What was real and what was fictional
Although The Crown is based on the real British royal family, the show’s plot can often make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Season 5 of The crown finally streaming on Netflix after a two-year wait. The first season of The crown aired in 2016, telling the story of all the major players in the royal family tree beginning just before Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. Since then, each season has covered approximately a decade in the life of the royal family.
The new season of The crown is set between 1991 and 1997 and sees Charles and Diana near the end of their tumultuous marriage, securing their position as global tabloid fodder. (And, as season five points out, coverage of their lives would often blur the line between journalism and salacious gossip.)
Despite the fact that there were so many real-life royal dramas during this era, there are elements of The crown which are not based on actual events, so much so that Netflix has added a disclaimer upon release of the trailer for this season which stated, “Inspired by real events, this fictional dramatization tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and the political and personal events that shaped her reign.”
It can be confusing to separate fact from fiction. Here is a fact check of The crown season five to help figure out what’s real and what’s not.
Here is what was actually true in The crown– and what was not
Most of the historical events that appeared on The crown are based on real events. Let’s start with a few things that have definitely happened.
Truth: Martin Bashir used fake evidence to convince Princess Diana to appear on Panorama
On The crown Season 5, Episode 7, BBC reporter Martin Bashir (played by Prasanna Puwanarajah) fabricates fake bank statements to convince Charles Spencer and his sister, princess diana (Elizabeth Debicki), to believe that members of their trusted teams were paid by British intelligence to obtain information about them. In turn, Bashir played on their fears and gained Diana’s trust enough to convince her to appear on his television show, Panoramagiving one of the most explosive interviews of the decade.
In 2020, an independent inquiry found Bashir guilty of wrongdoing and the BBC apologized to Charles Spencer for Bashir’s deception.
Truth: Prince Philip was a world-class carriage driver
Season 5 episode 2 is when we learn Prince Philipobsession with driving a horse-drawn carriage. In fact, Philip (played by actor Jonathan Pryce) was not only a sports fan, but competed internationally as a member of the British diving team. He also wrote several books and was president of the International Equestrian Federation.
Truth: Windsor Castle suffered massive fire damage in 1992
Tim Graham/Getty Images
In episode 4 of season 5, queen elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) called 1992 “annus horribilis”, or a horrible year. It was the year that marked the separation of Charles and Diana as well as Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Adding to the heartbreak, 1992 was also the year Windsor Castle caught fire when a searchlight lit a curtain, destroying dozens of rooms and several priceless works of art,
Truth: Mohamed Al-Fayed hired the Duke of Windsor’s former valet Sydney Johnson to work for him
In Season 5 Episode 3, we are introduced to Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), the Egyptian businessman who would go on to build an empire that included the Ritz hotel in Paris and the Harrods department store in London. As the show shows, Al-Fayed was a lifelong Anglophile and met and hired Sydney Johnson, a Bahamian man who had previously spent three decades as a valet to Edward, Duke of Windsor after Edward had abdicated the throne. Johnson began working for Al-Fayed in 1977, five years after Edward’s death. After the death of Edward’s wife, Wallis Simpson, Al-Fayed bought their Paris estate and, together with Johnson, helped restore it.
Regarding the end of this episode, when Mohamed Al-Fayed met Princess Diana, although we don’t know if they really bonded instantly during a polo match, it is true that the two are became friends years before Diana started dating Mohamed’s son, Dodi Al Fayed. Dodi would later die in the 1997 car crash that also took Diana’s life.
Truth: Tampongate Really Happened
Tim Graham/Getty Images
In 1989, when Charles and Camilla’s Affair was not yet public, the two engaged in a phone conversation where Charles compared himself to a tampon. The conversation was later made public in 1993 after Diana and Charles split.
And now for a few things that appear on The crown season 5 that didn’t really happen…
Fiction: The Sunday time survey
Throughout the season, Prince Charles (Dominic West) is seen as a man ready to take on new responsibilities. Specifically, the responsibility of being king. In episode 1, a poll showing that half of the British population think their aging mother, Queen Elizabeth, should abdicate her role is published in the Sunday time, and Charles takes this as a sign that he should start preparing to be king. He even goes so far as to meet Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller) to ask for his support.
But none of that happened. No such poll was published in 1991 by the Sunday time, and no such conversation between Major and the Prince of Wales. In fact, Major is one of the biggest detractors this season. He called the series “a barrel of nonsense”.
Fiction: The affair between Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull
It is true that Prince Philip and his godson’s wife, Penny Knatchbull, were both invested in the sport of carriage driving, and it is also true that their friendship gave rise to speculation that there was something more. But alas, there is no concrete evidence that Prince Philip engaged in an affair with Penny.
Fiction: Diana did not warn the Queen about her Panorama interview
Everyone involved with Princess Diana Panorama interview knew it was a giant risk to let the estranged princess speak so outspoken on the nation’s most revered broadcast network. While it is true that Marmaduke Hussey, then chairman of the BBC, felt it was a disgrace to air the interview, the Queen herself was not warned by Diana before the incendiary show aired in 1995. The conversation between Diana and the Queen was a pure invention, confirmed by Patrick Jephson, Diana’s publicist at the time.
Although it can be confusing to analyze What The crown is wrong about the royal family and what the show succeeds in, Season 5 remains more captivating than ever thanks to its excellent writing and cast. What we do know for sure is that season six, which tackles the final months of Diana’s life and the years that follow, can’t come soon enough.