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Why The Crown Season 5 REALLY has the Royals so angry

The timing of The Crown Season 5’s release just after Queen Elizabeth’s death has made everything in the show extra-contentious. For a royal family dealing with the new King Charles’ questionable popularity and a major cost-of-living crisis, the real turn of the screw is the whole period The Crown is dredging up: the darkest time for the royals’ reputation, the 1990s. Not only that: Diana-core has blossomed into a full-blown craze, and their treatment of the beloved people’s princess is an enduring point of vulnerability for the royals. Let’s break down the controversy surrounding the show that creator Peter Morgan has called a “love letter to the queen.”

Transcript

The timing of The Crown Season 5’s release just after Queen Elizabeth’s death has made everything in the show extra-contentious. Monarchists are complaining about the propriety of plotlines like one surrounding the question of Prince Philip’s fidelity, while the UK still mourns both of their passings. But, for a royal family already facing scrutiny, dealing with the new King Charles’ questionable popularity and a major cost-of-living crisis, the real turn of the screw is the whole period The Crown is dredging up: the darkest time for the royals’ reputation, the 1990s.

Not only that: Diana-core has blossomed into a full-blown craze,

and their treatment of the beloved people’s princess is an enduring point of vulnerability for the royals.

So, which plotlines are the royals so worried about in The Crown Season 5? And should they be? Let’s break down the controversy surrounding the show that creator Peter Morgan has called a “love letter to the queen.”

Pt 1 - THE CONTROVERSY

What do Dame Judy Dench and former British Prime Minister John Major have in common?

Both have publicly shared their extreme disapproval over plotlines of the latest season of The Crown, with Dench even penning an open letter, saying,

“The time has come for Netflix to reconsider—for the sake of a family and a nation so recently bereaved, as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people dutifully for 70 years, and to preserve its reputation with its British subscribers.”

Netflix then issued its own public statement, claiming,

“Series five is a fictional dramatization”

AND the streamer even slapped a disclaimer on a trailer for The Crown, calling it a “fictional dramatization.” Actor Jonathan Pryce - who plays Prince Phillip in this new season–told Deadline that he’s “bitterly disappointed” in his fellow artistes for atttacking a fiction that’s strived to tell a respectful but honest account of royal history.

Royalists are especially taking issue with the storyline of Prince Phillip and his relationship with Penelope “Penny” Knatchbull – his longtime companion and ‘keeper of secrets.’ Despite their 30 plus year age gap and the fact that Philip was technically her uncle, rumors have long swirled about their “too close for comfort” friendship.

Others have taken issue with plots involving former prime minister John Majors and the rumor that Prince Charles subtly asked Majors for his support of the Queen’s abdication. Major himself isn’t pleased, and has called the show

“damaging and malicious fiction.”

But these complaints about The Crown simply on the basis of the Queen’s and Philip’s recent deaths don’t really make sense when the show has long covered the details of royal controversies. In fact, the series has already featured Prince Philip’s rumored affairs as a younger man, as well as young Charles’ dissatisfaction over his long wait to become monarch.

So it seems the real crux of the issue isn’t the bombshells. Rather, the deeper sensitivity here is the reopening of old wounds and the existential questions from a particularly rocky era in the monarchy’s past.

PART 2 - Reopening Old Wounds for the Monarchy: The “Horrible” 90s

A LOT happened to the British royals in the 90s–particularly 1992–a year that Queen Elizabeth referred to as her “annus horribilis”-Latin for “a horrible year”...The Crown Season 5 covers all the events of her annus horribilis–such as the breakdown of three royal marriages, the publication of Andrew Morton’s tell-all memoir Diana: Her True Story and the Buckingham Fire at Windsor Castle.

But castle fires aside, the most worrisome storyline(s) of this season for Team Charles and Camilla is one name only: Diana. During Season 4 of The Crown, fans started trolling Charles and Camilla’s official social media accounts, with comments like “Diana is the real MVP”

But Season 4 was just a warm up act to the ultimate Diana arc of Season 5– where we find her rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her marriage and getting her revenge on the royal family through her famous 1995 tell-all interview with Martin Bashir…and through her gestures like her infamous “revenge dress” famed for its off-the-shoulder, form-fitting breach of royal protocol. However, the most unsettling storyline, stirring up raw emotions, is the tragic and untimely death of Diana and Dodi Al Fayed in 1997.

The aftermath of Diana’s death was a stark low point in the Royal Family’s popularity – as criticisms abounded toward the royals’ reaction to the death and their cruel mistreatment of Diana leading up to it, and rumors even persisted that the family had a hand in her passing.

2006’s The Queen (also written by Peter Morgan) covers just how threatened the monarchy’s status in the public eye was in that era:

So with this resurgence of attention on Diana, the subtext to royal discontent over The Crown’s material suggests that there’s an underlying fear around whether the monarchy’s reputation could again take a hit. Even more damaging to the Windsors than debate over the unsettling events of her passing is the sheer popularity of Diana and how the world still obsesses over her. Diana was always the people’s princess, but she’s come to represent more, and speaks even today to younger generations who are frank about topics like their mental health struggles.

John Major’s dissatisfaction with the series also may be connected to digging up old wounds from his 90s tenure. Major was prime minister during Black Wednesday - an event that saw the sterling pound plummet in value, and then get kicked out of the European monetary system. Some have identified this crisis as the moment when many Britains soured on the EU, which set the stage for Brexit some 30 years later. And when Major left office in 1997, he faced a deeply critical and hostile press; historian Paul Johnson called Major “a hopeless leader” and said he “should never have been Prime Minister.

Closer:

Yes, this season of The Crown is coming at a particularly sensitive time after the death of Queen Elizabeth, not just for the British royal family, but for the United Kingdom as a whole.

And royalists are right to be nervous about these negative portrayals of Charles coming out as he’s ascending the throne. More and more people are calling into question the necessity of the Royal family in today’s society, and the morality of their existence.

So Season 5 offers a useful look back at another time in history when the role of the monarchy came under great scrutiny. While the parallels to today understandably are making the royals uncomfortable, it’s also an opportunity for the public to examine what the role of the family can and should be in the future.

“It’s a system, for better or for worse. We’re all stuck in it.”

- The Crown: Season 5