How far have you got with the new series of The Crown? Are you taking it one instalment a week or have you binge-watched all ten episodes?
One way or another, the Netflix show — with its lavish budget, exquisite locations and endless boasts of authenticity — has shaped the way millions of people have come to view the Royal Family.
Now, four years after the first series aired, we have finally reached recent history: Princess Diana in the Palace and Mrs Thatcher in Downing Street.
Some will say that this does reflect a version of the royal marriage — the one Diana herself set out in Andrew Morton’s biography. But even she did not suggest that the marriage was without happiness. Pictured: Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles
After a lacklustre third series, this was a chance for a reset, with the introduction of two new faces: Gillian Anderson as the Iron Lady and Emma Corrin as the ingenue Lady Diana Spencer.
With previous series, despite the jarring of fact and fiction, woeful historical inaccuracies and the juxtaposition of events simply to fit a narrative, criticism had been muted because it was, well, all such a long time ago.
But the 1980s are just around the corner of our memory, and surely the proximity, as well as the abundance of material — the Queen’s first female prime minister and the bittersweet story of Charles and Diana — would allow for a narrative based on reality rather than fantasy?
Now, four years after the first series aired, we have finally reached recent history: Princess Diana in the Palace and Mrs Thatcher (pictured Gillian Anderson) in Downing Street
Instead, almost from the moment the credits roll in episode one, we are plunged into a world where all the characters are petty, unpleasant, spiteful and disrespectful. And that’s just the Royal Family.
Rather than crackling with the real-life dramas that dominated the decade, the script is at times a grotesque parody of actual events, and I would argue that most viewers have already stopped believing in it by episode two.
Why does that matter? After all, it is a drama series, not a documentary.
It seems to matter to The Crown’s creator, Peter Morgan, who has said that the team does its ‘very, very best to get it right’, while also admitting that he has had to ‘conflate’ incidents. Tellingly, he added: ‘Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth.’
The Crown’s creator, Peter Morgan (pictured with Gillian Anderson), who has said that the team does its ‘very, very best to get it right’, while also admitting that he has had to ‘conflate’ incidents
This week he appeared to stretch that concept even further in a podcast in which he defended those imagined scenes in Sunday’s launch episode, in which Lord Mountbatten scolds Charles over his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Morgan said he had ‘made up in [his] head’ details of the final conversation between the Prince and his much-loved great-uncle Dickie, but believed they rang true.
Viewers see Lord Mountbatten writing a letter in which he warns the heir to the throne against bringing ‘ruin and disappointment’ to his family and insists that he drops Camilla.
The Prince receives the letter in the days after Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in August 1979. There is no record of any such letter being written.
Too late: it is to set the scene for the episodes to come. Scarcely a moment goes by in which the Prince is not confiding in Camilla or longing to be in her arms.
Their affair is portrayed as not just transcending the romance and engagement to Lady Diana, but as continuing throughout the marriage.
Scarcely a moment goes by in which the Prince is not confiding in Camilla or longing to be in her arms. Pictured: Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles with Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer
In fact, Prince Charles had virtually no contact with Camilla for the first five years of his marriage to Diana, apart from formal encounters, and allowing for the Prince’s role as godfather to her son Tom. According to biographers, physical contact between the two did not resume until 1986, by which time the royal marriage had, as the Prince himself famously put it in a TV documentary, ‘irretrievably broken down’.
But the idea that he was betraying his marriage vows from