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Is Netflix's 'The Crown' a true story?

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4-min read

Watch: Is The Crown a true story?

In season four, The Crown is going to bring the 1980s to our screens, covering the royal and political developments of a turbulent decade.

The Queen will find an interesting character in Margaret Thatcher, her first female prime minister, while her son Charles navigates courtship and marriage with Diana.

But is the show a true story?

The short answer is yes - and no.

The Crown is based largely on real events in British history and the characters in the programme were, or are, mostly real people.

Obviously, the Queen is a real woman, and her children and family are all real people. The political events and situations portrayed are real parts of history.

But, what is less accurate is the detail of conversations. We don’t know what the Queen and Philip or Margaret speak about in real life, for example, so those conversations in the show have some artistic licence.

Tobias Menzies and Olivia Colman as Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in 'The Crown'. (Credit: Des Willie/Netflix)
Tobias Menzies and Olivia Colman as Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in 'The Crown'. (Credit: Des Willie/Netflix)

There are also some instances where characters are not quite accurate. For example, Prince William of Gloucester features in season three, at the Queen’s silver jubilee, but in reality, he had died before this time in her reign.

And the assistant to Winston Churchill who died in season one, was not a real person.

But Michael Fagan really did break into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace - an event that will be shown in season four - though we don’t know what they spoke about.

There are at least five researchers on The Crown, who look at the historic events and the people involved and provide notes to the cast and crew.

Annie Sulzberger is the head of research. Ahead of season four, she said: “We start with Peter [Morgan, the show’s creator], helping to write the scripts and organise his thoughts about how he thinks the series will go.

“Once we’re done with that writing process, all of the researchers sort of disperse and aid the other departments. So, we’ll help casting by writing biographies on the people that they need to hunt down and giving them as much character work [as] they need to really find the right actors.

“We will work with the art department in trying to give them as much visual information as possible to either create sets or buy items for a scene, even how many dogs and what kinds of dogs for a scene, for them to get in as animal actors.

“Graphics as well, for any printing of newspapers and so on and so forth. The research really spreads out after the writing process has finished.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 05: (L-R) Gillian Anderson and Peter Morgan attend the Netflix 2020 Golden Globes After Party on January 05, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)
Gillian Anderson and Peter Morgan in January 2020. Morgan is the creator of 'The Crown' and Anderson is one of the stars in season four. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Read more: 'The Crown' actress Emma Corrin says she 'feels sorry' for the Royal Family

As well as researchers, The Crown takes advantage of historians and consultants who were there, or who have close contacts who were.

One of those is Robert Lacey, a biographer who recently wrote Battle of Brothers, about the reported rift between Prince William and Prince Harry.

In 2019, as he published his official companion to the show, Lacey said: “It’s all true, but it’s true in two different ways.

“There’s a difference between history and the past. We, historians, are like gardeners: we stand there with a sieve, and all the events of the past go through the sieve, and a lot of it falls below.

“What’s left in the sieve, that’s the history that the historian deals with. But lots of things pass through and can only be accessed by informed invention and imagination, and that’s what we do with The Crown. We do incredible research.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 13: (L-R) Erin Doherty, Marion Bailey, Tobias Menzies, Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Josh O'Connor attend the World Premiere of Netflix Original Series "The Crown" Season 3 at The Curzon Mayfair on November 13, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)
Erin Doherty, Marion Bailey, Tobias Menzies, Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Josh O'Connor ahead of season three of 'The Crown'. (David M. Benett/WireImage)

Read more: Why 'The Crown' Season 4 is the Netflix show's best season yet

Speaking about how Morgan works, Lacey told History Extra the creator starts with research, adding he “takes his inspiration from that, then checks the scripts with people like me, as well as with the people who were actually involved in the real events – the best sources of all.

“But yes, from time to time, Peter also pushes his imagination to outright invention – what you could call dramatic license, or as I would prefer to put it, dramatic underlining.”

There’s definitely some of British history to be brushed up on in The Crown, but it is a drama, not a documentary.

The Crown season four streams on Netflix from 15 November.

Watch: Three things to watch on Netflix this November