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Does Historical Accuracy Matter?

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The Crown Billboard Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

This should probably be an introduction to the Top 25 Under 25. It is not. My woeful knowledge of prospects makes that task impossible (if anyone has knowledge, email me at arcticicehockey@gmail.com and we can talk), so here we are talking about history. But not really history, history as portrayed on television. History as portrayed on The Crown on Netflix.

The Crown is a visually beautiful show. The first two seasons tended to focus on humanizing Queen Elizabeth II by using known events like her not being able to let her sister marry a divorced man and remain in the line of succession by using the known rules regarding this and then adding in conversations that showed how hard it was for her to make these decisions. It humanized someone and stuck to the spirit of the events without making anyone look like a monster. You could see that love and duty rarely worked well together.

But season four brought a whole other set of issues to the blending of fact vs. fictionalized retelling. More people remember the events in these seasons as they played out in real life and more people are alive to correct the historical inaccuracies than earlier seasons. The idea that Prince Charles never stopped having contact with Camilla Parker-Bowles vs the fact that according to Princess Diana herself that the best years of their marriage were around the time Prince Harry was born was one example of the inaccuracies at play. In short, they used general perceptions of someone, turned them into facts when the facts were reported on at the time.

Why does this matter? Because while The Crown should be viewed as a wildly expensive soap opera, it is viewed by many as an accurate portrayal of the events that often happened behind closed doors. We don’t know if Princess Diana gave Queen Elizabeth II an awkward hug at one point. We don’t know if Prince Charles berated her during the Australian Tour. Although interestingly enough the portrayal of that tour was brought up in Macleans Magazine prior to the release of season four. Having a happy Charles and Diana, even temporarily, would not service the drama of the season. Prince William was not originally going to go to Australia until the Australian Prime Minister suggested they bring him with them.

Historical accuracy does not matter too much if you make it clear that you are presenting a fictionalized telling of events. That makes it clear that they may have been altered to add more drama to the story. Dramatizing private events leads to historical inaccuracies and it usually does not matter too much. But when you are showing something that is heavily documented, there will be pushback on what is shown and how it is shown. Timelines being messed up and historical figures are softened (ask any Brit about Margaret Thatcher and the reactions are negative at best). Accurate retellings are what documentaries are for, but ensuring that there is some level of accuracy or marketing it as something loosely based on real events are two ways to deal with this. In short, the accuracy only matters if you act like what you made is accurate.