The Crown’s royals are wild, cruel distortions of the people I’ve known for 40 years, says royal biographer PENNY JUNOR
Because it is based on real people, and real events, it has the immediacy of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The Royal Family, too, is an absolute gift of a subject. Over the decades, the Windsors have provided every ingredient a writer could hope for: titles, fame, money, sex, addiction, power, scandal, divorce and death.
And with the millions that Netflix has thrown at The Crown, it is a visual feast. The casting is superb – Emma Corrin’s Diana is eerily like the real deal.
How easy it is to be seduced into thinking what we see on screen is what really happened, and this is what members of the Royal Family really said to one another.
The casting is superb – Emma Corrin’s Diana in The Crown (pictured with Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles) is eerily like the real deal
So how to separate fact from fantasy, and what are the likely consequences of this seductive stuff on our future King and his consort – and the Monarchy itself – in the long term?
Good for a Sunday night drama. But very unfair on those it depicts. Much of this new series is based on Diana’s own words. The question therefore is, how reliable were they?
The truth is that she was a fragile and vulnerable young woman, who had difficulty with life and relationships and saw conspiracies at every turn. This is what the BBC’s Martin Bashir evidently exploited.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, later to become Princess of Wales, reveals her sapphire and diamond engagement ring after announcing their engagement in February 1981
As a little girl, she had felt unloved and unwanted. Those feelings blighted her adult years, and, in some respects, her marriage. Marrying into the Royal Family, to a man she scarcely knew and with whom she had so little in common, may have made things worse, but she was already damaged when Charles met her.
Take, for example, a painful scene in the new series where a smug-looking Camilla Parker Bowles and a fresh-faced Diana are seen having lunch together shortly after the Princess’s engagement.
Peter Morgan, the writer, who has expressed republican sympathies in interviews, must have punched the air with glee when he realised there was a restaurant the pair had once visited called Menage a Trois – the French phrase that deliciously resonates with Diana’s famous quote, ‘there were three of us in this marriage’. Their conversation? Well, that could all be a figment of the imagination.
Good for a Sunday night drama. But very unfair on those it depicts. Much of this new series is based on Diana’s (Emma Corrin as Diana, pictured) own words. The question therefore is, how reliable were they?
The Crown shows the women’s conversation over lunch turn dark very quickly. Camilla needles Diana, who grows more and more distressed as it dawns on her just how close Camilla is to her future husband.
The fact is that Diana and Camilla did meet at a restaurant called Menage a Trois, but only after Diana was married. Previously, they dined together in La Fontana, an Italian restaurant in Pimlico. Two of Camilla’s friends were at the next table. Camilla’s memory is that it was nothing more than a friendly lunch to wish Diana the best of luck.
There are other factual errors. Too many to mention here. But one other also involves Camilla. The letterhead on a piece of correspondence she sent Diana shows ‘Middlewick House’ –but Camilla was living at Bolehyde Manor in Wiltshire at the time.
The Princess of Wales in her bridal gown at Buckingham Palace after her marriage to Prince Charles at St. Paul’s Cathedral in July 1981
In summary, Camilla is established as selfish, scheming and duplicitous. Charles as spoilt, inept and eccentric.
And Diana is cast as the innocent victim, who is to be callously used, not just by Charles and his lover, but by his family and the entire Palace establishment.
On and off, I have been writing about these people for nearly 40 years – most recently about Camilla – and spoken to family and friends and many of the people who have worked with them. I have also met the individuals themselves.
‘These people have raised millions of pounds for charity, brought tourists flocking to Britain, boosted trade overseas and provided stability and continuity in a rapidly changing and uncertain world,’ says Penny Junor (pictured)
The characters on screen in this new series are not the characters I know. Yes, there are flashes of them, and plenty of mannerisms, but overall, they are wildly distorted for dramatic effect.
Camilla is not the bitch who is seen destroying Diana at Menage a Trois. In real life, she is giggly, funny, friendly and warm. She can be tough if she needs to be, but she is fundamentally kind and caring, and to know her is to love her. In the 15 years she’s been married to Charles, she has put her name (where others wouldn’t) to the problems of domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence.
She has highlighted issues of literacy and loneliness. And her voice has made a big difference.
The reality is Camilla liked Diana and was all in favour when she and Charles first got together.
Charles took Diana for weekends at Bolehyde Manor, and Camilla mucked in with the children and was chatty and funny and friends came for dinner and she got on well with everyone.
Sadly, the Queen (played by Olivia Coleman, pictured), still working at the age of 94, doesn’t come out of The Crown well either
The characters on screen in this new series are not the characters I know. Yes, there are flashes of them, and plenty of mannerisms, but overall, they are wildly distorted for dramatic effect
They all went to the races together, to polo, and to Balmoral.
During the years when Diana was so unhappy, Camilla felt sympathetic. It was only later when the Princess went out of her way to damage the Prince that her feelings for Diana changed.
In The Crown, we don’t see that side of Camilla at all. Because the truth is seldom as interesting as a lie. And Peter Morgan is writing drama for a multi-million-dollar production. And every drama needs a hero and a villain. In the absence of the real thing, Morgan has invented them. He is rewriting history and twisting our view of the most familiar, and some would argue, most important figures in the land.
Diana is cast as the innocent victim, who is to be callously used, not just by Charles and his lover, but by his family and the entire Palace establishment
More than 20 years ago, I wrote a book called Charles, Victim Or Villain? By then, Diana was dead.
Her BBC Panorama interview, though, was still fresh in people’s minds. Diana had condemned Charles and vilified Camilla.
I thought it was important to try to establish the facts about the three of them in the marriage – because if there was another side to the story, it should be told.
I spoke to dozens of people who knew them all and were there at the time. My conclusion was that there were no villains; they were all victims.
Charles was a victim of his situation and his place within a very dysfunctional family. Diana was suffering from the traumas of her childhood and of having been left by her mother at the age of six. And Camilla was lonely in a marriage with a serially unfaithful husband.
Sadly, the Queen, still working at the age of 94, doesn’t come out of The Crown well either.
Marrying into the Royal Family, to a man she scarcely knew and with whom she had so little in common, may have made things worse, but she was already damaged when Charles met her
Neither does Prince Philip. Nor the Queen Mother. And most of the others are rather grotesque caricatures.
Compelling television, of course, and Peter Morgan will doubtless sweep the floor at the various awards ceremonies yet again, but without wanting to sound too pompous, his success comes at the expense of people who have selflessly and tirelessly given years of their lives to the service of this country. People who did not ask to be Royal, who may live in palaces, but who have no freedom, no privacy, and no choice.
These people have raised millions of pounds for charity, brought tourists flocking to Britain, boosted trade overseas and provided stability and continuity in a rapidly changing and uncertain world.
Morgan may not care for them, and I am sure he is not alone – and those anti-royals will cheer at their television sets. But there are very many people who care a lot.
By whatever name, Camilla will one day be Queen, and if people believe that the story of the Prince of Wales’s marriage as depicted in The Crown is factual, it could have terrible consequences for the couple. And for the future of the Monarchy.
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