Longtime royal photographer puts some of The Crown’s contentious moments in context


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The last time Arthur Edwards took a photo of Prince Charles with Lord Louis Mountbatten, the heir to the throne had his arm around his great uncle. Similarly, Mountbatten had his arm around his great-nephew. 

They both seemed to be in fine form that day, not too long before Mountbatten lost his life to an IRA bomb in the summer of 1979 off the coast of Ireland.

“They were laughing together,” Edwards, the longtime royal photographer for the Sun newspaper, recalled over the phone from the U.K. this week. 

The recollection came to mind as controversy swirls over the newly released Season 4 of the Netflix drama The Crown.

The show takes viewers into the reign of Queen Elizabeth, with the latest season moving the action into the 1980s. In the first episode, Mountbatten is seen just before his assassination writing a letter to Charles saying he could bring “ruin and disappointment” on the Royal Family with his pursuit of Camilla Parker Bowles, who in real life is now Charles’s wife but at that time was married to someone else.

There’s no evidence — again, in real life — that such a letter was ever written or that Charles and Mountbatten quarrelled before he was killed. 

WATCH | Why latest season of The Crown has sparked controversy: 

Season 4 of The Crown has proven popular with viewers, but because it is based on relatively recent history it’s facing more criticism for distorting real-life events. 2:16

It’s just one of many moments in the latest season that have set off debate over how fact meets fiction in the award-winning drama created by Peter Morgan.

“Many people will think it’s the truth … but it’s not,” said Edwards, who snapped his first photo of Charles feeding sugar to his polo ponies in the mid-1970s, just after he’d left the Royal Navy. 

“Much of it … comes out of a scriptwriter’s brain, which I can understand because … it’s drama.” 

What bothers Edwards, he said, is the portrayal of Charles.

“I’ve worked with him now for over 40 years, and I don’t recognize that man in it.”

And therein lies a challenge of turning history into drama. 

Emerald Fennell, as Camilla Parker Bowles, meets with Diana, as played by Corrin, during Season 4 of The Crown. (Des Willie/Netflix)

“Certainly, in every season [of The Crown], there’s a blend of fact and fiction, but it stands out in Season 4 because we are getting closer to the present day,” said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris.

Because so many in the audience will have their own memories of how what is portrayed in Season 4 turned out in real life — how Charles’s marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, collapsed in spectacular fashion, for example — there is perhaps further potential for the controversy now swirling.

“It’s always a challenge with historical fiction that the people who are being portrayed do not know what’s going to happen next, but the audience … does,” said Harris.

In some instances, the episodes present events that played out in the public eye and reflect the historical record.

“An example is that engagement interview where Prince Charles famously said, ‘whatever in love means,'”said Harris.

But there are many other examples of events being fictionalized or put together to create a narrative. 

WATCH | Josh O’Connor talks about becoming Prince Charles for The Crown:

British actor Josh O’Connor, who portrays the Prince of Wales in season four of Netflix’s The Crown, explains what it was like to examine the “human” side of the royal. 1:03

Take Michael Fagan’s break-in at Buckingham Palace, a focus of Episode 5. That actually happened, in 1982. He breached security and made it to the Queen’s bedroom, where he spoke to her.

“But Michael Fagan describes it as a very brief conversation before he was arrested, whereas for the purposes of the series, he has a more extended dialogue about [Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher’s politics in order to tie this event to the series’s critique of political developments while [she] was prime minister,” said Harris.

Edwards worries, however, that people will believe The Crown’s version of what happened when Fagan broke into the palace that night, which isn’t true, with its portrayal of a longer chat with the Queen.

“That’s what really irritates me,” he said.

And he remains troubled by the thought that the portrayal of Charles, pilloried for a bad marriage, doesn’t reflect the driven and hard-working man he has seen up close, whether he is visiting and offering support to schoolgirls in northern Nigeria or the Jewish community in Krakow, Poland. 

“You won’t see that on Netflix.”

Diana chats with Charles in an early scene from Season 4 of The Crown. (Des Willie/Netflix via AP)

Edwards went with Charles when he returned in 2015 to the site of Mountbatten’s assassination.

“I watched him … and he was remembering it.”

As aware as Edwards is of The Crown, he has stopped watching it.  

“You’ve got to remember it’s drama; it’s not necessarily the whole truth.”

Just let loose and dance

In Corrin’s research to prepare for playing Diana, she was surprised to learn the significance of dance for the Princess of Wales. (Des Willie/Netflix)

Peter Morgan may be the creative mind behind The Crown, but in the current season, at least one moment playing out on the small screen came straight from the actor.

At one point, Diana — played by Emma Corrin — dances by herself with wild abandon inside a very well-appointed room at Buckingham Palace — or in this case, a stately home filling the role of the palace where Diana went to live after her engagement to Prince Charles was announced in 1981.

“It was one of my favourite scenes to film,” Corrin said in a recent interview with the Royal Fascinator. 

“I loved it because they wanted to choreograph it, and I said, ‘Do you mind if we don’t … I don’t think we can choreograph a moment like that. I’d love to just let loose and dance.'”

So she did, and she chose the song that was blasting over the speakers during filming, a bit of musical time travel to 1998, and Cher’s Believe.

Corrin’s love for the song dates back a few years. 

“There’s a theatre company in Britain called DV8, and they do this show called The Cost of Living, and there’s an amazing dance scene,” she said. “A guy does this dance to Cher’s  … Believe…. It’s like the truest form of expression I’ve seen.”

In Corrin’s research for the role, she was surprised to learn how important dance was for Diana.

“It was quite a private thing,” said Corrin. “You see her dancing and what that does, how that is such a mode of expression and release, and I thought that was really interesting.”

Looking ahead — and looking back

Plans are underway to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, recognizing 70 years on the throne. (Toby Melville/The Associated Press)

Every so often over the past few years, there have been rumblings about whether Queen Elizabeth, now 94, might step aside from her role as she gets older.

And as soon as those rumblings emerge, other royal observers are quick to note how that is unlikely for a variety of reasons, including the dark shadow cast by her uncle’s abdication as King Edward VIII in 1936, her deep devotion to duty and how she has always considered her role as one for life.

So it wasn’t too surprising to see that scenario play out again in recent days when one royal biographer suggested Elizabeth might “step down” when she turns 95 next April. 

But soon after, there was also a very strong signal from Buckingham Palace about looking ahead in her reign.

The first plans were announced for celebrations in 2022 to mark her Platinum Jubilee, or 70 years on the throne. It would be an unprecedented milestone — no British monarch has reigned as long as she has. In the United Kingdom, it will culminate in a four-day bank holiday weekend in early June.

Oliver Dowden, the British culture secretary, said it would be a “truly historic moment” worthy of a “celebration to remember,”  the BBC reported.

Royals in Canada

Diana waves to spectators as she leaves the hotel en route to Commonwealth Stadium and the opening of the World University Games in Edmonton on July 1, 1983, her 22nd birthday. (Ron Poling/The Canadian Press)

While members of the Royal Family have made numerous trips to Canada over the years, The Crown hasn’t turned its dramatic attention to them yet, even though the show has featured several foreign visits.

“It’s a shame,” said royal historian Harris, because during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, “there have been some very interesting Canadian tours.”

Sure, there’s been a brief glimpse of a Canadian flag at a table during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting portrayed in The Crown.

“But we don’t see Canada assuming a prominent role, whereas the series has had at least three tours of Australia,” Harris said.

One episode in the current Season 4 focuses on Charles and Diana’s 1983 trip Down Under. Shortly after that visit, Charles and Diana came to Canada. Had that been portrayed in The Crown, it would have backed up a developing theme, Harris said.

During the visit, Diana celebrated her 22nd birthday on Canada Day.

“There’s press footage of Canadians giving Charles birthday cards to give to Diana, and a scene like that would have supported the theme of that episode of Charles feeling overshadowed by Diana,” said Harris.

Edwards, the Sun photographer, was along for that trip, and has been to Canada about 15 times with members of the Royal Family.

WATCH | Charles and Diana’s 1983 Canadian visit takes them west:

Charles and Diana reach the last stop on their 1983 tour of Canada. 1:52

The 1983 trip lasted 17 days and was “fantastic,” he said. “It was just brilliant. I can recall it like it was yesterday. We criss-crossed the country.”

During the opening of the World University Games in Edmonton on July 1, the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Diana.

“The whole crowd. It was phenomenal,” said Edwards.

Harris sees potential plotting for future seasons of The Crown possibly playing into how the series has portrayed foreign visits so far.

“We see a stronger Australia focus, and it’s certainly possible that the 1999 Australian referendum [on the monarchy] may come up in a subsequent season so some of this may be building towards that.

“But definitely in terms of the Commonwealth, certain nations are emphasized more than others in the series.”

Royally quotable

“Let us reflect on all that we have been through together and all that we have learned. Let us remember all victims of war, tyranny and persecution; those who laid down their lives for the freedoms we cherish; and those who struggle for these freedoms to this day.”    

— Prince Charles, during a visit to Germany to attend events commemorating its national day of mourning, which focused on British-German relations this year.

Royal reads

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, look at a homemade wedding anniversary card from their great-grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, ahead of their 73rd wedding anniversary in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle on Nov. 17, 2020. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images Europe/Reuters)

  1. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary on Friday, and a photo was released of them reading a card from their great-grandchildren. [CBC]

  2. In a rare statement, Prince William has said he welcomes an investigation by the BBC into circumstances around the controversial Panorama interview his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, gave to Martin Bashir in 1995. [CBC]

  3. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did authorize a friend to talk to the authors of Finding Freedom, a biography of her and Prince Harry that was published this summer, court papers say. [ITV]

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