Does ‘The Crown’ Need A Disclaimer?


This programme contains flash cars, big watches, and fake…

At the end of November, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden called for more to be done to protect the reputation of the royal family after the release of the latest series of Netflix drama The Crown. The show has created some increasingly bad press for the royal family, and according to reports, they’re not happy about it.

Episode eight of the latest season highlights an unsung irony here, where the Queen receives a mountain of backlash for expressing her political opinions. Could her taste in Netflix shows trigger a similar affair? Many people don’t think the royals should show public opinions, but a fictionalised biography of one’s own life seems a little harsh. The labelling of fact and fiction is tricky with dramas based on real life, especially when based on characters that are still alive… Perhaps we could give The Crown a TOWIE-esque Denise Van Outen introduction?

Many accused Dowden of patronising viewers by suggesting an inability to differentiate fact from fiction. The general reaction has been to scoff and take offence at this accusation of stupidity, but I think the problem goes deeper than this. I have a feeling that we may also have scoffed at the idea of fake news before it reared its head. If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that we tend to think we’re above certain things until we’re proven very, very wrong. But that might just be the problem, the ability to be proven wrong.

Confirmation bias is one of the contributing factors behind our voracious fake news appetite. It’s a natural tendency to seek out, remember better, or even interpret information differently in order to support our current beliefs.

“Poetic license will carry on being the fake news of the docudrama, and I will continue to believe that the cast of ‘Made in Chelsea‘ do legitimately bump into each other everywhere they go.”

It’s the key ingredient to sway a crowd from liking Diana to believing she truly was a faultless saint, tormented by royal resentment. Or on the other hand, Charles as evil as the devil himself. It increases our perception of real people as caricatures; everything becomes a bit more black and white. We see what we want from the drama and because it is ‘based on the truth’, and therefore we have permission to believe. It can be damaging when it comes to recent events that leave our emotions running high, or people who still provoke strong feelings. Thatcher and Diana seem to be the perfect candidates.

Taking into consideration confirmation bias, the difference between proven fact and fiction could not be more important. It can be dangerous, especially given Peter Morgan’s poetic license. In the final episode, for example, Philip delivers a line that is incredibly hard not to interpret as an allusion to that infamous conspiracy theory…The queen’s actually a lizard. Only joking. He actually hints at the danger of Diana leaving the royal family, but this kind of conspiracy is not healthy. It alienates believers and makes people lose confidence in authority figures. I think it’s fair to say the UK does not need less confidence in its leaders at the moment.

Of course, it’s always important to question how far this could go. Granted, if something sells itself as a documentary it must be fact-checked, but so much of the royal family’s goings-on are done in secrecy. It’s a tough job to label anything in their personal lives as fact, and do we have a right to try anyway? They were born into celebrity, and have to endure constant speculation as a consequence, but does this mean we can censor work around their lives?

So, after having written off Dowden perhaps a little too quickly, I suppose it’s down to Netflix to decide. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, following Twitter’s footsteps with their fake news disclaimers, but I really don’t know whether it would change much at all. Poetic license will carry on being the fake news of the docudrama, and I will continue to believe that the cast of Made in Chelsea do legitimately bump into each other everywhere they go.

Words by Fiona McCudden


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