AS I SEE IT
Will the latest season of Neflix’s The Crown upset the carefully rehabilitated image of Charles II and his Queen Consort Camilla? Its timing, just before Charles’ coronation, where the series covers the period the crisis years for the monarchy during the 90s , could hardly be worse.
It will depend on how much viewers believe writer Peter Morgan’s reimagined version of the truth. The season opens with the ‘Second Honeymoon’ purported to heal the rift in the War of the Wales. The couple, with Elizabeth Debicki as a hauntingly believable Diana and Dominic West as a more handsome version of Charles, are on a Mediterranean cruise. Things aren’t going well, Charles is intent of touring classical ruins and Diana is hoping for some shopping and fun. “It’s extraordinary how two people’s idea of fun can be so different, “muses Charles fogeyishly. Oh dear.
The characters in TV series have a big advantage over people in real life. They act according to a planned plot. There is no such advantage for people in real life, even if they are members of the British Royal family, where chaos reigns when fate takes a hand. The challenge for the series is how to make the extraordinary goings-on in the house of Windsor believable. The answer is you join the dots, or as Netflix puts it, you ‘factionalise’ the story and imagine what is being said behind closed doors. Stick with what really happened and you get a boring documentary.
It may be a mistake to bend the truth too far, though. The storyline where Charles, tired of waiting in the wings for the crown, meets then Prime Minister John Major to discuss getting the Queen (Imelda Staunton) to abdicate in his favour never happened and has been greeted with howls of “malicious rubbish” by Sir John Major and other well-knowns.
Certainly, the season is a poignant reminder of how cruelly Diana was treated by Charles and the royal set up known as The Firm. Charles (32), having been obliged to marry a 19-year-old virgin, remained as strongly attached to Camilla Parker Bowles as ever, to Diana’s despair, “I have tried everything,” says Diana who is afraid her boys will be taken from her if she rocks the boat.
Although the Crown’s version of events, where Prince Philip (a less acerbic version played by Johnathan Pryce) visits Kensington Palace to warn her off going public with the Andrew Morton book never actually happened, the spirit of what he says is all too true to royal life. “We are all in this team for better or worse and we are stuck in it.” Others are stuck too – Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Andrew – and stuck with a Queen (Staunton portraying a more stolid version of Her Majesty) who rules that duty must trump happiness.
One of the things that makes faction believable is convincing dialogue. In The Crown this tends to be more soapy than royal. In one vignette Princess Anne admires dashing equerry Captain Tim Phillips from the top of a lighthouse she has visited with the Queen. “I should stick to lighthouses,” advises the Queen. Really? But you have to laugh when Prince Andrew, broaching the D word (divorce ) with his mother says: “I know I open my mouth and put my foot in it from time but a least I don’t put my toes in.” A reference to Fergie having her toes sucked by admirer Tom Bryan.
Maybe the best thing is just to enjoy the series, as a period drama like Downton Abbey without worrying about the truth. It has sections devoted to different characters like a Tolstoy novel with insights into the back story of Mohammed Fayed (who is snubbed by the Queen) and son Dodi Fayed, Prince Philip’s passion for carriage driving and Princess Margaret’s love affair with Captain Peter Townsend.
The production values are fantastic, the series is a visual treat: full of stately homes, elegant interiors, evocative costumes by Amy Roberts and the acting splendid. Above all it manages to convey an insider view of an antiquated institution intent on its own survival no matter what the cost to individuals within it.
PS: Another day, another story of child sex abuse by a Catholic order: this time the Spiritans who run Backrock College. Heinous crimes are involved but do we ever ask ourselves in the midst of all scandal about the heavy burden of celibacy borne by clerics. If the religious were allowed normal sex lives and marriage would even a fraction of these cases have happened?