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In Defence of ‘The Crown’

Roar writer Keval Nathwani on the latest season of “The Crown” and its reception.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am a fervent and wholehearted supporter of British monarchy. I am, nevertheless, aware of the case against the principle of a hereditary monarchy. No doubt the Queen herself is often bemused by the station to which she has been called. But in Britain, I believe it works. It helps to provide a national essence, an unbreakable and unimpeachable link between the present uncertainty and the mystical past.

And yet as with many interpretations of the past, the position of the Sovereign throughout history has been disputed, debated, unclear and at times despised. For instance, no one would have felt any love for the gluttonous Prince Regent or the moody Queen Victoria as they have not done for many of the most outrageous politicians of the modern day, Silvio Berlusconi comes to mind. The point I am trying to make is that the interpretations of the past in popular memory is and always was fickle. This predicament has, since time immemorial, been tempered and exacerbated by a capricious and tempestuous media. Why then should The Crown not be allowed to indulge too?

I was rather surprised by the reaction to The Crown by certain members of the media. They have suddenly discovered a commitment to the truth and evidence based interpretations. Perhaps they will spend the feast of advent to reflect on their past transgressions and commit themselves to more honest and fair reporting than that with which we are accustomed. Although with the emergence of the BBC’s apparent cover up of Martin Bashir’s dishonesty in order to jump Princess Diana into her famous Panorama Interview, and the continual hounding of The Duchess of Sussex, it is unlikely that this will ever subside. But at Christmas we ever live in hope.

I, for one, hugely enjoyed the fourth season of The Crown. It was beautifully made, it brought to the surface a number of actualised events that had been forgotten, and the acting was impeccable. Perhaps, what has so offended the doyens of the old conservative order was that the casting was so well done, the issues so accurately remade, and the settings so recognisable that it was too painful for them to relive. 

I have sympathy for them. “The Crown” is educating the next generation through a modern medium about historical events that actually took place. Events that they would rather have forgotten. Naturally, I understand that a large proportion of the series was fictionalised and that it must not be taken as fact or history. A number of details were conjectured and dramatised. But, I would like to think that this was a fait accompli, and that Oliver Dowden’s call for a notice beginning each episode that it was in fact fiction, was haughty and patronising. Does he really think we take it all so seriously? Perhaps he thinks the same should be done for Shakespeares ‘History’ plays, or Alan Bennett’s the Madness of King George, or Spielberg’s Lincoln, or A Man for all Seasons, or even Hamilton. It’s so obvious that none of these, or any other historical dramatisations are accurate representations of the past. But they have an educational purpose nonetheless. What has so troubled people about Season 4 of The Crown, is that the pain is still raw. 

Interestingly, nobody seemed to have such a visceral reaction to seasons 1-3. Why then is Season 4 so objectionable? 

In a word, Diana. The rebel, the radical, the ‘People’s Princess’. She was a troubled, imperfect, misunderstood child who had to grow into a Princess before she grew into a woman with precious little help. She shook up the stuffy establishment, not just the Crown, and that fact warrants credit and attention, evidently she still evokes powerful emotions. However, I have immense respect and sympathy for the Prince of Wales, I think he is an honourable dreamer, a Wordsworthian Romantic with organic and literary tastes. I think he will be a remarkable King. This mismatch is unfaithfully portrayed by the Crown, but not out of malice. It attempts to be as realistic as possible and instead of invoking the truth, it invokes an essence. An essence that was much too real for many to accept. I would like to qualify this again that clearly the relationship is not accurate. How can it be? The people who were there are either dead or unable to comment. 

What also of Mrs Thatcher? The inaccurate details of her relationships with her children are artistic conceits. Quibbling of those details detract from the wider point of the series as a whole. What is particularly important and interesting is how her legacy of radical revolution and poignant social suffering (something The Prince of Wales took an inspiring lead against by launching The Prince’s Trust), not to mention her towering historical presence has been portrayed. In the course of 10 episodes, surely that deserves some credit? 

As an aspiring historian I know that it is vital to qualify every interpretation with evidence so far as possible. But ‘The Crown’ is not history, nor is it trying to be history. The most basic facts are true, in so far as one is able to say, ‘the following is a dramatisation based on true events’. The interpretations of the relationships, while disputable, can be corroborated by a number of commentators, correspondents, and actors who were present. What is the more, many of the public events are easily corroborated through a quick search on YouTube. That ‘The Crown’ takes artistic liberties is right and proper. That is does so with an intent to evoke the essence of the time should lend it greater acclaim that it has hitherto been afforded. 

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