Netflix’s The Crown is an addictive blend of pulp and prestige that charts Queen Elizabeth II's time on the throne. But how much of it is accurate? Yes, The Crown gets many scandalous things right about Queen Elizabeth’s life and those close to her, like Princess Margaret, Porchie, and Louis Mountbatten. But, because of those historical accuracies and the jaw-dropping production value, audiences may wrongly assume that the show is a reliable history lesson.
The lavish series spares no expense in its dramatization of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Indeed, critics, The Crown cast, and historians alike point out that The Crown really does take history seriously - the creators and writers have clearly done their research. But, every now and then, inaccuracies in The Crown rear their head. Just as often as it faithfully portrays actual events as they happened, such as the Aberfan Disaster, the show also bends the truth and relies on rumors to flesh out storylines and characterizations. Shows like The Crown revel in the murky, hearsay-saturated space between fact and fiction, where it can turn gossip into entire plots. Sure, there’s plenty of fun and drama in that, but not much verifiable, evidence-based history.
Now in its third season, the show continues to have a rocky relationship with the past. As in the previous seasons, Season 3 inaccuracies mount up, suggesting the show still prioritizes rumor over fact.
What does the queen think of The Crown? Though she reportedly enjoyed the first season, chances are her opinion will go downhill if she ever gets around to watching the second one - the show does her husband no favors. The series embellishes plenty of events for its narratives, and often those embellishments come at the expense of Prince Philip’s character. The fictionalized Duke of Edinburgh is portrayed as a petulant, vain, and downright obnoxious character who makes Queen Elizabeth’s life unfairly difficult.
Completely accurate or not, The Crown makes history look glamorous as it re-creates and straight-up creates events from Elizabeth’s life and the United Kingdom’s past.
What The Show Portrays: In Season 3, Prince Charles finally meets someone who values and respects him in ways his family never has: Camilla Shand, a young commoner from a wealthy family. The problem? She's already involved with military officer Andrew Parker Bowles. Charles quickly gets serious about Camilla and tells Lord Mountbattan, his great-uncle and mentor, that he intends to marry her. Rather than let the heir to the British crown marry a seemingly inappropriate woman, Mountbatten conspires with the Queen Mother - and ultimately the rest of the royal family - to put a stop to the relationship. They send Charles on a multi-month naval appointment to get him out of the picture. While he's away, they see to it that Camilla is quickly married off to Andrew Parker Bowles.
What Really Happened: True, Camilla Shand was not considered to be a suitable bride for the future king of the United Kingdom. Lord Mountbatten also really advised Prince Charles to "sow his wild oats" rather than settle down too quickly. Yet there is no evidence that Mountbatten and the Queen Mother actively quashed the relationship. It seems that Charles simply took Mountbatten's advice to heart and wasn't ready for marriage in the early 1970s.
Camilla Shand genuinely loved Andrew Parker Bowles and, by all accounts, was thrilled to marry him - even though it took them a while to make it down the aisle. Family did ultimately push the couple to finally tie the knot: the bride's and groom's fathers had grown so impatient watching their children - who so obviously loved each other - fall in and out that they took matters into their own hands and announced their children's engagement in a London newspaper, thereby forcing the couple to get on with it.
What The Show Portrays: In Season 3, episode 4, Prince Philip's mother Princess Alice moves into Buckingham Palace to escape political turmoil in Greece, where she had been living in a convent. Though Philip greets her arrival with annoyance, she turns out to be the royal family's secret weapon. After a BBC documentary about everyday life for the Windsors wildly backfires - with critics and viewers alike ridiculing privileged royal life - Princess Alice does an interview with a Guardian journalist. She wins over the writer, and her story wins over the British public and Prince Philip.
What Really Happened: Princess Alice's life was compelling. As The Crown correctly shows, she was institutionalized, and her family viewed her as eccentric. The Guardian interview never happened, however. Furthermore, the BBC documentary wasn't the disaster that the show makes it out to have been.
What The Show Portrays: Andrew Parker Bowles and Camilla Shand are first introduced in the middle of their on-again-off-again relationship. To get at one another, they enter into relationships with two Windsors: Parker Bowles hooks up with Princess Anne, while Shand develops feelings for Prince Charles, who falls madly in love with her.
What Really Happened: Princess Anne really did have a fling with Andrew Parker Bowles before his marriage to Camilla Shand. But their brief relationship occurred before Charles and Camilla met in 1971 or 1972.
Anne and Parker Bowles reportedly remain friends. Her daughter Zara even counts him as a godfather.
What The Show Portrays: In a devastating episode, The Crown depicts the situation in which a mountain of mining debris descends onto the town of Aberfan, Wales, taking 144 lives. The episode - Season 3, episode 3 - uses the incident to probe the new emotional expectations placed on the queen's shoulders and how she struggles to fulfill them. Only after Prime Minister Harold Wilson pressures her into it does she finally visit the grieving town, and in one scene, Queen Elizabeth is shown pretending to cry.
What Really Happened: It really did take the queen eight days to visit Aberfan in the wake of the tragedy, something she famously regrets. Though she regrets her delay, some survivors don't. Jeff Edwards, for one, believes that the show woefully mischaracterizes the queen's response to the disaster. He claims, "I am uneasy about the way in which the Queen was portrayed... I think she came over [in the show] as a very uncaring person who didn't show her emotions, and in reality that wasn't the case, and isn't the case today."
In another interview, Edwards insists, "When she did arrive she was visibly upset and the people of Aberfan appreciate[d] her being here... She came when she could and nobody would condemn her for not coming earlier, especially as everything was such a mess."
One of the queen's biographers claims that the show's portrayal of the queen feigning emotion during her visit was "extremely unkind of them" as well as "a bit sick." By all accounts, the queen had a genuine emotional response to being at Aberfan. Despite what The Crown shows, Prince Philip didn't attend the mass funeral at Aberfan.
Moreover, the show provides little context for what actually caused the event: systemic negligence. Though one scene depicts angry, grieving townspeople pointing fingers at the Coal Board, the episode is less interested in depicting the state-level failures that enabled the needless loss of over 100 people than it is in arguing how emotionally stunted the queen is.