The princess and the tea: Why Buckingham Palace is worried about "The Crown"

A senior royal insider warns, the "exploitative" Netflix show is "a drama not a documentary"

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published September 26, 2022 5:32PM (EDT)

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in "The Crown" (Netflix)
Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in "The Crown" (Netflix)

Less than a month after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace is bracing itself for potential fallout due to a popular television program. The show is "The Crown," and the palace? Apparently, they're worried. This, according to a "senior royal insider" who told The Telegraph that the Netflix show is "exploitative" and wanted to stress to fans that the show, which chronicles the life of the queen and other royals starting in 1947, is "a drama not a documentary."

What could have the palace up in arms? Season 5 of "The Crown" is set to premiere on Netflix on Nov. 9. Production on the show stopped briefly as a sign of respect for the late monarch, but what remains unchanged is the date for the upcoming season, which moves the story forward to 1992. Not the best year for the royal family. Salon examines what could be alarming the palace and what to expect from the blockbuster show.  

Season 4 of "The Crown" ends with trouble. In the finale, titled appropriately with the double-meaning "War," Princess Diana and then-Prince Charles want out of their marriage (Charles to be with the object of his long-term affair, Camilla; Diana to be free), but the queen is resistant. Left awkwardly and alone off to the side at a royal family Christmas photo, Diana's eyes fill with tears in the last shot. 

The next season will pick up the tension and then some. Similiar to HBO's "House of the Dragon," the actors change at "The Crown" as the real-life people they're portraying age. Olivia Colman is replaced by Imelda Staunton as the queen. Elizabeth Debicki takes over from Emma Corrin, who won a Golden Globe playing Diana, while Dominic West has stepped into Josh O'Connor's shoes as Charles. It's apparently a teaser trailer for the new season that has so alarmed the palace.

In that 30-second trailer, Diana and Charles are seen getting ready for respective television interviews while a barrage of journalists read headlines about the end of the royal couple's marriage. "This is becoming all-out war," says one voiceover, tying in nicely to the last episode's title. 

That interview

An interview with Charles where he admits to cheating will be dramatized.

Perhaps the show chose a montage of interviews for the teaser as interviews will play a part in the next season as well. A big part. An interview with Charles where he admits to cheating will be dramatized along with an episode of the BBC documentary "Panorama." 

Titled "An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales" Diana was interviewed by Martin Bashir for nearly an hour on "Panorama," during which time she openly discussed depression, her marriage, and her relationship with the royal family, who she believed saw her as a "threat of some kind." In the interview, she also famously said she didn't feel many people wanted her to be queen, but she hoped she could someday be the "queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts."

In 2022, the BBC formally apologized for that interview, which was obtained unethically after Bashir fabricated allegations against the nanny of Diana's young children in order to convince Diana to talk, providing falsified bank statements as so-called evidence. Not only did the BBC swear never to air the interview again, according to TalkTV, they also vowed "never to provide the rights to other broadcasters." But that doesn't appear to cover dramatizations, like "The Crown."

The royal source told The Telegraph, "What people forget is that there are real human beings and real lives at the heart of this."

The end of marriages

The dissolution of Charles and Diana will obviously make up a large component of the next season of "The Crown." But it's not the only royal marriage that combusted during that time. Princess Anne divorced her then-husband Mark Phillips and Prince Andrew's marriage to Sarah, Duchess of York, also ended. 

It seems unlikely that Season 5 of "The Crown" will be a love letter to Charles.

Famously, Prince Andrew resigned from public roles in May 2020 following allegations of sexual abuse and suspicion over his association with the late, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In 2022, Andrew paid a settlement to a woman who accused him of sexual assaulting her when she was 17. Andrew's ex-wife Sarah, known as Fergie, less famously inherited the queen's beloved corgis upon her passing. 

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown" (Netflix/Alex Bailey)Less about the queen

The source also reported to The Telegraph that the upcoming season of "The Crown" may create tension because the era it's dramatizing is so recent. Real-life footage already exists of some of the show's events and characters that will allow viewers to draw comparisons. Along with the well-known interviews of Diana and Charles, there are countless reels of news footage. "People will have more of an opportunity to compare the real people with the fiction they see in 'The Crown'," the source told The Telegraph. "In the past they didn't get so much coverage, so in that sense it was harder for people to be able to compare and contrast the drama with the reality."

Will the drama live up to the reality, or vice versa? In the previous season, Philip, counseling Diana, reminds her the queen is "the only person that matters. She's the oxygen we all breathe." And in the wake of the real queen's death, "The Crown" creator Peter Morgan in a statement called the show "a love letter" to her.

But the upcoming season may be less about her, and more about the young woman who was the "people's princess," if not the queen of their hearts. As Forbes wrote, "'The Crown' is just going to be an entirely different experience in the wake of Elizabeth's death and the fact that its new primary focus, Charles, is the actual king now."

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It seems unlikely that Season 5 of "The Crown" will be a love letter to Charles, but perhaps it is to Diana. And one thing is certain; viewership of the hit show shows no sign of slowing. After the queen's passing, viewing hours shot up by 800% in the United Kingdom alone. 

This new season is purported to be the second to last, which may also increase interest. As for Season 6? Hang on to your fascinators. West, who plays Charles, told Deadline that the final season "will be as tumultuous as it gets."


By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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