It’s easy to split the British public into two camps: cat lovers or dog lovers; marmite loathers or likers; republicans or royalists. Wait until the day of a royal wedding – in one camp there’ll be an interview with someone who hoarded all the Charles and Diana wedding memorabilia, in the other, there’ll be tuts from one of your nearest and dearest on how the whole exercise is a “complete waste of money”.
That doesn’t count the people stuck awkwardly in the middle. One minute you’re frothing at the mouth at how beautiful Kate’s engagement ring is, and the next you’re quickly saying things like “well I might like the royals, but I’m not a Tory – promise!”. In other words, people like me. I might roll my eyes at nepotism and the extortionate amount of privilege the upper classes enjoy, but I did cry over Meghan and Harry’s wedding. I do recognise that the royal family probably isn’t the best use of the taxpayer’s money and the amount of privilege and power given to one family is highly problematic, yet I feel an undeniable affection towards the Queen.
With the release of series four of The Crown earlier this month, there was an outcry that the events hadn’t been preserved in amber. But even if Charles and Camilla’s antics make the British public feel uneasy, we still gobble down anything to do with the royal family. In the aftermath of the Queen’s second annus horribilis, The Crown is still excellent PR for the royal family.
Ever since The Crown first landed on Netflix in 2016, its main manifesto has been relatability. No, we mere mortals will never have the weight of the crown atop our heads, but we probably all recognise the characters from our own personal lives. You may not know what it is like to swan around Buckingham Palace, but you will know a black sheep á-la Princess Margaret. You will know reserved individuals uncomfortable in their masculinity like Prince Phillip, and I think we’ve all met a needy Prince Charles. Instead of being untouchable, the royal family have become as relatable as a posh couple wandering around the aisles at Waitrose.
We see this normalising process in the public and press’s treatment of the royal family today. Instead of a powerful, sly sexual predator, Prince Andrew morphs into the weird creepy uncle. Instead of a woman hounded by the paparazzi and forced to endure barely concealed racism, Meghan just becomes the brother’s partner that family put up with, while simultaneously wishing for a divorce. As it turns out, relatability is close to godliness; the more normalised their triumphs and tribulations, the easier it becomes to shake them off.
“If we were to gain a historical overview of the 80s, The Crown could not be relied upon to dictate any kind of truth. Although it is arguably impossible to create a drama series where everything is factually correct, many viewers do not know the history well enough to distinguish between fact and fiction.”
Although The Crown’s central message is relatability, many of the characters juggle issues we could never imagine facing. It quickly becomes evident as you delve into the series that personal happiness is not compatible with the duties of the crown. Diana is the most obvious casualty, but each of the characters has suffered in the name of keeping up appearances. The Crown is a pro-monarchy show, therefore, the message is never to end the monarchy, but instead that these people’s suffering is necessary for the royal line to continue. When confronted with Margaret’s misery – a misery that wouldn’t have existed had her sister not been crowned Queen – the simple answer is that the crown is an eternal, unstoppable force. Although republicanism is by no means dead in this country, The Crown won’t revive any kind of anti-royal movement. It may be emotional manipulation, but The Crown cements the notion that the royal family is an unavoidable must, and Britishness requires royalty.
The more everything dissolves into ‘just like us’ thinking, the easier it is to absolve anything that these influential people do and take up simplistic narratives. Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) is far removed from her milk snatcher roots, and instead, viewers were amazed that they found the Iron Lady attractive. Anderson is undoubtedly beguiling, but chatter online became quickly fixated on their confusion that they found the prime minister beautiful. Though Thatcher’s character doesn’t come off scot-free, history in series four takes a backseat (unlike earlier series), causing many of Thatcher’s decisions to fade into the background. In earlier series, the Profumo affair and the Suez Canal crisis dominated. By contrast, The IRA is mentioned once, and the Troubles are barely mentioned at all. Only episode five, ‘Fagan’, dwells on mass unemployment.
If we were to gain a historical overview of the 80s, The Crown could not be relied upon to dictate any kind of truth. Although it is arguably impossible to create a drama series where everything is factually correct, many viewers do not know the history well enough to distinguish between fact and fiction. The problem isn’t particularly with how Diana or Charles are represented, but whether audiences expect The Crown to entertain or to educate. While The Crown arguably gets close to historical accuracy, it’s foolish to think that this show can achieve it.
By its nature, The Crown allows unrestricted access to this portrayal of the royal family. We can argue over the small details, like whether Prince Phillip’s relationship with Diana was falsely portrayed, but as we get to know these characters, their foibles become understandable. The Crown might actually be a fantastic distraction from last year’s scandals. If you’re left feeling uncomfortable over some of the royal family’s actions, don’t worry. The Crown lets viewers know that the royal family aren’t going anywhere, and they will be a constant facet of Britishness. It’s brilliant and addictive, but let’s not forget that the royal family really aren’t ‘just like us’. Nevertheless, the next time there’s a wedding, I will be watching.
Words by Lucy Clarke