The Crown is arguably the most famous depiction of the British royal family.
Chronicling some of the most pivotal events from the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, it’s been praised for delving into the private lives of those who try to always hold the country at arm’s length – although it’s known to take artistic license here and there.
Since the Queen’s death last week, the drama has once again become one of the streaming platform’s most-watched shows.
But, the series’ sometimes loose relationship with the truth, and tendency to fill in the gaps with fiction, reportedly puts the Palace on edge – particularly when it comes to the show’s portrayal of the Queen’s heir.
Now that King Charles III is actually on the throne, just how has the series already affected his reputation?
Just how popular is The Crown?
Views for season one (which covers the first decade of the Queen’s reign) of The Crown between Friday, September 9 and Sunday, September 11 rose by more than 800% in the UK alone compared to the previous week, according The Guardian.
It also quadrupled during the same period in the US, and in France, viewership multiplied by three.
This first series only shows Charles as a toddler. But, with such a resurgence of interest, it’s fairly reasonable to think people will start watching the later seasons set in the 70s and 80s, when the Queen’s eldest son (now King Charles III) starts to have his own storylines.
The fifth series is also set to premiere this November, depicting the early to mid 90s – a particularly tumultuous time for Charles as his marriage to Princess Diana completely collapsed.
Season six – production on which was paused following the Queen’s death – is also expected to come out in 2023.
Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, during their official visit to Hungary on May 10, 1990. (Photo: Getty)
Has the show already affected Charles’ reputation?
Yes, but only marginally. YouGov polls from November 2020 – when season four came out – show Charles’ popularity dropped.
Around 40% of respondents at the time said they wanted Prince William to succeed the Queen, rather than Charles.
Then, for the next year or so, there was a slightly higher percentage of people (between 33% and 35%) who thought Charles would not make a good King compared to those who thought he would make a good King (32% to 34%).
This is not surprising. Season four portrayed the then-Prince of Wales as uncaring, and unsympathetic towards his new wife, Princess Diana, resurrecting a period where Charles’ popularity completely plummeted.
Prior to this, season three had a more empathetic depiction of Charles as someone who was struggling with the the restrictions of royal life – and who just wanted to be with his-then girlfriend, Camilla Shand. When the series came out in November 2019, it was the only recent occasion that more respondents voted in favour of having Charles succeed his mother than William.
But, it’s worth remembering that the show only created a small dent in these numbers. Charles is usually perceived as significantly less popular than other royals, especially the Queen, ever since it became clear his relationship with Diana was struggling in the 90s.
Josh O'Connor as the Prince of Wales and Emerald Fennell as Camilla Shand, appearing in the third season of The Crown. (Photo: Netflix)
How accurate has The Crown’s portrayal of Charles been?
As with all programmes depicting real people, the truth has been mixed with fiction. Charles and Diana did have a tumultuous relationship, with both having extramarital affairs throughout their marriage.
The Princess of Wales did also struggle fitting in with the Royal Family, despite her aristocratic background, and she had little in common with Charles from the start.
But, The Crown was criticised for its depiction of Charles and Diana from the off – in their first scene together, she was portrayed as a teenager dressed as a “mad tree” for A Midsummer Night’s Dream while he was dating her older sister.
In reality, she was not dressed up when they met for the first time, although she was still just 16 and Charles did have a brief romance with her sister Sarah.
The Crown (Photo: Netflix)
These included Princess Margaret ridiculing Diana for not being able to curtsey, Charles supposedly calling Camilla Parker Bowles every day in the early years of his marriage – they actually did not resume their relationship until 1986 – and Diana supposedly forcing everyone to change their plans while on tour in Australia.
Prince Philip did also not demand that Charles marry Diana, according to Vickers, but instead called on his son to make a decision because Diana was being hounded by the press at the time.
Former royal chef Darren McGrady also claimed to Us Weekly that the series “really went for the artistic license”. He criticised the portrayal of Charles and Diana’s struggling relationship, explaining that he saw a few magical moments between them.
Where the series portrays the pair as arguing intensely during their royal tour to Australia in 1983, and again in Balmoral Castle, he claimed the pair were on good form.
He said: “When I see The Crown and see that and think, ‘You don’t know the whole truth’.”
Emma Corrin as Diana, Princess of Wales in The Crown, season four (Photo: Netflix)
In season four, Princess Margaret – Charles’ aunt – also intervenes, and suggests Charles and Diana should not get married because they are too incompatible.
Of course, there is a chance this happened, but there’s no proof. In fact, The actor who played Margaret, Helena Bonham-Carter, actually confirmed that it was her idea to have her character interject at the time.
In contrast, Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell has claimed the series was an accurate depiction of Diana’s state of mind.
He told The Sun: “Josh O’Connor plays Prince Charles as a rather uncaring, cold person. And I’m afraid that’s what I saw behind closed doors.”
Burrell added: “He was married to probably the most beautiful woman in the world. But he didn’t look after her, and that’s what comes across in The Crown.”
As The Crown’s scriptwriter Peter Morgan told The Times: “Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy but you must never forsake the truth.”
But, everyone knows it’s mostly fiction... don’t they?
Well, even if everyone knows The Crown is not entirely true, the re-hashing of past events has certainly not helped. A whole new generation is now aware of the tensions between Charles and Diana, as former royal correspondent Jennie Bond told the BBC’s Newscast podcast.
“I think the difficulty is knowing which is the truth and which isn’t,” she said. “Particularly for the younger generation who are watching, who hadn’t lived through those times, who didn’t know those people, they are going to believe what they see. They are going to see this as a documentary.”
Similarly, Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian in 2020: “The Crown’s fake history is as corrosive as fake news.”
He suggested that the series was reframing real events “to suit a plot that could have been scripted by Diana’s biggest supporters”.
Then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden seemed to share these concerns over the accuracy of the series back in 2020, describing it the Daily Mail as “a beautifully produced work of fiction”.
King Charles III is keen to make a good impression as the new monarch (Photo: Getty)
This then sparked conversations about whether the show should open with a disclaimer that it was not actually based on truth.
The actor who plays Prince Charles in season 3 and 4, Josh O’Connor, previously told BBC Breakfast that remembering the show was fiction was essential for viewers.
He said: “Ultimately, what Peter does so brilliantly is that he kind of takes the historical facts, you know, the moments in history that you can either remember or you’ve seen footage of, and then paints in-between those punctuation moments.”
He continued: “There’s a fascination with the royals and sometimes people will want to believe that this is what happened.
“I think it’s just always worth checking in and remembering that this – we’re actors, and we’re not real, and it’s not a real story.”
Prince Harry – the second son of Charles and Diana – even told James Corden’s The Late Late Show that he preferred the show’s portrayal events to the media’s depiction of what happened.
“They don’t pretend to be news. It’s fictional,” Harry said. “But it’s loosely based on the truth.
“Of course, it’s not strictly accurate, of course not, but loosely it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that.
“I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife or myself. Because… that [The Crown] is obviously fiction, take it how you will. But this is being reported on as fact because you’re supposedly news. I have a real issue with that.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.