‘The Crown’ Faces Criticism for Daring to Still Exist After Queen’s Death

The upcoming season's depiction of the royal family has famous Brits up in arms, and the Sussexes stressed.

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‘The Crown’ Faces Criticism for Daring to Still Exist After Queen’s Death
Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana (left), Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth (center), and Dominic West as then-Prince Charles in season 5 of The Crown. Photo:Netflix

Season 5 of The Crown is set to begin streaming on Nov. 9, just over two months after Queen Elizabeth’s death. And on Thursday, Netflix released a juicy new trailer for the upcoming season, despite criticism of the unflattering image that the show is expected to present of the royal family so soon after the queen’s death. The new season will pick up in the early 1990s, amid the dissolution of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage.

Diana had an infamously difficult time during her tenure in the royal family, from her husband’s infidelity to her complicated relationship with the queen. The trailer notably includes a voiceover of Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) saying, “I won’t go quietly. I’ll battle to the end.” Further, it’s rumored that season 5 will depict a storyline in which then-Prince Charles plotted with former British Prime Minister John Major to try to replace his mother on the throne, upsetting Major in real life. The former PM told The Guardian over the weekend that the show was “damaging and malicious fiction” and a “barrel-load of nonsense.”

Netflix released the following statement on Monday: “The Crown has always been presented as a drama based on historical events. Series five is a fictional dramatization, imagining what could have happened behind closed doors during a significant decade for the royal family — one that has already been scrutinized and well-documented by journalists, biographers and historians.”

But on Wednesday, in an open letter, the British actor Dame Judi Dench said the show’s fifth season was “both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent” and called on Netflix to add explicit disclaimers that it’s fictionalized. “No one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than I, but this cannot go unchallenged. Despite this week stating publicly that The Crown has always been a ‘fictionalised drama’ the programme makers have resisted all calls for them to carry a disclaimer at the start of each episode,” Dench wrote. She continued: “The time has come for Netflix to reconsider—for the sake of a family and a nation so recently bereaved, as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people dutifully for 70 years, and to preserve its reputation with its British subscribers.”

I have to wonder if any of this is really worth getting that upset about. Maybe it’s just my American perspective, but I just struggle to conceive of this family as being anyone’s victim. They alienated and drove out the family’s sole person of color, protected an alleged child sexual predator in their ranks, and are still holding onto a bunch of stolen, priceless jewels from various countries their grandparents colonized. It just seems like there are other things to be more upset about!

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, one apparent expert on the royal family told The Sun that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are “worried” that their own upcoming Netflix series might suggest their tacit approval of The Crown. The Sussexes’ docuseries has already stirred up quite the controversy on its own, regarding its release date and the extensive editing they wanted to do, anticipating backlash following the queen’s death.

I wasn’t overly interested in The Crown before, but I am now, if for no other reason than how much controversy it’s attracted. Variety reported that the season may zero in on the queen declaring 1992 to be an “annus horribilis” (which is Latin for “horrible year”), on account of three of her four children separating from their spouses and, of course, a fire that suddenly struck Windsor Palace. Based on the trailer, the season also appears to depict Diana’s bombshell 1995 interview with BBC’s Panorama, in which she spoke at length about Charles’ infidelity and how it worsened her struggles with post-natal depression, disordered eating, and other mental health issues.

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