Manic attention to detail seems to have guided the costume department for the show’s fourth season The Crown. The most seasoned observers have noticed how the colorful outfits of actress Emma Corrin in the Netflix series are identical to those worn by Lady Diana in the 1980s. Right down to the waist of her jacket shoulder pads and her neckline. her sequined sheath dress (I did my research).
The same cannot be said, it seems, of all of what is presented in The Crown like facts. Writer and ideator Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost / Nixon) has taken, according to its detractors, a lot of artistic liberties with the historical reality of this turbulent decade in Great Britain, marked by Thatcherism and the immense popularity of the “People’s Princess”.
In the Guardian from London, journalist Simon Jenkins published a column with an explosive title earlier this week: The Crown’s fake history is as corrosive as fake news (“The false story of The Crown is as bad as fake news ”). I have written it often: there is a danger that fiction will become reality for the audiences of films or series “inspired by true stories”. The Crown is no exception.
In this case, it is interesting to note, depending on who we read, on the left or on the right, among the biographers of Lady Diana or of the royal family – or even among the political chroniclers who have rubbed shoulders with Margaret Thatcher – what the ‘Peter Morgan is criticized. For some, these are more or less significant details. For others, it is a dangerous distortion of reality that poses a threat to the credibility and stability, not only of the monarchy, but of the United Kingdom.
The most conservative do not like the image of the royal family referred to the subjects of Queen Elizabeth II – which we are – and to the rest of the planet. Simon Jenkins even talks about propaganda.
It is true that in this fourth season, Peter Morgan clearly takes Lady Diana’s side. She has alienated the royal family, irritated that the princess overshadows everything in her path. Charles himself pushed her into the arms of other men. It is a point of view that defends itself. Is this the reality? Only the future king knows it.
In his defense, Peter Morgan’s screenplay abundantly illustrates Lady Di’s visceral need to be in the limelight, to be admired, and to gain the attention, love and affection that are lacking. at her wedding. Except that in front of her, Prince Charles seems so distant, mean and childish in his jealousy of the popularity of the princess that he is excused for wanting to shine so much in the lens of the media.
If there is a consensus among observers of the monarchical thing, it is that Prince Charles has been anything but charming with his young wife, caught in the golden trap of an arranged marriage that had one extra person. “There were three of us in this marriage,” Diana Spencer said 25 years ago to the day, in a shock interview with BBC reporter Martin Bashir (who is under investigation these days, about his methods).
In The Crown, we see Diana, at the invitation of Camilla Parker-Bowles, eat with the mistress of the time and current wife of Prince Charles at the London restaurant Ménage à trois – it cannot be invented – while the latter is on a trip to ‘business. In the series, this dinner takes place before the wedding, when in reality it would have taken place after the wedding.
This kind of liberty, taken by Morgan in particular with the chronology of events, is of great interest to the British media this week. The contemporaneity of the story and the fascination exercised by Lady Di, 23 years after her death, are undoubtedly not unrelated to it.
Various historians have been consulted by the media in order to separate the true from the false, the exact from the inaccurate, in this fourth season of The Crown. As well, Lord Mountbatten would not have written a letter to Charles by the time the first episode suggests it, Charles was not speaking on the phone daily to Camilla, Princess Margaret would not have visited her little cousins in a mental hospital, the Queen was not the source of a media leak about Margaret Thatcher and thatcher never asked him to intercede on her behalf at the end of her political reign.
What seems most improbable in the scenario has nevertheless indeed happened. Michael Fagan, a desperate unemployed man, broke in – twice rather than once! – at Buckingham Palace in 1982 and found himself face to face with the Queen, in her bedroom, in the early hours of the morning. (I’m not disclosing anything, we make it clear at the very beginning of the episode.) What was exaggerated, however, would be the political nature of their conversation.
The biggest manipulation of the facts, it seems, is when Peter Morgan makes the participation of Margaret Thatcher’s son in the Paris-Dakar rally coincide with the start of the Falklands War, when months have separated the two events, in 1982.
Does artistic license have a good back? Peter Morgan has a concern for truth, he says, for want of accuracy. The dialogues of The Crown, obviously, were invented from scratch. Elizabeth II does not give media interviews and what goes on at Buckingham Palace as well as Windsor and Balmoral Castles, the second homes of the Royal Family, remains a well-kept secret.
We cannot expect the screenwriter to faithfully reproduce what was said between the queen and her interlocutors. One can wish, on the other hand, that it does not tamper with the course of history to surrender, and to make its dramatic arc, more interesting. Especially since the decade he portrays does not lack unexpected twists and turns for the Windsor family.
I will be told that The Crown is a fiction series – an excellent one, moreover – not a documentary. It is true. The fact remains that creators have a responsibility towards the public, regardless of the nature of their work. A tacit understanding to respect the truth as much as possible. This can of course vary depending on the point of view.
Relatives of Charles claim that the Peter Morgan series is dishonest. Those of Diana say, on the contrary, that she is rather faithful to reality. Several criticize Morgan for putting improbable sentences in the mouths of his characters, which exist or have existed. According to them, they would never have dared to criticize the Queen or the Prime Minister!
Some accuse The Crown to demonize the royal family by making them appear more cruel than they actually are. Yet when compared to the “Iron Lady”, the queen looks almost warm …
You can’t be more Anglican than the Queen. Shakespeare himself took liberties with the history of the British monarchy. His Richard III is an artistic fabrication in more than one respect. The Crown is a seductive reconstruction of the facts. But it is above all a fiction. That should not be confused with reality.