It is no surprise that Netflix’s "The Crown" would create uproar after its newest season — centered on Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ relationship — released earlier in November. The show, like all historical adaptations, gleans from both historically significant and entertainingly salacious phases of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.
But season five is under scrutiny for what feels like years worth of waiting for the most scandalous era of power — Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ infamous marriage, also with Queen Elizabeth II’s unstable reign following the family’s myriad of dismantled marriages.
What can be surprising is the depiction of Princess Diana’s rise to social and cultural stardom. Her submission to royal life is told in conjunction with the totality of the royal family’s dissolution. The crackings behind the ornate facade and glamorous shell surrounding the monarchy and the personal accounts of its people show them to be deeply troubled, isolated, disturbingly disconnected and lonely. It's this level of vulnerability and intimacy that "The Crown" fans are not used to.
In the backdrop of these relational issues is the people’s consistent questioning of the monarchy’s relevance entering a new millennium, and its destabilization during these scandal-laden years. This coalescence of both marital and interpersonal problems, with the socio-political strife, makes for the most dynamic season. But it begs the question, where can we sift for the truth in this entertainment?
Analyzing the season, each episode grapples with either a theme or familial scandal that works to encompass a comprehensive image of the royal family during the 90s. Episode one tracks Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their second honeymoon, and it is the first time we see the bitterness of their marriage.
It's in this way that "The Crown" uses its season premiere to turn monarchy stereotypes and assumptions into themes. Episode two takes this theme and starts etching out the outlines of Princess Diana’s infamous tapes. It depicts her palpable loneliness in the confines of royal life, whereas episode three deviates, and focuses on the perspective of the outsider with an episode wholly dedicated to Dodi Fayed.
This unique insight into British international relationships through Fayed’s Egyptian lineage shows his family’s obsession with Britishization. It is his father’s infatuation with European royal life that displays overarching race relations, specifically the inner workings of British royal powers’ correspondence with people of color.
Episode four focuses on the dissolution of royal marriages and relationships of Princess Margaret, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Prince Charles. Episode five shows the sketchy and mysterious recording of Prince Charles and Camilla’s "Tampongate" conversation. The episodes continue to chronicle — in astounding, intimate detail — refractions of royal life during this tumultuous time. So what do the facts that are incorporated, and the fiction they distorted and promoted, implicate?
Sally Bedell Smith, a notable American journalist, points out immediate discrepancies in episode one that "has already drawn criticism in the U.K., from former prime minister John Major and others, for a scene in the first episode in which Charles lobbies to prematurely succeed his mother on the throne. The episode refers to a newspaper poll showing declining popularity for the queen and surging popularity for Charles."
Smith said, "the scenes between John Major and Prince Charles never happened — as Major has pointed out." Also, the actual survey from January 1990 reported "high approval ratings for both the queen and Prince Charles," with "no evidence then or in the following years of any decline in the queen's popularity."
But in the grand scheme of episode one, it had exquisite cinematography and metaphorical comparisons of Princess Diana to the Queen’s Britannia. But are these discrepancies minor? Do they even matter? Where is, if there is one, the fine line between truth and art?
Moreover, Smith also goes on to confirm episode two's detailing of Princess Diana’s involvement in Andrew Morton’s biography "Diana: Her True Story." Smith agrees that, "It is true that Diana secretly tape-recorded her story in answer to questions, and those scenes … showing her reading and commenting on manuscript pages are accurate."
Smith also said, "It is true that Diana asked friends to talk to Morton, which gave her protective cover. They agreed to cooperate without knowing that Diana herself had been giving tape-recorded interviews. By the time of the "second honeymoon" in August 1991 depicted in (the season premiere), Diana was already deeply involved with the Morton project."
These instances of biographical fact-checking have become a pastime for journalists, historians and British monarchy fanatics alike, and can be found for any and every moment in "The Crown."
Watching this stunning, cumulative season as a spectator rather than a history buff dissolves any and all concerns for accuracy. Regardless of fact or fiction, "The Crown" remains one of the most breathtaking and masterful shows.
Even its cinematography has reached new heights and has come into its own to define the show as a standout. The show's artistry soars in the backdrop of these contentious questions. It separates the show's art from its truthfulness to enjoy. It is a necessity for those unable to deal with the fact of the matter: "The Crown" is the amalgamation of both scrutinized fact and creative fiction.
Should that be a problem?