The penultimate season of The Crown is streaming on Netflix, bringing back into focus debates concerning the accuracy of the historical figures depicted. It is especially significant, as this fifth season is the first to be released following the deaths of both Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The show has long been criticized for its controversial portrayal of the royal family and the events surrounding it, forcing Netflix to add the disclaimer that it is a “fictional dramatization”, “inspired by real-life events”. With a new cast, new characters and a whole new decade to work with, just how accurate are the historical figures depicted in the fifth season?
10/10 John Major
A new figure introduced in Season 5 is John Major, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1990. The former politician has dismissed the show as a “barrel-load of nonsense” and has declared that some events depicted in the show did not really happen (Source: The Guardian). Most notably, he denies that a conversation between himself and Prince Charles about the abdication of the Queen ever happened.
It’s not only the accuracy of events that are brought into question where Major is concerned. Viewers have said that Jonny Lee Miller’s lively portrayal of the politician does not align with the reality. Aesthetically, fans also joke that the actor has turned him into a heartthrob.
9/10 Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
= According to a royal expert Gareth Russell, The Crown‘s depiction of The Queen Mother has strayed further from the real figure with each passing season. Her most recent portrayal in Season 5 has been criticized as “unrelentingly dour”, with Russell claiming that the real woman would have done the exact opposite of her onscreen persona (Source: Daily Mail).
Certainly, Marcia Warren’s performance hasn’t been given the space to capture the full essence of the royal, but her interactions with Prince William hint at the hip and humorous great-grandmother that she allegedly was to the heir and his brother.
8/10 Prince Philip
Depictions of Prince Philip in earlier seasons have been criticized for misrepresenting his relationships. The royal family was reportedly upset about the portrayal of his relationship with Prince Charles, towards whom he is shown as emotionally cold and distant. Another relationship is brought into the spotlight in Season 5 that again raises questions about the accuracy of the late prince’s depiction.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s friendship with his god son’s wife, Penny Knatchbull, is explored over a number of episodes. Although the show is careful not to run too freely with its creative liberties, there is an implication that there was some degree of emotional infidelity involved. By all accounts, there was no affair between them and the suggestion is unreflective of the supposedly loving and affectionate relationship he shared with the Queen in private.
7/10 Prince Charles
For the most part, the timeline of significant historical events as depicted in The Crown is based on truth, but it is the fictionalized imaginings of how these events occurred and how certain figures reacted to them that has come under scrutiny. In particular, when it comes to the current King of Great Britain, the depiction of his character has been deemed “cruel” by some.
Queen Elizabeth II was reportedly upset by the portrayal of her son in earlier seasons. However, in among the scandals and turbulence of Season Five, space has been given to the more positive contributions to the country, including his charitable work with The Prince’s Trust. Regardless, fans are still divided over Dominic West’s performance in the role. While some praise him, others admit that they are not convinced by this depiction.
6/10 Prince William
In Season Five, more of Prince William’s character is revealed as the young royal nears his thirteenth birthday and enrolls at Eton College. Although he is not laid quite as bare as other family members, his close relationship with his mother and the impact of events upon it (particularly her infamous Panorama interview) are depicted in the series.
It is allegedly true that the prince was unhappy about the interview, as actor Senan West translates in episode 8. The real prince did not comment on the interview for twenty years, as West’s William refuses to comment in the moment, instead opting to unconvincingly declare that he is fine. Whether accurate or not, The Crown does well to imagine how a young man might navigate this turbulent environment.
5/10 Camilla Parker Bowles
The current Queen Consort’s infamous affair with her husband, King Charles, whilst he was married to Diana Princess of Wales, is thrust back into the spotlight in Season 5, making Camilla Parker Bowles a titular character. The most memorable moment involving Camilla is undoubtedly the recreation of the leaked intimate telephone conversation between Prince Charles and herself that was transcribed and published by the tabloids in 1993.
It is an imagined reenactment, but uses the real words spoken between them, giving it a high level of accuracy. Her experiences following the scandal, including the breakdown of her marriage with Andrew Parker Bowles and her hounding by the press, are also documented in the show. The addition of Camilla’s signature hairstyle wins the depiction some visual points.
4/10 Queen Elizabeth II
To accurately depict the private life of the sovereign, especially one who is as incredibly dedicated to tradition as Queen Elizabeth II was, is by no means an easy feat. What is certain about the late monarch is her stoicism and sense of duty, which is clearly depicted throughout The Crown by all actors who have portrayed her.
Imelda Staunton tackles the famous Annus Horribilis speech, one that candidly reflects the Queen’s thoughts on the turbulent year of 1992. Although the dark tone is exaggerated in the scene (the real “Annus Horribilis” comment, for example, was met by laughter) and changes are made for dramatic effect, Staunton nails the queen’s mannersisms and carries her performance throughout the season.
3/10 Mohamed Al-Fayed
Another figure introduced in Season 5 is Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian billionaire who played a pivotal role in introducing his son, Dodi Fayed, to his future love interest, Princess Diana. An entire episode is dedicated to the businessman, which is a rare occurrence in the show and signifies his importance to the plot.
Al-Fayed’s introduction to the show as a young entrepreneur played by Amir El-Masry is an imagined depiction of a period that little is known about, but is an effective attempt to explain the origins of his character. His later business ventures, including the sale of Harrods and formation of his film production company Allied Stars, are documented in detail, along with his status-seeking, driven personality and his desire to ascend in British Society, as captured by Salim Daw.
2/10 Princess Margaret
It is well documented that Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret, was irreverent, witty and at times, rebellious. This side to the royal is thoroughly explored in earlier seasons of The Crown, but Lesley Manville, who succeeds Helena Bonham Carter, has the added task of carrying this character through the tumultuous 1990s.
Manville’s Margaret is mature and slightly morose, but still maintains a muted sense of humor. She effectively captures her well-known character traits as well and a quieter, private side that can only be imagined based on the events covered, such as her reunion with Peter Townsend and reactions to the drama unfolding within her family.
1/10 Princess Diana
It is no surprise that Season 5’s portrayal of Princess Diana is considered by fans and critics to be the most accurate depiction of a historical figure in The Crown. Given her candid nature, openness in interviews and her contributions to her own biography (which author Andrew Morton alleges really happened), Peter Morgan and Elizabeth Debicki have a lot of material to work with.
Debicki’s visual likeness to the late princess is striking. Her reenactment of the Panorama interview is near frame for frame perfect, but this does not save it from scrutiny. Some claim that her Diana comes across as smug, rather than reflecting the defeated reality, showing that while mannerisms can be effectively mirrored, it is much harder to fully capture the true essence of a person.
Next: 10 Historical Inaccuracies In The Crown Season 5