The Crown has seemingly never had more coverage than that surrounding the 4th season which was released on Netflix on November 15th, despite the fact it has run since 2016. Whilst the first season relayed the events from 1947-1955, the newest season covers 1977-1990. As we delve into the more recent past far more viewers recognise the eras they themselves lived through. Time has had less power to render the events depicted emotionally null to the nation or indeed members of the royal family themselves. Ardent viewers of the show have been leaving comments of abuse on Charles and Camilla’s official social-media accounts. Diana, meanwhile, ‘The People’s Princess’, is having yet another posthumous resurgence in popularity. The past is being dredged up for a new generation. Peter Morgan, creator of the show, has towed the line at taking the series up to the present day and has confirmed that series six will be the show’s last, thought to be ending around the time of Diana’s death. This shows an awareness of the ethical complexity of creating a drama so closely tied to the recent past.
What is the purpose of the royal family now if not to entertain us?
In an interview about her casting process, Emma Corrin, who plays Diana and has been commended for her performance, emphasised ‘the need to separate the Diana I play from the Diana who was. We’re not mimicking… This is Peter’s version of what happens… It’s fictitious.’ However when truth and fiction become this closely aligned many will read the events portrayed as gospel. Corrin appears to be attempting to absent herself from responsibility for this. But The Crown goes to such lengths to maintain historical and visual accuracy that to partake in such a show is in some ways to imply a certain kind of realism to your portrayal. However, of course, showrunner Morgan knows no more than the rest of us, as the royals have never endorsed the show nor given any feedback. The show is in this way entirely honourable in that it exposes nothing new. We cannot know how accurate it is, but like any good biopic it attempts to capture at its core something truthful to the spirit of what occurred. Where Morgan sacrifices factual truth he claims he does so for heightened emotional truth, and whilst we could accuse him of over-dramatisation, it feels necessary to produce something of coherent artistic merit.
For Charles and Camilla to have their actions picked apart is the price of his inheritance.
Whether one considers The Crown fair as an artistic enterprise depends on what one thinks of the Royals. They devote their lives to a strange kind of antiquated public service for untold wealth and privilege. Even many who in principle are republicans maintain a kind of grudging fondness and fascination for the royal family. As we have seen in recent years with Harry and Meghan it is a birthright that it is difficult to extricate oneself from, however, that is not to say that it cannot be done.
Yet, those who remain must bow to this dramatisation of their lives. They are, in many respects, public property – given they are financed by the tax-payer and hence they must contend with public misrepresentation. The Crown’s popularity partially comes from the fact that it humanises the royal family. It shows that they, like every other extended family in Britain, battle with their share of infidelity, mental ill-health, complex histories and inter-personal relationships. The show allows us then to marvel at how differently they live, but, in many ways also at how we are all akin. In the seasons to come the show will push against the boundaries of taste as we edge ever closer to the present day, and indulge even further our perverse public fascination with the suffering of Diana and the tragedy of her death. We will doubtless lap it up, because what is the purpose of the royal family now if not to entertain us? They remain in many ways our blue-print for celebrity. Through their lives and our shared collective public knowledge of them we can chart the passage of our own. In The Crown’s blurring of fact and fiction in order to arrive at some essential truth it continues in the creative tradition of all good art. For Charles and Camilla to have their actions picked apart is the price of his inheritance.