With any Hollywood adaption of a historical event, there’s bound to be some inaccuracies and dramatic license taken along the way.
Season 5 of “The Crown” debuted on Netflix Wednesday, portraying the royal family as they encounter the trials and tribulations of the 1990s. The season kicks off with Charles and Diana’s 1991 trip to Italy — 10 years after their wedding and one year before their separation — while the final episode is set in July 1997, a month before Princess Diana’s untimely death.
Many have expressed concern over the show’s accuracy before the 10-episode season was released, including British screen legend Judi Dench and former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major. Both former leaders are tied into the plot this season, with Major portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller and Bertie Carvel playing Blair.
Blair scribed an open letter published in the Telegraph earlier this month, slamming this season for being factually incorrect.
“It should come as no surprise that this is complete and utter rubbish,” he wrote. “[The story] disrespects the memory of those no longer alive, or puts words into the mouths of those still living and in no position to defend themselves. Fiction should not be paraded as fact.”
Not everyone was miffed, though. Actor Jonathan Pryce, who plays Prince Philip in Season 5, slammed Dench and any other critics of the series in an interview with Deadline published last month. The “Two Popes” actor stated he was “bitterly disappointed” by his “fellow artistes” for publicly shaming the Peter Morgan series.
But, due to the backlash, Netflix caved in and slapped a disclaimer on the season’s trailer, stating that it is a “fictional dramatization.”
So what really happened and what’s fictionalized in the recent 10-episode series? Keep reading to find out the facts versus fiction.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 5 of “The Crown.”]
Did Philip have an affair with Penny Knatchbull?
Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, was Philip’s godson’s wife, with whom he had a very close friendship.
In the episode titled “Ipatiev House,” the show suggests that the two had more than a friendly relationship.
In the show, Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) questions if Philip is having an affair with Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone) and demands he end his companionship with her — to which he scoffs and brushes off the accusation.
He even inquires his wife to invite Knatchbull to the family’s annual Christmas Day event at Sandringham House and urges her to spend time with Knatchbull.
The Queen reluctantly agrees and she meets with Knatchbull. In the episode “The System,” Philip paid a visit to Knatchbull after her daughter Leonora died of cancer. They fix up a carriage to get their minds off of the pain.
In real life, there is no evidence to suggest that Knatchbull and Philip had an extramarital affair, however, they often did carriage driving competitions together. Knatchbull was even one of the very few attendees at Philip’s funeral in April 2021.
Did Charles and Diana really have a friendly meeting following their divorce?
Before becoming King, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana had a rocky marriage that lasted from 1981 until their separation in 1992 and eventual divorce in 1996.
The episode “Couple 31” dives deep into their split as well as their settlement agreement.
There is a scene that shows Charles (Dominic West) visiting Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) at her apartment in Kensington Palace once they have signed the court papers and the divorce dust has settled.
The two start off the meeting with Diana cooking Charles scrambled eggs and having a cordial chat at the dinner table. They briefly reminisce about their marriage and what a bad match they were for each other.
But the conversation turns sour once Charles becomes angry when Diana says he is not fit to be the king and the expectation of being monarch has made him miserable. The former prince then storms out, leaving Diana in tears.
Since there is no documentation of this meeting happening, it was likely written in for dramatic effect. However, Princess Diana and Charles maintained a sparse, but somewhat amicable relationship once they parted ways.
Did Diana really warn the queen about her ‘Panorama’ interview?
Princess Diana dropped several bombshells during her lengthy BBC “Panorama” interview on Nov. 20, 1995, with now-disgraced journalist Martin Bashir. This year, BBC found that Mashir used fake documents in a “deceitful way” to coax the late royal into doing the interview and vowed to never air it again.
But clips of the tell-all are still readily available online. Amongst many revelations, Diana got candid about Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, infamously calling herself the “third person” in her marriage. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she said.
In the episode “Gunpowder,” Diana tearfully arranges a meeting with the queen to personally inform her about the airing of the interview just a day before its release. In the private meeting, Diana explains how she never felt loved by the royal family and always felt like an outsider.
However, the sovereign refutes this claim and states that all the royal family was ever trying to do was protect Diana. The mother-of-two then has second thoughts about her interview and decides that it’s too late to cancel it.
Whether Diana really second guessed the sit-down is unknown since meetings with the queen are never recorded in any way. So while this type of meeting could have occurred, it is impossible to know if any of this actually was said.
Charles’ anger over a ‘Sunday Times’ poll
In the season premiere, entitled “Queen Victoria Syndrome,” Charles and Diana have taken their kids on a luxurious trip across Italy in 1991.
Amid their vacation, a Sunday Times poll is published with a headline claiming that half of Britain is in favor of Charles abdicating and becoming king. The palace staff swiftly hides the papers from the Queen in order to spare her feelings. However, she sees it anyway and brushes it off.
The article then coins the term “Queen Victoria Syndrome” — meaning that the queen is “an aging monarchy that has sat too long on the throne and whose remoteness from the modern world has led people to grow tired not just of her, but of monarchy itself.”
However, no such poll existed via the British publication. In fact, a very positive article was found in the outlet’s archives, noting that “the Royal Family enters the 1990s as a remarkably popular part of British life.”
That poll even discovered that nine out of 10 people favored the queen.
The timing involving the episode ‘Annus Horribilis’
1992 was known as the queen’s “annus horribilis” — a k a her “horrible year.”
The doomed 12 months saw a fire destroying Windsor Castle as well as the crashing and burning of three out of her four children’s marriages — including Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew.
1992 also marked the year of the queen’s Ruby Jubilee — an event she celebrated at London’s Guildhall to mark 40 years on the throne.
While the celebration occurred on Nov. 24, the episode portrays the fire and the separation announcements of three children occurring way before the Jubilee.
However, the separation of Charles and Diana was in fact announced on Dec. 9, 1992 — about two weeks after the event.
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