“The Crown,” Netflix’s sumptuous drama about the British royal family, isn’t always kind to the Windsors. In fact, through its depiction of Elizabeth II’s wrangling with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the strained marriage of Charles and Diana, Season 4, which premiered last month, might be series creator Peter Morgan’s most anti-monarchical work to date.
But that doesn’t mean it requires a disclaimer, says star Josh O’Connor, who plays Charles.
“We were slightly let down by our culture secretary, whose job it is to encourage culture,” O’Connor told Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal in an interview for a forthcoming episode of “The Envelope: The Podcast,” referring to British culture minister Oliver Dowden’s request that Netflix append a “fiction” label to the series. “In my opinion, it’s pretty outrageous that he came out and said what he said. Particularly in this time when he knows that the arts are struggling and they’re on their knees, I think it’s a bit of a low blow.”
O’Connor, an avowed republican “in the British sense of the word,” also echoed Netflix’s own rejection of the proposed disclaimer: “My personal view is that audiences understand,” he said. “You have to show them the respect and understand that they’re intelligent enough to see it for what it is, which is pure fiction.”
“The Crown’s” most recent season, which also features Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, dramatizes the years coinciding with Thatcher’s often-controversial premiership and Charles and Diana’s fairy-tale romance gone awry. Its heightened version of events has provoked sharp criticism from royalists, like former Charles and Diana aide Dickie Arbiter, who believe its loose treatment of the historical record is irresponsible.
“It’s disingenuous,” Arbiter told The Times recently, “and at the end of the day, it’s a lie with a capital L.”
In a separate interview this week with Times staff writer Mark Olsen for her new film “Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell, who plays Camilla Parker Bowles opposite Charles in Seasons 3 and 4, deferred to the wisdom of Netflix and Peter Morgan, calling the question of the disclaimer “completely above [the cast’s] pay grade.”
But while she was attracted to the role because “The Crown” “tends to give you quite a well-rounded view of all of the characters,” Fennell disputed the suggestion that the series might sway public opinion about Camilla or the Windsors.
“It is a drama, so I don’t know necessarily that it could, in the same way that I’m sure that the early series of ‘The Crown’ wouldn’t necessarily have changed people’s minds about the queen,” she said. “People probably look to reality more to make their minds up.”
Times staff writers Yvonne Villarreal and Mark Olsen contributed to this report.