The U.K.’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden has a bone to pick with Netflix, voicing concerns that The Crown is tricking naive viewers into “mistaking fiction for fact.” He’s worried that the show portrays the British royal family in an overly negative light, following its new season introducing Princess Diana and prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Dowden wants Netflix to put a disclaimer at the start of each episode, echoing a demand from Earl Charles Spencer, the younger brother of Princess Diana. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday (a conservative British tabloid), Dowden said: “It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that. Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”
For context here, Dowden is a member of the Conservative party, whose leading members often have close ties with the British aristocracy. The legacy of the royal family and the British Empire are hot-button issues at the moment, and fictional portrayals inevitably become a battleground in the culture wars. Complaining about The Crown is more of a political statement than a sincere critique because while the show is fictionalized, it’s all based on publicly-available information. Focusing on the early years of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship, the new season covers events that were widely discussed in British news media.
Dowden’s request for content warnings was ridiculed on social media. For one thing, it’s not as if people think The Crown is a documentary. It’s clearly a historical drama, and while fictionalized dramas do shape people’s view of history, it feels absurd for The Crown to warrant special treatment just because it covers the royal family. If anything, this show hews closer to the facts because many viewers will literally remember following these events in the news. It’s much easier to fact-check than shows like Victoria or The Tudors… which didn’t attract this kind of complaint from cabinet ministers.
The Crown is no different from any other drama depicting real people from the recent past. It’s also very telling that conservative commentators only began to voice these complaints with season 4. While the show always explored the darker side of the royal family, the earlier seasons were more nostalgic and sympathetic.
With its focus on Princess Diana (whose personal struggles include bulimia, which does earn a Netflix content warning), season 4 offers a more critical view of the royals. And the closer the show gets to the present day, the more politically relevant it becomes. Soon enough, it may have to cover scandals like Prince Andrew’s sexual abuse allegations and friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. The Crown is quickly transitioning from historical drama to current events, which naturally makes it more controversial.
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