around the time of her invasion of the Falkland Islands, where Thatcher's mental and emotional state is heavily affected by her missing son, Mark. The show makes it out like Mark's absence contributed to Thatcher's decision to invade the islands, but this seems unlikely in reality.
Mark Thatcher was off the grid for six days in real life, but there is no real evidence that this sent Thatcher spiraling or impacted her political decisions. Furthermore, critics argue that it is unfair to insinuate that Thatcher made geopolitical decisions based on illogical personal reasons, and even that it could be construed as anti-feminist.
Thatcher had plenty of more pragmatic reasons for her invasion of the Falkland Islands, for better or worse. However, this might be a case where the producers wanted to focus on Queen Elizabeth's perception of events, not necessarily the objective reality.prevnext
Princess Diana's Costume
In The Crown's new season, Prince Charles and Princess Diana's meeting is portrayed as a quirky confluence of happenstance, complete with Diana wearing a costume from a school play. In reality, there is nothing to suggest Diana wore such a costume when she met Prince Charles. The meeting was described in The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, with no costumes involved.prevnext
Michael Fagan's break-in at Buckingham Palace is one of the most infamous events of royal history, but it did not have the political motivations the show ascribed to it. In the series, Fagan breaks into the palace to complain to the queen about Thatcher's policies and make a statement.
In reality, Fagan never intimated that he had a plan or an agenda when he broke into the place. The Independent interviewed Fagan in 2012, and he said bluntly: "I don't know why I did it, something just got into my head."
Still, the political concerns Fagan raised in the show were real issues in the U.K. in 1982, and some critics suggest that this was the simplest place for the show to insert them into the script. Some even say that the show should have gone further in its criticisms of Thatcher.prevnext
The Queen vs. Margaret Thatcher
As noted above, The Crown is more interested in the personal story of Queen Elizabeth II than the political story of the U.K. through the 20th century, so it makes sense that the show would focus more on the queen's personal relationship with Thatcher than their political rivalry. However, even this was not entirely accurate — in the series, the queen explicitly instructs her press secretary, Michael Shea to leak her displeasure with Thatcher to the press. In reality, this appears to be untrue.
The Sunday Times reported that the queen was displeased with Thatcher in 1986, but it was not based on a leak from Buckingham Palace. In fact, the queen's team denied the report at the time, and Thatcher's biographer Robert Hardman wrote that "No one at the Palace or Downing Street... seriously believed that the Queen had authorised, or even nudged, anyone to speak in those terms about her government."prevnext
Princess Margaret's Reservations0comments
Finally, The Crown Season 4 features one dramatic scene where Princess Margaret urges the royal family to step in and call of Prince Charles' wedding to Diana Spencer. Historians doubt that this confrontation could have truly taken place without some mention of it appearing later on, through gossip, diary entries or biographies. So far, there is no real evidence of such an argument.
In fact, according to a report by PEOPLE, the idea for this scene most likely came from actress Helena Bonham herself, in her preparation to play Princess Margaret. Most accounts agreed that Princess Margaret and Princess Diana had a relatively good relationship at first, but that they soured on each other later in life. The Crown Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.prev