Non queri, Non explicet
Never complain, Never explain
“I am sorry but we never comment on ‘The Crown,’” said Queen Elizabeth’s communications secretary.
Should Netflix begin episodes of The Crown with a disclaimer saying events have been dramatised?
Dickie Arbiter, the Queen’s former press secretary, is the latest high profile voice to insist that the characters portrayed in the fourth series are beyond recognition
by ANNABEL SAMPSON AND HOPE COKE
MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2020
The nation is currently gripped by the fourth season of The Crown – a series which has raised eyebrows for its often unflattering portrayal of Royal Family members. While the dramatisation of the love triangle between Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall (then Camilla Parker Bowles) and the late Diana, Princess of Wales has been criticised as ‘insensitive’ by those close to the story, it is but one of the very many bones critics have had to pick with the accuracy of the series.
Another insider voiced their disapproval at the unreliable portrayal yesterday, that being the former Buckingham Palace press secretary, Dickie Arbiter. Arbiter, who worked for the Queen from 1988 until 2000, said the fourth series of the drama was full of ‘wooden characters’ and depicts the Prince of Wales unfairly. Mr Arbiter, 80, told Times Radio: ‘It’s not a documentary, it’s not history. It’s a drama and it’s taken dramatic licence excessively and it’s made the Prince of Wales a villain. He’s not a villain. He never has been a villain and he [Peter Morgan, the screenwriter] has made Diana a victim . . . He’s portrayed characters whom I don’t know. I spent 12 years at the palace, I knew everybody there and these are not the people I knew.’
Arbiter was a one-time fan of the series, he formerly praised Claire Foy who played the role of the Queen in the first two series. He also thinks that Emma Corrin (who plays the Princess of Wales) has done a good job of it. ‘She’s [Corrin] obviously studied Diana — her mannerisms, her walk, her movements, and she does a good job of it.’ It’s high praise given his summary of the other performances. ‘The rest of them are just wooden characters. Olivia Colman as the Queen — well she should give up the day job because quite frankly it is a rotten portrayal. The Prince of Wales comes across as a wimp . . . and Margaret Thatcher? Well, Gillian Anderson does a dreadful job of it.’
Netflix has been criticised for the accuracy of the script, and there have even been calls for episodes to begin with a disclaimer that events have been dramatised, according to the Times.
Earl Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales revealed over the weekend that he refused permission for Netflix to film The Crown at their family’s stately home in Northamptonshire, Althorp. Speaking on Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh he admitted to a feeling of ‘unease’ when watching the programme. He said: ‘The Crown asked if they could film at Althorp and I said obviously not. The worry for me is that people see a programme like that and they forget that it is fiction. They assume, especially foreigners… I find Americans tell me they have watched The Crown as if they have taken a history lesson. Well, they haven't.'
Earl Spencer did not detail exactly when he was approached by the makers of The Crown, but several scenes in the first episodes of the new series are centred around Charles and Diana’s first meeting, which the show – wrongly – suggests took place at Althorp. These scenes were in fact filmed at Ragley Hall, a country house located in Warwickshire.
Earl Spencer told Mr Titchmarsh: ‘I feel it is my duty to stand up for her when I can. She left me for instance as guardian of her sons, so I feel there was a trust passed on. And we grew up together, you know if you grow up with somebody they are still that person, it doesn't matter what happens to them later. So yeah, I feel very passionately that I have a role to honour her memory.’
Another representation that has come under scrutiny is that of the Queen’s mothering skills. In episode four of the new season, ‘Favourites’, the Queen decides to schedule a one-on-one lunch with each of her four children, by then all in their late teens or adulthood. She asks an aide to do some research in advance of the meetings in order to create a ‘short briefing document’ on their respective interests and hobbies, adding: ‘One would hate to appear uninformed. Or cold. Or remotely… remote.’
The implication – that the monarch lacks a degree of maternal involvement in her children’s lives (particularly that of Prince Charles) – has now been explicitly stated by The Crown’s creator and writer, Peter Morgan. Defending how the inter-familial relationships are portrayed on screen, he has speculated that the Queen was a better mother to her two later children, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, than she was to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
The Queen – then Princess Elizabeth – was only 22 when she had Prince Charles in 1948. Her father, King George VI, died in 1952, meaning Charles was just a four year old when his mother acceded to the throne. Princess Anne, meanwhile, who was born in 1950, was barely a toddler. To be a 25-year-old head of state would be a daunting prospect for anyone, not to mention the additional pressures of having young children. It was not until 10 years after Anne’s birth that the Queen had Andrew, in 1960, and later Edward, in 1964 – by which time she was 12 years into her reign.
Quoted in the Times, Morgan states in a recent episode of the official The Crown podcast that he was won over by the ‘two teams’ idea, when it was explained to him by an unnamed royal historian. ‘When I heard that theory, it instantly chimed,’ he says, adding that he felt it was ‘emotionally intuitive and plausible’ that the young Queen may have found it hard to offer the love and attention her son wanted. This proved a foundational tenet when it came to Morgan writing The Crown, as he explains: ‘I thought it was a really smart observation, and made the decision to go with that.’
Morgan notes that he thought it likely that the monarch was ‘preoccupied with trying to find her feet and do her job’, then was ‘much more ready to be a mother’ by the time Andrew was born. He states: ‘She was much more relaxed as a mother with the second team,’ going on to suggest that this seems to have been more detrimental to Charles than Anne. He observes: ‘Anne probably didn’t need that much mothering, based on what I see of her as a character… Charles, unfortunately, needs a great deal of love… He needs a lot of love, and she was probably unable to give it. His need for it, his demonstrative need for it, might have made her ability… retreat even further.’
Morgan’s latest comments come after the series faced criticism from those close to the royals for its representation of the family. The first episode includes scenes of Lord Mountbatten warning Charles against his affair with Camilla – shortly before he is killed by an IRA bomb. These details in particular have ruffled feathers, with detractors protesting that many scenes are completely fabricated. The Crown’s writer and creator, however, has defended making up parts of the historical drama.
The Times reports that Morgan stated that while he imagined details of the last conversations between Charles and Lord Mountbatten, he believes the sentiments reflect what Mountbatten actually felt. Charles’s great uncle, played by Charles Dance in the drama, criticises the heir apparent for his ongoing relationship with Camilla, who was then married to Andrew Parker Bowles. Charles (Josh O’Connor), retaliates in turn, calling Lord Mountbatten a ‘quisling’ and speculating about his own sexual licentiousness.
Lord Mountbatten then writes a letter to his great nephew, criticising him for courting ‘ruin and disappointment’ and entreating him to give up Camilla and marry ‘some sweet and innocent well-tempered girl with no past’. The letter only reaches Charles soon after he learns of his beloved great uncle’s assasination. In reality, however, there’s no evidence that such a letter ever existed. It is being seen as a particularly callous piece of writing considering that Charles was extremely close to Mountbatten and deeply upset by his death. The Times quotes royal commentators as criticising the ‘wild crude distortions’ in the Netflix drama, adding that Charles has reportedly refused to watch the series.
Morgan told the official podcast for the series: ‘What we know is that Mountbatten was really responsible for taking Charles to one side at precisely this point and saying, “Look, you know, enough already with playing the field, it’s time you got married and it’s time you provided an heir”... As the heir I think there was some concern that he should settle down, marry the appropriate person and get on with it. In my own head I thought that would have even greater impact on Charles if it were to come post-mortem, as it were.’
He went on: ‘I think everything that’s in that letter which Mountbatten writes to Charles is what I really believe, based on everything I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to, that represents his view. We will never know if it was put into a letter, and we will never know if Charles got that letter before or after Mountbatten’s death, but in this particular drama, this is how I decided to deal with it.’
The Crown is known for creating an authentic sense of time and place, thanks to an extensive team of researchers and historical advisers and lavish sets and costumes. Yet its producers have always been quick to stress that it is a fictionalised interpretation of events, with many scenes in the drama being created for entertainment purposes.
Where was The Crown filmed?
The Mail on Sunday previously reported that friends of the heir apparent – and senior royals themselves – have been shocked by the new episodes, which they regard as exploitative and inaccurate. One factor ruffling feathers is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex recently signed a production deal with Netflix. An ‘insider’ told the paper: ‘There are raised eyebrows about Harry taking millions from the company that's behind all this… After all, where do much of Netflix’s profits come from? The Crown.’
Royal biographer Penny Junor is quoted in the Times as stating that it was likely Charles would be ‘incredibly upset’ by the series. ‘It’s the most cruel and unfair and horrible portrayal of almost all of them,’ she says, going on to criticise creator Peter Morgan for having ‘invented stuff to make expensive and very rich drama’.
The Mail on Sunday also quotes one of Prince Charles’s friends as saying the series is ‘dragging up things that happened during very difficult times 25 or 30 years ago without a thought for anyone’s feelings’. The source goes on: ‘That isn’t right or fair, particularly when so many of the things being depicted don’t represent the truth’. They add that Charles and Camilla are portrayed in a ‘very unflattering light’ without explaining that some scenes were invented for entertainment, noting: ‘There is no sense of telling carefully nuanced stories – it’s all very two-dimensional. This is trolling with a Hollywood budget. The public shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is an accurate portrayal of what really happened.’
Another Palace source accused Netflix of delving into painful details too soon, stating: ‘These events are not the history of 100 or even 50 years ago. The pain is still raw and not enough time has elapsed… Fiction becomes more attractive than fact and to dramatise these painful events of marriage breakdowns and children upset is very insensitive.’ It has been alleged that the Duke of Cambridge is ‘none too pleased’ with the portrayal, feeling that ‘his parents are being exploited and presented in a false, simplistic way to make money’.
Culture secretary to ask Netflix to play 'health warning' that The Crown is fictional
Oliver Dowden says younger viewers might take historical drama’s portrayal as fact
Sun 29 Nov 2020 13.31 GMT
The culture secretary plans to write to Netflix and request a “health warning” is played before The Crown so viewers are aware that the historical drama is a work of fiction, he said in an intervention that prompted criticism.
Oliver Dowden said that without the caveat younger viewers who did not live through the events might “mistake fiction for fact” following complaints that the fourth series of the drama had abused its artistic licence and fabricated events.
He told the Mail on Sunday: “It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that … Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”
At present viewers are warned that the show contains nudity, sex, violence and suicide references, and is suitable for viewers who are 15 and older.
The move was derided by historians including Prof Kate Williams, who said it sounded like a “distraction”. Alex von Tunzelmann, a historian who wrote the Reel History column for the Guardian, wrote: “Netflix already tells people that The Crown is fiction. It’s billed as a drama. Those people in it are actors. I know! Blows your mind.”
The historical drama’s fourth season, which focuses on the late 1970s and 80s with the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands conflict and Lady Diana Spencer’s marriage to Prince Charles, has evoked much criticism.
Accusations of inaccuracies in Peter Morgan’s production span from repeatedly showing the Queen “wrongly dressed for trooping the colour” to disputes over Charles’ fishing technique.
But the biggest bones of contention have been around the depiction of Charles’ marriage to Diana. He is portrayed phoning Camilla Parker Bowles every day in the early years of the marriage, and Diana is depicted as forcing plans for the couple’s trip to Australia to be changed after throwing a tantrum.
Morgan has previously spoken about meeting Prince Charles and being told by him that scriptwriting is a hard job and that “it’s not what you leave in but what you leave out that’s most important”.
“He’s one of those characters for whom you have sympathy and criticism in equal measure, a perhaps not uncommon attitude toward the monarchy in general,” Morgan told the New York Times.
Sarah Horsley, whose husband, Major Hugh Lindsay, died in an avalanche while on a skiing trip with the prince, said she wrote to Morgan to ask for her husband’s death not to be dramatised. She said the “royal family have to grin and bear” the depiction of them in the avalanche episode, but for her it was “a very private tragedy”.
Sunday’s intervention is the latest from Dowden, who contacted the BBC to voice his concerns that Rule, Britannia! might not be played at this year’s event.
In September, he wrote to national museum directors saying “the government does not support the removal of statues or other similar objects” after a debate started about how to handle colonial-era artefacts and those with connections to slavery.
The Crown has also been praised for presenting the royal family as “real people”. Others have pointed out that Charles’ and Diana’s infidelity and marital problems are well recorded – including in interviews they both gave.
Netflix declined to comment, but a source said it had been widely reported that The Crown was a drama based on real-life events.
Helena Bonham Carter says The Crown should stress to viewers it's a drama
Actor who plays Princess Margaret adds her voice to calls for Netflix to add a disclaimer
Helena Bonham Carter’s comments came after criticisms of The Crown’s historical accuracy. Composite: Netflix
Tue 1 Dec 2020 00.09 GMT
Helena Bonham Carter has said The Crown has a “moral responsibility” to tell viewers that it is a drama, rather than historical fact, in the wake of calls for a “health warning” for people watching the series.
The actor, who played Princess Margaret in series three and four of the Netflix hit drama, told an official podcast for the show that there was an important distinction between “our version”, and the “real version”.
In the podcast episode, which was released on Monday, Bonham Carter said: “It is dramatised. I do feel very strongly, because I think we have a moral responsibility to say, ‘Hang on guys, this is not … it’s not a drama-doc, we’re making a drama.’ So they are two different entities.”
She called the research by the show’s creator, Peter Morgan, “amazing”, adding: “That is the proper documentary. That is amazing and then Peter switches things up and juggles.”
Her views came after criticisms of the show’s historical accuracy prompted the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, to say he planned to write to the streaming network to request that a disclaimer was put up before the show was played, so viewers would not misinterpret the portrayal as historical truth.
Dowden told the Mail on Sunday: “It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that … Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”
Accusations of inaccuracies in Peter Morgan’s production span from repeatedly showing the Queen “wrongly dressed for trooping the colour” to disputes over Prince Charles’s fishing technique.
But the biggest bones of contention have been about the depiction of Charles’s marriage to Diana. He is portrayed phoning Camilla Parker Bowles every day in the early years of the marriage, and Diana is depicted as forcing plans for the couple’s trip to Australia to be changed after throwing a tantrum.
Currently viewers are warned that the show contains nudity, sex, violence and suicide references, and is suitable for viewers aged 15 and above.
Netflix has been contacted for comment.