Say what you like about Netflix and Peter Morgan, the producers and creator of The Crown respectively, but they’ve certainly gone out in a blaze of either glory or outrage. The final six episodes of the sixth season were released separately to the first four, and it isn’t hard to see why. Taken cumulatively, their daring blend of fantasy, heavily fictionalized historical events and mischievous provocation amount to nothing less than the send-off that this always divisive and perennially popular show has merited since it began in 2016.
It would take too long to detail all the divergences from the truth that the final episodes offer. Some of the most jaw-dropping moments, though, include a scene where Prince William outright asks Prince Charles whether he was involved in Princess Diana’s death and the suggestion that the Queen came close to abdicating in favor of her son around the time of his wedding to Camilla in April 2005. There is also a storyline revolving around Prime Minister Tony Blair attempting to pare back the traditions and ceremonies associated with the monarchy, including suggesting that posts such as the “warden of the swans” and “the Queen’s herb strewer” be abolished altogether. This doesn’t even touch on the imagined moments where Blair is lavishly crowned “King Tony” in a new British republic, nor the finale, where the Queen is alternately persuaded and dissuaded to quit the throne by visions of her younger selves, played, as before, by Olivia Colman and Claire Foy.
This is Netflix, after all, where entertainment is prized above sobriety
Morgan has always sailed close to the wind with the fictionalized aspects of The Crown, arguing that his vision was for a drama loosely based on the decades of Elizabeth II’s reign rather than a near-documentary adherence to the facts. Certainly, its first two seasons — which, it is now clear, were its artistic highpoint — mixed often obscure real-life stories with a generous helping of dramatic license. The result of this was both intelligent historical reconstruction and as gripping as the best box set drama: who can forget Pip Torrens’s magisterially stern private secretary, Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, or Alex Jennings’s superbly slimy Duke of Windsor?
Yet as the show has come closer to the present day, its creators have been faced with a choice. Should it stick to a recreation of established facts in living memory with invented dialogue, docudrama style, or go off in wilder and more unexpected directions? This is Netflix, after all, where entertainment is prized above sobriety.
And so the final episodes revel in unlikely imagined juxtapositions, often by playing fast and loose with chronology. For instance, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first kiss did not take place immediately after her appearance in a sheer dress at a St. Andrews fashion show, nor was it interrupted by his protection officer telling him about the death of his great-grandmother the Queen Mother. Meanwhile, the treatment of Harry throughout these episodes — glowering, swearing, dressing up in a Nazi uniform — is unlikely to endear Netflix to the Duke of Sussex, with whom he and his wife once signed such a financially lucrative deal. He has, nevertheless, let it be known that he shall not be watching a show that he previously described (to James Corden, no less) as “obviously fiction.”
The irony is that the show works best when it completely goes for broke — the “King Tony” coronation scene is intentionally hilarious, complete with a chorus of choirboys singing the new national anthem “Things Can Only Get Better.” The Crown may have begun as a reasonably sober and nuanced drama, but as it embraces high camp and low skulduggery alike, it has transformed itself into British soap Eastenders with RP accents, complete with Harry-bashing on the side. Purists and royal historians will carp at its tastelessness and excess, but for sheer unbridled entertainment, there’s unlikely to be anything to match it this Christmas. Yo ho ho.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.