The Crown season five contains a king’s ransom of inaccuracies. But never mind that

Television: Truth and fiction mingle in the Netflix royal drama’s new series. Its showrunner, Peter Morgan, has never pretended otherwise

The Crown: Elizabeth Debicki, acting with her eyes and her tilting head, uncannily inhabits Princess Diana in the final years of her life. Photograph: Keith Bernstein/Netflix

John Major, Judi Dench, Jemima Goldsmith, a former archbishop of Canterbury… The list of luminaries decrying season five of The Crown for what they say is a king’s ransom of inaccuracies, conflations and downright falsehoods threatens to stretch longer than the queue to see Queen Elizabeth lying in state.

Amid such an avalanche of criticism, and with Britain still raw following its monarch’s death, Netflix has added to trailers for The Crown the disclaimer that the new season, which begins streaming on Wednesday, is a fictional dramatisation “inspired by real-life events”.

The series’ creator and showrunner, Peter Morgan, has always been steadfast that The Crown is a work of “conjecture” that conveys an “underlying truth” about the Windsors. But this year that conjecture arguably reaches a breaking point.

The queen’s famous annus horribilis speech, from 1992, has been recast to read as an apologia by Elizabeth to her sister, Princess Margaret, for stymying her love life. Princes Charles is shown seeking the support of Major, who was prime minister at the time, to encourage his mother to abdicate. (Major has said the sequence is entirely fictional.) And there’s a big dollop of innuendo in the depiction of a friendship between Prince Philip and a minor toff.


Whatever about inaccuracies, what’s it like as TV? With both Philip and the queen having died since season four, two years ago, the series has acquired a circumstantial piquancy. But it also suffers from the departure of Tobias Menzies, with his wry tilt at Philip, and, in particular, of Olivia Colman as the grand poobah of Buckingham Palace.

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Colman brought a supreme drollness to Elizabeth, and there are several scenes this time around that she would have milked for deadpan comedy. That zing is missing from Imelda Staunton’s portrayal of the older Elizabeth as sensible and imperturbable. And while that may be an accurate portrait of “the sovereign”, as she is annoyingly referred to as the new season kicks off, in the late 1980s, it does take some of the sparkle out of the spectacle.

Not that the season lacks shimmer. Most of it comes from Elizabeth Debicki, who, acting with her eyes and her tilting head, uncannily inhabits Princess Diana in the final years of her life.

Her separation from Charles (played by a solid Dominic West) and the manipulations that led to her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir are re-created with a vigour that verges on the histrionic. In the case of the controversy around Bashir, who forged documents to gain Diana’s trust, Morgan can’t resist ladling on the melodrama – an opportunity presented to him on a gilded platter, given that the interview was conducted in secret on Guy Fawkes Night.

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Treachery, a powder keg under the seat of British power, explosions in the sky: no metaphor is left unturned as The Crown intercuts Diana’s sit-down with Bashir with Charles and Camilla, his future queen consort, enjoying fireworks. It’s not subtle.

Diana’s future boyfriend Dodi Fayed receives a lavish origin-story episode. And there is huge comedy value in seeing the stuffy John Major portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller, who, in the mid-1990s, was to be found gurning down from the poster for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. (Bertie Carvel is comparatively underwhelming as Tony Blair.)

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Whether The Crown is good history or cynical exploitation of the Windsors and their woes is a question over which Britain will no doubt agonise in the weeks to come. For the rest of us the series is as stonkingly overcooked as ever. Truth and fiction may have mingled, but with results this bingeable who’s going to quibble? Not Netflix subscribers, you can bet.

Season five of The Crown streams on Netflix from Wednesday, November 9th