The creators and cast of The Crown have rejected criticism that the series is “exploitative” of Britain’s royal family following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The upcoming fifth season will cover some of the worst years for the British monarchy, including the bitter divorce between the then Prince Charles, now the King, and his first wife, Princess Diana.
A backlash started brewing last month when the UK’s Daily Telegraph published an article headlined “The Crown’s decision to show ‘all-out’ war between Charles and Diana raises concerns at Palace”, quoting an unnamed friend of the King calling the Netflix series “exploitative”.
This week, the former UK prime minister John Major called The Crown “a barrel-load of nonsense”, after it emerged that the new season’s first episode contains a fictitious scene in which the Prince of Wales meets with Major in 1991 to complain about his mother’s long reign and plotting to force her abdication.
Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby said The Crown was “full of nonsense, but this is nonsense on stilts”, while royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith claimed the show was “doing significant damage to people’s perception of history and their perception of the royal family”.
Speaking to Variety on Tuesday, The Crown creator, Peter Morgan, and actors Elizabeth Debicki and Dominic West, who play Diana and Charles, rejected claims that the show was unkind to the family.
“I think we must all accept that the 1990s was a difficult time for the royal family, and King Charles will almost certainly have some painful memories of that period,” Morgan said.
“But that doesn’t mean that, with the benefit of hindsight, history will be unkind to him, or the monarchy. The show certainly isn’t. I have enormous sympathy for a man in his position – indeed, a family in their position. People are more understanding and compassionate than we expect sometimes.”
The cast were preparing to start filming the show’s sixth season, which will depict Diana’s death, when Queen Elizabeth II’s death was announced.
“Peter and the entire crew of this job do their utmost to really handle everything with such sensitivity and truth and complexity, as do actors,” Debicki told Variety, about filming Diana’s death. “The amount of research and care and conversations and dialogue that happen over, from a viewer’s perspective, something probably that you would never ever notice, is just immense. From that very first meeting [with] Peter, I knew that I’d entered into this space where this was taken seriously [in] a deeply caring way.”
West said depicting Diana’s death was “a heavy, heavy responsibility to get it right and something I think we all take pretty seriously.”
Actor Lesley Manville, who plays Princess Margaret in season five, said none of the scripts had been altered after Queen Elizabeth’s death.
“Nothing’s changed, they haven’t been rewritten,” she said. “Why would they? We’re dealing with the 1990s. One’s feelings about what the whole nation has been through is kind of a private thing. Obviously, we talk to each other a lot [about it]. But the actual process of making the program is the same.”
After the criticism directed at The Crown, Netflix has reportedly postponed a documentary series featuring Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, until next year.
“They’re rattled at Netflix, and they blinked first and decided to postpone the documentary,” an unnamed source told Deadline.
However, a second unnamed source denied the reports, telling the New York Post, “As far as I am aware, the docuseries is still going ahead later this year.”
The untitled documentary series, produced by Netflix and Harry and Meghan’s company Archewell Productions, had no official broadcast date set. But Netflix representatives had previously stated that they wanted both to run this year, with The Crown to run first on 9 November and the documentary to follow weeks later.
On Tuesday, Netflix said in a statement: “There’s never been any documentary from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex confirmed.”
The fourth series of The Crown previously came under fire in the UK over factual inaccuracy, with the UK’s then culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, calling for a “health warning” to be played before the show to make clear that it is fictionalised. Netflix refused.