Fact-Checking The Crown Season 4: How Well Does It Hold Up To Reality?
The acclaimed Netflix series finally gave viewers an inside look into Prince Charles and Princess Diana's tumultuous relationship, but how accurate was its depiction?
The Crown's season four subtitle should really be "The Story of Charles and Diana."
Much like viewers of the royal wedding in 1981, fans of the Netflix royal drama have anxiously awaited the arrival of Princess Diana (played to near-perfection by Emma Corrin) for almost two years.
And it turns out the wait was well worth it as the late Princess of Wales is the clear star of the new episodes, which depicts the tumultuous relationship between her and Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor), from their first meeting through the early '90s. In the ten episodes, Diana's private battle with bulimia, deep loneliness and feelings about Charles' love for Camilla Parker-Bowles are all covered.
But just how accurate is creator Peter Morgan's take on Charles and Diana's relationship, its demise and Diana's role in the royal family?
In addition to the tale of Charles and Diana, season four also highlights the complicated dynamic between Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), the first female prime minister.
To recreate monumental events and the private innerworkings of the British monarchy, The Crown turns to Robert Lacey, its historical consultant.
"It's all true, but it's true in two different ways," the British historian said on Australia's The Morning Show in 2019. "There's a difference between history and the past. We, historians, are like gardeners: we stand there with a sieve, and all the events of the past go through the sieve, and a lot of it falls below.
"What's left in the sieve, that's the history that the historian deals with," he continued. "But lots of things pass through and can only be accessed by informed invention and imagination, and that's what we do with The Crown. We do incredible research."
So just how much was left in the sieve for Morgan and Lacey to mine from? Here's everything The Crown got right about the royals and what they chose to change in season four…
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Fact-Checking The Crown: How Does It Compare to Reality?
While it is true that the future couple met while Charles was dating her older sister, Sarah, it didn't go down as the meet-cute portrayed on-screen, with a 16-year-old Diana dressed in costume for her school's production of A Midnight Summer's Dream (which was very reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.)
In reality, Charles accompanied Sarah to a grouse hunt at Althorp, the Spencer family home, in November 1977. Charles and Sarah's relationship was short-lived, with Sarah reportedly once claiming she wouldn't marry the Princes of Wales if "if he were the dustman or the King of England."
However, according to The Diana Chronicles, Charles made quite the impression on her younger sister. Diana reportedly told her friends she was going to marry the Prince, who was 12 years her senior, adding that he was "the one man on the planet who is not allowed to divorce me."
The pair would reconnect years later at a mutual friends' home. "He'd just broken up with his girlfriend and his friend Mountbatten had just been killed. I said it would be nice to see him," Diana said on a tape used in the documentary, Diana in Her Own Words.
Charles and Diana would reportedly spend time together in-person just 12 times before he proposed.
Throughout the season, Diana notices all of the gifts Charles and Camilla exchange, which were all pulled from real-life tokens of affection.
But the first realization came when Charles sent Camilla flowers when she had meningitis, which is how Diana discovered their nicknames, Gladys and Fred. "I once heard him on the telephone in his bath on his hand-held set, saying, 'Whatever happens, I will always love you,'" Diana told Andrew Morton.
Next came the bracelet engraved with the nicknames—gifted just two weeks before Charles and Diana's wedding. Someone in Charles' office clued Diana into the trinket and when she opens it, "I said, 'I know where this is going,'" she recalled to Morton. "I was devastated."
"I opened it, and there was [the] bracelet, and I said, 'I know where this is going.' I was devastated."
And then, finally, there were the cufflinks he wore on their honeymoon.
"Two C's entwined like the Chanel 'C.' Got it. One knew exactly," she told Morton. "So I said, 'Camilla gave you those didn't she?' He said 'Yes, so what's wrong? They're a present from a friend.' And boy, did we have a row. Jealousy, total jealousy. And it was such a good idea the two C's, but it wasn't that clever."
In her bombshell interview with TK, Diana revealed her bulimia started the week after she got engaged to Charles.
"My husband put his hand on my waistline and said, 'Oh, a bit chubby here, aren't we?' and that triggered off something in me," she said. "And the Camilla thing. I was desperate, desperate. I remember the first time I made myself sick. I was so thrilled because I thought this was the release of tension."
She continued, "The first time I was measured for my wedding dress, I was 29 inches around the waist. The day I got married, I was 23 1/2 inches. I had shrunk into nothing from February to July. I had shrunk to nothing."
Diana thought of her years-long battle with her "secret disease" as an "escape mechanism" from what was going on in her marriage, she told Bashir.
"I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger," she said. "They decided that was the problem: Diana was unstable."
Emma Corrin asked the show's writers to highlight Diana's ongoing struggle with the disease, explaining to People, "I felt that if we were trying to depict bulimia in an honest way, we had to actually show it—otherwise it's a disservice to anyone who has been through that."
Prince Philip took an early liking to the future Princess of Wales, with Ingreid Seward writing in her book, Prince Philip Revealed, "When Diana first joined the royal family, it was Philip who came to her aid, sitting next to her at black-tie dinners and chatting to her while she learned to master the art of small talk." (He is in fact the one who advised Charles to either propose to or break up with Diana in 1980.)
But Diana's first visit to Balmoral wasn't exactly the swimming success it was made out to be in episode two.
"I panic a lot when I go up to Balmoral. It's my worst time, and I think, 'How the hell am I going to get out of this?' The first couple of days I'm frightfully chirpy when I get up there and everything's wonderful," Diana said in Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words. "By the third day they're sapping me again. There are so many negative atmospheres. That house sucks one dry."
Diana's relationship with the rest of the Royal Family wasn't warm, with Daily Mail's Richard Kay explaining in Paxman on the Queen's Children, "Princess Anne, she had no time for Diana, she didn't like the way she went about her duty and the way she used the cameras and the media to promote herself in her eyes."
As for the Queen Mother, Diana said she was "always looking at me with a sort of strange look in her eyes. It's not hatred. It's a sort of interest and pity mixed in one…She's sort of fascinated by me, but doesn't quite know how to unravel it."
However, Diana was reportedly close with Prince Andrew and found a sympathetic figure in Princess Margaret, whom she called "Margo."
While viewers get a quick debriefing on all of Diana's alleged affairs thanks to Anne's chat with the Queen, viewers only meet Captain James Hewitt (played by Daniel Donskoy) in episode nine.
The pair allegedly met in 1986 when Hewitt served as her horseback riding instructor and went on to have a five-year romance, which was more intense than depicted in The Crown.
"Hewitt, a natural womanizer, gave her the attention and affection she relished, and then the passion she yearned for," Ken Wharfe, her former bodyguard, wrote in his book, Diana: Closely Guarded Secret.
Diana confirmed the affair during a BBC1 Panorama programme in 1995, saying, "I adored him. I was in love with him, but I was very let down."
Hewitt, who later participated as a paid source for Anna Pasternak's bombshell 1994 book, Princess in Love, opened up about their relationship in a 2017 interview on Sunday Night. "It's a gradual period and then, you know, suddenly you can't get enough of each other or see each other as much as you want," he explained.
He also went on to deny allegations that he is Prince Harry's real father. "No, I'm not," he answered when asked the question point-blank, going on to explain the rumor persisted for decades because it "sells papers."
"It's worse for him probably, poor chap," Hewitt added of Prince Harry.
While he isn't mentioned by name, Anne informed the Queen of Diana's dalliance with one of her married bodyguards.
Barry Mannakee served as Diana's bodyguard in 1985, but was transferred the following year after rumors of an affair reached the palace. In 1987, Mannakee died in a motorcycle accident, which Diana found suspect.
In a tape recorded by Diana's voice coach in 1992, she described his death as "the biggest blow of my life." She went on to confess, "I was only happy when he was around."
Believing Mannakee may have been "bumped off," Diana said, "I should never have played with fire and I did and I got very burnt."
The police later seized the tapes and reinvestigated Mannakee's death as a result of Diana's claims according to the BBC.
As depicted during the show's recreation of their first major tour together—a 1983 trip through Australia and New Zealand—Charles resented the media and public's adoration of his wife, who was just 22 years old at the time and had never been overseas.
While there is no record of the public chanting "We want Diana!" at a polo match, according to Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles, when Charles turned up to a tour function alone, he told the crowd, "It's not fair is it? You'd better ask for your money back!"
During her 1995 BCC1 interview with Martin Bashir, Diana said the couple was "very much" in love during that six-week tour of the Commonwealth, but "the pressure on us both as a couple with the media was phenomenal, and misunderstood by a great many people."
She went on to admit she was aware of the public's preference for her at the time, but said she "felt very uncomfortable with..I felt it was unfair, because I wanted to share."
But insiders said Diana didn't seem mind the impact the attention she received had on her husband.
"Diana enjoyed upstaging her husband and if she was laughing and smiling more it wasn't that she was having more fun but that she knew it got on his nerves," Patrick Jephson, her former press secretary, said during ITV's Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals special.
'"As professional royal performers they were unbeatable, but behind the scenes it was quite different," he continued. "They didn't talk to each other, there was minimal eye contact, they were short tempered with each other."
Charles and Diana's six-week tour was the main focus of episode six, but The Crown left out one essential scene that was captured by photographers.
During ITV's Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals, veteran royal photographer Ken Lennox recalled witnessing Charles ignore a sobbing Diana outside the Sydney Opera House in March 1983.
"Diana burst into tears and wept for a couple of minutes…I don't think Charles noticed," Lennox said. "If he had it was typical of him to look the other way."
Lennox claimed a press officer told him Diana's emotional moment was due to "jet lag and heat," but he insisted, "That was the first sign something was wrong and we then began to see other things happening."
Speaking to just how popular the young princess was at the time, Lennox said, "I couldn't give away a picture of the royal family before Diana came along. When Diana came along all that exploded."
The Crown depicted two major decisions Diana made that strayed from longstanding royal traditions.
First was her choice of engagement rings, with Charles presenting his new bride with an array of options, including and selections from then crown jewellers Garrard.
Diana chose the Marguerite ring, a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds set on an 18-karat white gold band. While it has since become an iconic piece of jewelry (which Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with), it caused controversy at the time because it was from a stock collection. That is a big deal because it meant it would be available for purchase to the public as well.
Another time the Princess of Wales went against the status quo was when she insisted Prince William, then just nine months old, accompany the couple on their tour of the Commonwealth. This bucked the trend of royals leaving their children in the care of others while performing their duties.
While episode one featured the Queen's excitement over the first female Prime Minister, the two figureheads "met and disliked each other on sight," according to The Queen And Mrs. Thatcher: An Inconvenient Relationship.
"For over a decade they quietly waged a war against each other on both a personal and political stage," Dean Palmer wrote in the 2015 book. "Disagreeing on key issues including sanctions against South Africa, the miners' strike and allowing U.S. planes to bomb Libya using British military bases. Elizabeth found the means to snub and undermine her Prime Minister through petty class put-downs and Press leaks."
The biggest reveal was at the center of episode eight, which introduced Michael Shea (played by Nicholas Farrell), the Queen's press secretary who gave a briefing to a journalist that ended up as a bombshell 1986 piece in The Times about the two leaders not seeing eye-to-eye. He denied being the source of the information in the story and left the palace the following year.
The closest either woman has come to acknowledging the rumored friction came in Thatcher's 1993 memoir, The Downing Street Years.
"Although the press could not resist the temptation to suggest disputes between the Palace and Downing Street, especially on Commonwealth affairs, I always found the Queen's attitude towards the work of the government absolutely correct," she wrote. "Of course, under the circumstances, stories of clashes between ‘two powerful women' were just too good not to make up."
Yes, it really was as disastrous as it was made out to be in episode two, with the prime minister considering her visits to the family's beloved Scotland estate "a tedious waste of time" that she "couldn't get away fast enough" from.
Former royal butler Grant Harrold explained to The Daily Record, "Balmoral is a great place to be around the Royal Family and for them to get to know you. It can be a bit of a test to make sure you pass the muster. You are going to want to dress the part, speak the part and behave the part."
However, on their first visit, Thatcher was reportedly stunned to see the Queen herself washing dishes herself, sans gloves, after a family barbecue.
"Mrs. Thatcher bought her rubber gloves and sent them to her, which is rather sweet," Royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell said in the Channel 5 documentary Secrets of the Royal Kitchen.
In episode seven, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), a High Church Anglican and member of the most pro-Catholic faction of the Church of England, turned down her friend Father Derek Jennings' invitation to become a Catholic.
And in the 2012 book Margaret: The Last Real Princess, author Noah Botham claimed that Princess Margaret seriously consider converting, but ultimately did not out of loyalty to her sister.
Per Botham's reporting, Father Jennings arranged a meeting between the royal and Cardinal George Basil Hume of Westminster in 1988, hosting a dinner party in London. Fr. Jennings reportedly later told a fellow priest that Princess Margaret described the evening as "one of the most rewarding, fascinating and satisfying nights of her life."
The Crown is now streaming on Netflix.
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