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Reaction media column 31: The crown

This article first appeared on Response.

The surge in popularity of TV subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime is due in no small part to the popularity of bingeworthy series like Outlander, You, House of Cards and, of course, The Crown.

The Krone in particular is a series that would have been produced by ITV or the BBC in the past few decades. However, with the decline in traditional terrestrial audiences and revenue, it is increasingly rare for them to commission series like this. If The Jewel in the Crown or Brideshead Revisited were made in 2020, does anyone really think it would be the BBC or ITV that would make them? Instead, our two most important national channels offer a permanent diet of crime novels and reality TV.

The Crown probably did more to get people to subscribe to Netflix worldwide than any other series they commissioned. Since it first appeared on our screens in November 2016, it has become the TV hit of the decade not just in this country but around the world. Ir began with the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, and the current season focuses on two relationships – one between the Prince and Princess of Wales and the other that has been widely written about alleged tension between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher .

Over the course of four series, The Crown has gradually grown more imaginative. The first series appeared to be based on fact rather than fiction, while the current series uses a dramatic license to the nth degree. The authors believe that the Queen and all the rest of the royal family disliked Margaret Thatcher, despite a plethora of historical evidence to the contrary. For example, we know the Queen Mother was a huge fan. Still, they invent a weekend in Balmoral where the whole family subjected the then Prime Minister to a two-day ritual humiliation that led Mararet Thatcher to invent a political crisis so she could leave early and return to London. None of this happened: it was total fiction.

Similarly, there are so many scenes depicting Prince Charles and Diana that they don’t appear that one would doubt those who did. Ah, the writers say, you have to take the round and all we do is use a dramatic license to portray a relationship. Up to a point, Lord Copper. Anyone over 50 remembers many of these events as if they were yesterday, and there is no need to make up things that didn’t happen.

But it’s worse than that. There are so many instances where they get little facts wrong that one wonders what they did wrong that could go unnoticed. I will give you two examples.

My partner, who is a car freak, pointed out that the license plates on the Royal cars were all false. In the scene where Margaret Thatcher fires people in the 1981 reshuffle, she appears to get rid of Francis Pym. He left the cabinet after the 1983 election. Small things maybe, but they undermine the whole narrative. The problem is, I could equip the rest of this article with a whole host of other examples.

I haven’t finished series 4 yet, but I’m in four episodes. The writers have no longer portrayed the royal family in a vaguely sympathetic light, but now seem to encourage us to hate them. Ironically, the only member portrayed in a sympathetic light is the Duke of Edinburgh. I’m sorry to say that, but Olivia Colman’s portrayal of the Queen is just wrong. She’s a great actress, but totally miscast here. The opposite is true for Prince Charles, played by 30-year-old Josh O’Connor. He captures the tortured soul of the Prince of Wales incredibly well, and even captures his mannerisms and demeanor. When he’s a little older, he could play a cracking Gordon Brown. He “broods” brilliantly.

And then we come to Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. When I heard that she was playing the Iron Lady, I wondered if it was her best career choice. I just couldn’t imagine how she could do it. She doesn’t look like her, and her voice doesn’t look like Margaret Thatcher’s. But that’s the secret of good action – putting yourself in the shoes of the character, making the most of it, and convincing the audience. Meryl Streep did it, and I think Gillian Anderson did it in a number of ways here. She has clearly studied Thatcher’s demeanor and mannerisms and brought them to a tee – even to the pigeon walk. The hair styling is superb and she manages to catch the flashes of outrage and sharp emphasis that Margaret Thatcher often showed dramatically. The close and even relationship between her and Denis comes to the fore here in a way that I have not seen in other dramas.

What has received the most negative comment is Gillian Anderson’s pursuit of sounding like the woman she plays. She has deepened her voice so much and emphasized it so much that it sometimes sounds more like a Spitting Image caricature. It sometimes distracts from the bigger picture.

Overall, this series runs the risk of alienating its core audience. It won’t stop them from watching it or moving on to the next series, but it’s a shame it didn’t maintain the same standards as the first two series. The writers are not faced with a small feat that depicts events that seem more current than historical, but they have often fallen into fiction rather than fact. And I expect it will get worse in Series 5. I’ll see it anyway.

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