How accurate is The Crown season 4? Separating fact from fiction

From what the Queen thought of Margaret Thatcher to Diana and Charles’ tour of Australia

Jacob Stolworthy
Thursday 26 November 2020 17:40 GMT
The Crown season 4 trailer

The Crown is back – and the series’ fourth season depicts events taking place between 1977 and 1990.

Olivia Colman returns for her final season as Queen Elizabeth II for a new run that introduces Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), and explores some smaller chapters in the royal family's history that you might not have known about.

Viewers will undoubtedly be left wondering if events depicted in the series happened as they're shown – especially considering showrunner Peter Morgan has been known to take artistic licence in the past.

Below, we recap the season's biggest moments, and take a look at whether they're accurate or have been embellished for dramatic effect.

Lord Mountbatten's assassination

The first episode of the new season shows the death of Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance), who is killed in an explosion caused by an IRA bomb.

This event did happen in the way it's shown – however, it's worth noting that Dickie wasn't killed immediately in the blast on his private boat in Mullaghmore, County Sligo. He was pulled from the wreckage alive, but died as he was being brought to shore.

Read more: The Crown series 4 review: As Thatcher, Gillian Anderson brings humanity to one of the most vilified figures in history

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) did take responsibility for the bombing, which also killed three others: two teenage boys – Mountbatten's grandson Nicholas, 14, and local fisherman's hand Paul Maxwell, 15 – and Doreen, Dowager Lady Brabourne, 83.

Doreen’s death is not shown in the series.

Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) is assassinated in the fourth season of ‘The Crown’
Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) is assassinated in the fourth season of ‘The Crown’ (Netflix)

Prince Charles, with whom Dickie was close, is shown as being particularly affected by the events. In a scene following the bombing, he can be seen reading a letter from his grandfather that was written just before his death. The timing of this has no doubt been slightly changed.

Diana and Charles’ engagement

The opening scene of The Crown is a fictionalised version of what happened when Prince Charles first encountered Lady Diana Spencer while visiting her family home with Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, when she was just 16.

Speaking of their meeting following their engagement in 1981, Charles said: “I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was. I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”

The series shows Diana approaching Charles in his car years on to “offer [her] condolences” following the death of Lord Mountbatten.

In interviews with her speech coach that were shown in Channel 4 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, she said: “We were talking about Mountbatten and I said, ‘You must be so lonely.’ I said, ‘It’s pathetic watching you walking up the aisle with Mountbatten’s coffin in front, ghastly, you need someone beside you.' Whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me and I thought, ‘Urgh, this is not what people do.’ And he was all over me for the rest of the evening, following me around like a puppy.”

This moment is not seen in the series, but Charles is shown to pursue Diana and invites her to the royal family’s Scottish residence, Balmoral. While there, she impresses the royal family, specifically Charles’ father, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies).

It's Philip who puts pressure on Charles to propose to Diana with the show exercising dramatic licence by placing emphasis on a miserable Charles' uncertainty, suggesting he still has feelings for the married Camilla Parker Bowles.

Margaret Thatcher's Balmoral visit

In the drama's second episode, Margaret Thatcher is shown being put through the wringer by the royal family after being invited to Balmoral with her husband Denis. 

While there, she is shown to be a fish out of water and the butt of Philip and Margaret's jokes.

One scene sees her accompany the Queen on a hike across the glen dressed in bright blue and smart shoes, before she is forced to head back and change midway through due to the mud. The Queen is depicted as being slightly miffed with the British prime minister, which is presumed to be a stretch (their final encounter in the season is more emblematic of the friendship the pair would have until Thatcher’s death in 2013.)

The Queen (Olivia Colman) puts Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) to the test in ’The Crown’
The Queen (Olivia Colman) puts Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) to the test in ’The Crown’ (Netflix)

Thatcher's biographer, the journalist Charles Moore, wrote in The Telegraph that while aspects of this visit are “surely wrong”, the “broad impression has the ring of truth”.  

The Queen’s biographer, Ben Pimlott, once stated that Thatcher viewed Balmoral as a form of “purgatory”.

Margaret Thatcher's missing son

Thatcher's son did indeed go missing in the desert. However, the prime minister's biographer says the show’s timing of it happening “just as the Falklands were invaded” is not true.

In fact, Moore wrote in The Telegraph: “There are several such significant fact-skewings in the fourth season” largely involving political events.

Speaking about a moment that occurs near the end of the season, Moore said: “Mrs Thatcher wins the first ballot in the leadership challenge of 1990 by only four votes. Colleagues say she must go. No, she tells Denis excitedly, ‘I still have one card to play.’ Off she rushes to the palace and begs the Queen to dissolve Parliament to save her from resignation. This is factual nonsense. Worse, it undermines the character the series has built up.

He continued: “Mrs Thatcher was certainly, as Gillian Anderson well portrays, a woman of great ardour, but she was also respectful of constitutional rules.”

The Queen's favourite child

The fourth episode of The Crown sees Prince Philip tease the Queen by telling her it's clear she has a favourite child. She then organises a one-to-one with each of her children, ultimately coming to the conclusion that their children are “lost”. 

It's when she references Andrew (Tom Byrne) that Philip responds: “Your favourite?”

It has been speculated for decades that Prince Andrew is, in fact, the Queen's favourite child. Historian Piers Brendon once explained to Jeremy Paxman on his Channel 5 documentary, Paxman on the Queen’s Children, that the Queen respects that Andrew is “an action man”.

Tom Byrne plays Prince Andrew in ‘The Crown’
Tom Byrne plays Prince Andrew in ‘The Crown’ (Netflix)

Brendon added that being “heroic during the Falklands war” led to a particular “soft spot for him”.

It is now rumoured that this might have changed after his reported links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have emerged.

In 2015, one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, alleged that she was forced to have sex with Epstein and Prince Andrew, a claim that the Duke of York has denied.

The new season of The Crown marks the first episodes to have been written since Andrew stepped down from his royal duties, and one scene in particular appears to reference the allegations.

Michael Fagan's Buckingham Palace break-in

The fifth episode of The Crown’s new season is a fictionalised account of what intruder Michael Fagan spoke to the Queen about after breaking into Buckingham Palace in 1982.

Fagan is renowned for climbing the railings of the Queen's residence and managing to enter via an open window.

According to the man himself, who says he struggles to remember what prompted him to break in, the pair never spoke about Thatcher as it's suggested in the series.

Tom Brooke plays Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan in ‘The Crown’
Tom Brooke plays Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan in ‘The Crown’ (Netflix)

Fagan also told The Telegraph that the set used for the Queen’s bedroom in the Netflix drama is inaccurate, as the Queen “never had a four-poster bed”.

Fagan says she told him “I’ll be back in a minute” and “walked out on her little legs” before a footman offered him a drink.

In the show, the police wrestle Fagan to the ground before escorting him out, which seems to be another stretch by Morgan, who never consulted with Fagan before writing the episode.

“The policemen came and they were all over the place – they hadn’t arrested anyone for years, they were on a retirement posting, on guard duty," he added. "One of them was fumbling around for his notebook.”

As the episode reveals, Fagan did spend three months in a psychiatric hospital. 

Diana and Charles’ tour of Australia  

The frenzy caused by Princess Diana's appearance on Charles’ Australia tour of 1983 is extremely accurate. Furthermore, her husband’s frustration with being overshadowed by her has also been confirmed by multiple sources.

Speaking to ITV for a four-part documentary titled Inside The Crown: Secrets of the Royals, photographer Ken Lennox said that it was here where he first saw that things were not quite right with their marriage.

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in ‘The Crown’
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in ‘The Crown’ (Netflix)

“I'm about four feet from the Princess, and I'm trying to get a bit of the opera house in the background and some of the crowd, and Diana burst into tears and wept for a couple of minutes,” he said during the documentary.

 “After it was over, I went to see the press officer for the Prince and Princess, and I said, 'What happened?' He said, 'Ken, mozzies and jet lag and heat.' So I just accepted that.”

Going by quotes from Diana's former press secretary, Patrick Jephson, the pair’s fractious relationship away from the media seems to have been depicted accurately.

"As professional royal performers they were unbeatable, but behind the scenes it was quite different," he told The Sun

“They didn't talk to each other, there was minimal eye contact, they were short-tempered with each other. Diana enjoyed upstaging her husband and if she was laughing and smiling more it wasn't that she was having more fun but that she knew it got on his nerves.”

In the show’s sixth episode, while in Australia, Diana references the fact that Charles wore cufflinks gifted to him by Parker Bowles on their honeymoon. This actually happened.

The princess herself referenced this in Channel 4 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, stating: “We were opening our diaries to discuss various things. Out comes two pictures of Camilla,. And on our honeymoon, cufflinks arrive on his wrists. Two C’s entwined like the Chanel ‘C’. Got it. One knew exactly. So I said ‘Camilla gave you those didn’t she?’ He said ‘Yes, so what’s wrong? They’re a present from a friend.’” 

Diana added, “And boy, did we have a row. Jealousy, total jealousy. And it was such a good idea the two C’s but it wasn’t that clever.”

The Bowes-Lyon sisters

One of the new season's most surprising moments comes in the seventh episode, which sees Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) discover she has two “hidden” cousins.

Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret in ‘The Crown’
Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret in ‘The Crown’ (Netflix)

Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon are indeed real, and were the daughters of John Herbert Bowes-Lyon – the brother of the Queen Mother – and his wife, Fenella.

The sisters were born with severe learning difficulties and, following the death of their father in 1930, they were admitted to a mental health institution, the Royal Earlswood Hospital in Redhill, London, in 1941.

Their cousins Idonea, Etheldreda and Rosemary – the daughters of Fenella’s sister, Harriet – also had a similar disability, and were admitted to the state-funded hospital on the same day.

Katherine and Nerissa had been listed in the 1963 edition of Burke's Peerage – a reference book to the nation’s aristocracy – as having died in 1940, when in fact they were both still alive.

Diana dancing for Charles’ birthday

The penultimate episode opens with a scene showing Diana surprise Charles by dancing to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” at a private ballet gala – however, her husband is left embarrassed and furious with her actions.

Documentary Princess Diana: The Woman Inside claims that this was indeed the case with royal expert Richard Kay calling it “a present that backfired”.

She had been taught daily lessons to pull off the surprise, but Charles “wasn’t terribly impressed”.

The ballet star Diana danced with was Wayne Sleep, who said of the moment: “She rang me and said, ‘I want to dance with you at Covent Garden this Christmas for the big Christmas gala party that they do as a thank you to all the supporters of the opera house’."

He admitted to being “nervous” ahead of the moment.

The Crown is available to stream on Netflix now

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