The Crown’s head of research calls out criticism of the show's historical accuracy: ‘Collective memory is inaccurate’

Annie Sulzberger speaks to Yahoo UK about criticism aimed at the series

Watch The Crown head of research Annie Sulzberger discuss criticism over the show's accuracy:

The Crown has been criticised for its historical inaccuracy in recent years, particularly as the show has come closer to modern day, but Annie Sulzberger is ready to fight back.

Sulzberger is the head of research for the Netflix hit and has been a part of the project since it began production in 2014, and she admits to Yahoo UK that she finds the recent increased criticism towards the show's depiction of the British Royal family's story "frustrating."

She explains: “The closer to the history that we've lived, the more bereaved people feel about things not being right [but] the way that we've approached the show has always remained the same, so our tactics have never shifted.

“We always start the online process from research, that is how Peter [Morgan, the show's creator] has always intended for the show to function and that's how we've done it from the beginning, and in the beginning it was just five of us [in the writer’s room] and 2 1/2 of us were on research. So you can tell where his emphasis was, really.

Ed McVey as Prince William / Credit: Justin Downing
The Crown has been criticised for its historical accuracy in the past, the show's new episodes will shift focus from Princess Diana to Prince William (Netflix)

“So the creative choices Peter chooses to make often [happen] when we're confronted with three or four versions that are each actually quite credible.

“It's up to us really to try to do a deep dive into which one makes the most sense to us, where our source material is coming from, what is more trusted, and then for him to make a creative decision.

"I think with the show in the beginning it felt so removed, nobody questioned it, those decisions — which have not been changed.”Annie Sulzberger

She adds: “Peter’s decided to put his own spin on something, and now that we've reached collective memory, which is as inaccurate if not more, I would say, than many of the decisions that we've ever made to stray from history.

“It's just become much harder, take Diana's death, for example, most people their memories of that incident stop with the information they received in 1997.

Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce as the Queen and Prince Philip. (Netflix)
Annie Sulzberger called out how the creative decisions made on the show haven't changed, and they still do lots of research (Netflix)

“That's a very flawed place to stop because it isn't until the inquest was published in 2008 that we actually gained the information we needed to recreate the events of 1997, because that's when witness testimonies were published. That's when the Met Police vetted the people who were telling their stories, some of whom they decided were incredibly untrustworthy but had already fed the media in 97 their versions of events.

"It's a frustrating thing. It's what we do, there's five people on my team [and what] we find is ungoogleable, I would say. We are knee deep in National Archives research, we have confidential sources.Annie Sulzberger

“We vet not only the history, but the source that it comes from, so we actively research the journalists who are reporting, who their conduits of information are directly from the palace, or in this series the Fayed family for example and we're accessing stuff that most of the public actually can access strangely enough because the National Archives is indeed open.

“But it's something you wouldn't naturally be inclined to do, so it's difficult when you see those true and false articles. Unfortunately, a lot of those are wrong because they haven't done the depth of research that we have been able to [do] by having five full time researchers for 10 years.”

One element of The Crown’s final season that drew the most criticism was the inclusion of Princess Diana’s ghost after her death, who appears to Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, and the ghost of Dodi Fayed who speaks with his father.

The Crown season 6 (Netflix)
One major criticism came with the inclusion of Diana's ghost in the first half of season 6, which Sulzberger defended (Netflix)

Sulzberger explains that the idea “was entirely Peter” Morgan’s idea, adding: “I really enjoy those scenes for two reasons. We do know that, for example, Charles [was] looking at being a single father now and having to help his children and the country at the same time through this process of grief that immediately makes you have a sense of regret over what's happened, right?

“This is not something that Charles ever would have wanted to happen for the boys, to lose their mother, regardless of how acrimonious his own marriage was, they'd reached a really nice place in their divorce.

"For him to be able to actually say ‘I feel nothing but regret’, I think is actually a very moving moment.Annie Sulzberger

“But it's also how we grieve, you talk to a lot of doctors, which we've done, and they talk about how people live out those conversations with ones who are taken from them so swiftly, and I think the speed at which Diana was taken and Dodi, to me, suggests that those were the conversations they wished they had.

Luther Ford as Prince Harry, Ed McVey as Prince William / Credit: Justin Downing
Sulzberger explained that the ghosts were included in the show to represent the conversations characters wished they'd had with their lost loved ones (Netflix)

“If she had stage 4 cancer and knew she had six months to live, they could have had those conversations in real life. But for us, it allowed a sense of closure and some agency over their feelings, which I think was really nice to actually be quite blunt about it.”

“So to me, they're not ghosts. They're just imagined final conversations that these people may have had with them in their heads.”Annie Sulzberger

The second half of the show's final season will focus on several subjects, such as Princess Margaret's death in 2002 and Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles wedding in 2005, but one of the most interesting focal points is the first meeting and relationship between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Dominic West as Prince Charles, Olivia Williams as Camilla/ Credit: Justin Downing
The second half of the show's final season will focus on several subjects, such as Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles wedding in 2005 (Netflix)

Sulzberger says of their approach to the historical accuracy of this narrative: "That was a really interesting one, because who knows how they felt about each other at what point, you have to look at their emotions differently from the emotions of a 40 year old man, right? Teenage emotions are more fleeting.

"They're trying to find their own footing, so I think for us we read a lot of material, and one of our associates Robert Lacy had just written a book called Battle of Brothers [that] had dealt a little bit with his time at Saint Andrews and their relationship, between Harry and William and this introduction of Kate.

"We spoke to lots of authors who had focused on [it], but for Peter I think it was more creatively freeing... imagine what it feels like to be a young man going off to university having lived a life in front of the public eye, those years between Diana's death and university no one else, I think, experienced [that] other than a huge pop star.

Meg Bellamy as Kate Middleton and Ed McVey as Prince William in The Crown S6. (Netflix)
Another focus will be Prince William and Kate's relationship, which Sulzberger said required a lot of research (Netflix)

"So, do you walk in nervous? Do you walk in apprehensive because you think it's going to continue? Do you feel this is a safe space? And so, for us, it was talking a lot about psychology, funnily enough, in the same way I think in series three we did with Prince Philip and his midlife crisis in the Apollo 11 mission.

"A lot of our research was actually just based in the psychology of what it would feel like going to university at this time, why he took a gap year, what did he want to learn? What sspects of his character did he want to develop in that time? And so, for Peter, he really just approached it in a very sympathetic manner.

"To try to understand how you build a life when you're 18 and 19 years old, on your own and now you find out what's of interest to you whilst knowing you're not going to go off and study art history and be a curator because you're the heir to the throne. So having that constantly, that burden of his future decided for him, whilst also trying to independently Individualise himself."

The Crown season 6 part 2 premieres on Netflix on Friday, 14 December.

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