The Crown has turned the royals into a ‘soap opera’, says Queen Elizabeth biographer Gyles Brandreth

Royal biographer claims Netflix’s hit drama series is ‘as truthful about the present royal family as Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” is about Richard III... but not quite as well written’

Roisin O'Connor
Sunday 01 October 2023 16:18 BST
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The Crown - Official Trailer

The Crown should be viewed purely as entertainment rather than for its depiction of the royal family, biographer Gyles Brandreth has said, ahead of the show’s sixth and final season.

In recent years, the Netflix drama has come under scrutiny for its depiction of events such as the tumultuous marriage of King Charles and the late Princess Diana.

In 2020, the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden was widely mocked for suggesting that episodes of The Crown should come with a note explaining that it portrays a fictional interpretation of events.

Helena Bonham Carter, who played Princess Margaret in seasons three and four, however, agreed with Dowden and went so far as to call for an end to the series as its timeline neared the present day.

Appearing at Henley Literary Festival to promote the reissue of his extensive 2022 biography Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, Brandreth, who was well acquainted with the late monarch and her husband, Prince Philip, urged the audience to watch The Crown “if you like entertainment and Frasier isn’t on”.

“But you don’t need to watch it for learning anything,” he said. “Not for a moment, not remotely. Well, a tiny bit – like a cartoon, there’s no harm in that. I have no objection to it as entertainment, none whatsoever. But I think the challenge is they’ve turned [the royal family] into a soap opera.”

Brandreth recalled a conversation he had with the late Duke of Edinburgh in the Nineties, while the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York were making headline news, in which he expressed concern about making “personalities” out of royal family members.

“It just doesn’t work,” Brandreth said. “[The royal family] is not about personalities.”

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in season one of ‘The Crown’

He remarked: “The Crown is as truthful about the present royal family as Shakespeare’s play Richard III is about Richard III... but it’s not quite as well written.

“I have no objection to it existing at all, and the first season rang a bit true. It was entertaining. But as it became more and more recent, there were inaccuracies.”

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He continued: “It’s riddled with mistakes, but that doesn’t really matter, because it’s a bit of fun! It’s a bit of nonsense. It’s slightly frustrating if you’re real people, but they’re not. The Queen wouldn’t dream of watching it.”

‘I think the challenge is they’ve turned [the royal family] into a soap opera,’ says Brandreth

Brandreth’s remarks come shortly after Netflix teased its sixth and final season of The Crown, which will feature a royal wedding storyline.

The streaming giant has said it will “sensitively” cover the death of Diana in 1997, as well as the marriage between the now King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

“After six seasons, seven years and three casts, The Crown comes to an end later this year,” the show’s official account posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We’ll be back with more soon, but here’s a hint at what’s to come in our final season.”

Included in the post was a photo of a programme for the “service of prayer and dedication following the marriage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall”, which took place on Sunday 9 April 2005.

Season six of The Crown is due to be released later this year.

Elsewhere during his talk, Brandreth recalled an apparent quip Queen Elizabeth made to the then governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, during a visit to its London headquarters in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis.

While visiting the Bank of England with Prince Philip in 2008, while the world was in the grip of a financial crisis, the Queen was apparently saying goodbye to the governor when she paused and asked him to remind her how many people worked there.

After being told that 2,317 were employed at the Bank of England’s headquarters, she then remarked: “And yet… none of you saw it coming!”

“She was a very shrewd cookie,” Brandreth said, following laughter from the audience. “She was much more amusing than I think we were led to believe, particularly during the earlier years of her reign.”

Henley Literary Festival continues until 8 October.

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