In all of the discussion and Streisand-Effecting of The Crown’s Season 4, one thing is very clear: the Windsors are very unhappy with this season, the season where Lady Diana Spencer is introduced and basically thrown to the wolves as she tries to navigate a marriage to a man who doesn’t love her. I hope the actors don’t take it personally – most of the ire is being directed at Peter Morgan, who writes the show. Emma Corrin was on the Tamron Hall Show (via Zoom) and she was asked about the negative reaction from the Establishment. Corrin said: “I understand why people would be upset because this is history. And even with Diana, it’s still very much fresh, everything that happens. So I do really understand if people would be upset.” Yeah – I love that she didn’t apologize. She didn’t need to. Speaking of, the Daily Beast had an excellent analysis piece about WHY the Windsors are so mad about this season.
Peter Morgan himself has said, as The Daily Beast reported, that key scenes in the first episode of Season 4 in which Charles’ great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, writes to the prince and orders him to stop his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and marry a “well-tempered girl” are “made up.” But this doesn’t invalidate what we are watching; it does not mean the palace’s whining has any validity.
If “trolling” is the most devastating insult the palace can come up with, then that is an embarrassing admission in itself. It reveals not only that the palace lacks a substantial retort to The Crown’s themes and general retelling of history, but also that what The Crown is generally showing us in Season 4 is rooted in fact.
If it is not “an accurate portrayal” of what happened, what does it get wrong? How strange that the palace source—so free and easy in insulting the work of Morgan and the Crown team—doesn’t tell us. Morgan made the Queen herself intelligible and yet still mysterious in The Queen starring Helen Mirren; his writing in The Crown, similarly, is hardly that of an embittered republican. He fillets character relentlessly, but with a fascinated eye and even hand.
What the royals are really upset about is not the presence of made-up letters; it is seeing the very personal pain of that time recognizably reflected back at them. They know the public knows what a lousy husband Charles was to Diana; they know this young woman was gaslit and traumatized as soon as she entered the family. But all the books and newspaper articles about such things do not compare to seeing it on screen.
Here, the royal family is shown for what it is: an institution and machine that you either adapt to, get crushed by, or learn to craft a place within. The Crown Season 4 shows that the royal family used Diana, ignored her pain, and then were horrified when she grew strong herself and learned to dexterously play them at their own game.
The condemnation of The Crown is unmerited from the royal family because the series could have actually been much harsher towards the institution. Instead, Morgan and his collaborators are sympathetic to all the main players, even when the viewer could be forgiven for feeling very little. Even when somebody does something awful, or says something high-handed or cruel, the camera and script stay with them long enough for us to understand motives and causes.
This fourth season doesn’t just tell the story of a turbulent decade in recent royal history. It puts the royals on glossy trial. Yet somehow this interrogation—despite all the huffing and puffing from the palace—does not damn them. The Crown is relentlessly, sometimes irritatingly, fair to the royals; it seeks to understand and contextualize all their excesses, eccentricities, and frailties.
Yep, all of this. It’s not like Peter Morgan has gone so far away from the actual history: the entire season is very rooted in fact, and despite the palace insults towards Morgan, he has been pretty fair to most of the Windsors throughout the series. This piece gets to the fundamental issue of why the Windsors hate this season: because they KNOW they mistreated Diana, a beautiful, charismatic, sympathetic young woman and instead of breaking her, she learned from them and threw it all back in their faces. And she’s still haunting them now. As she should.
Photos courtesy of Netflix.