Should historical tv-series stick to the facts?

Since season 4 of The Crown was launched on Netflix, there has been a lot of drama about the representation of the marriage of Charles and Diana in the series. Of course, Diana was and is still highly loved by the public so everyone was looking forward to this particular season. Their marriage isn’t really shown as a love story. On the contrary, the series shows Charles madly in love with Camilla Parker Bowles before and during his time with Diana.

I haven’t started watching The Crown yet. Not even the first season. So I don’t have an opinion of this series in particular. But I find it quite stunning that everyone is demanding Netflix to place a disclaimer before every episode that it’s purely fiction.

Isn’t it strange that we all are expecting of The Crown to be historical accurate? It’s a Netflix drama. It’s meant to be entertaining. And yes, it’s based on real persons and events. And some of these persons are still alive today. But it has always been historical fiction. As is Victoria, The Last Kingdom, Braveheart, The Tudors and so on.

In some way, ‘The crown’ fits in people’s mind as ‘a based on true events’ story. Probably because it tells the story of people still alive today. But actually, it’s a wrong genre label. The crown is first and foremost historical fiction. None different from Victoria or The Tudors, where another English queen’s life is portrayed. The dialogues and interpretation of events are imagined. And yes, the series might stick to the objective facts, but places them in a subjective context, written for our entertainment.

The strength of historical fiction is that the story element really helps you remember the facts and also helps you see the bigger picture. That’s why it’s my favorite genre: I’m a history buff, but a mere history book won’t sweep me away as much as a fiction book that is written from the perspective of a famous person (or someone close to him/her).

But this also means that when doing that in a tv series that has fans worldwide about events not so long ago, this popular culture will influence the public opinion of these events. Diana was already beloved and Charles’ marriage to Camilla contested. But now a worldwide audience ‘learns’ of the secret affair between Charles and Camilla that broke Diana’s heart. It won’t do good for Camilla’s image. Even when we know there wasn’t an affair during Charles’ first marriage to Diana at all (that element of the story is entirely fictional). We have seen this story on tv and it has resonated with our emotions.

So should there be a warning before every episode. Perhaps. Should tv makers be aware of the impact they make on our idea of history? Yes! But history is and always will be a collection of framed events. There is no real truth in looking at historical sources, they are all biased. No tv series will ever succeed in representing only the facts. Remember Shakespeare? He’s one of the best historical fiction writers ever ;).

I’ll keep enjoying my favorite genre and keep a critical mind when forming opinions about past events. We can’t expect everyone to do that, but blaming either Netflix or Camilla for Diana’s pain is bit too far fetched, isn’t it?

Do you think Netflix should put a warning before every episode of ‘The Crown’ that it is historical fiction?


6 thoughts on “Should historical tv-series stick to the facts?

  1. I think anything that doesn’t stick to the facts should make it clear that it’s not historically accurate. Some authors do do this in books, but others don’t, and films and TV programmes rarely do. And I’m very uncomfortable with making any sort of drama series about people who are still alive, or who have only died recently and whose immediate relatives are still alive, unless it’s with the full consent and collaboration of the people concerned. Nobody alive today is going to be hurt by a portrayal of the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, or even between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, but most of the people in the latest series of The Crown are still here. I wonder how the scriptwriters would feel if it was their marriage or their parents’ marriage being depicted. The family of Prince Charles’s friend, who was killed in a ski-ing accident, have spoken out about how upset they are at his tragic death being treated as a soap opera storyline without anyone even asking if they minded.

    Shakespeare’s history plays are wildly inaccurate, and have been giving people false impressions for 400 years! But at least they’re not hurting anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do agree that people tend to be more sentimental about recent events or people still alive. That’s why I think that is more the issue here than accuracy. I believe the producer of the crown said that he won’t make a series about events less than 20 years ago, but maybe that time frame is too short.

      I believe historical accuracy is no different for the crown, the tudors or Victoria. Thanks to fiction a lot of people do believe that Anne Boleyn commented incest thanks to some recent portrayals. For me, that upsets me as much as Diana’s pain in the Crown. But still it is fiction and thus may offer a different representation of historical facts. So yes, maybe a disclaimer is needed. Or people should stop expecting accuracy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Awel call me naive maar ik ging er van uit dat de serie redelijk accuraat was. Natuurlijk niet alle dialogen en exacte gebeurtenissen, maar wel het verloop en bv ook zo’n toch wel heel groot detail als een affaire. Ik ben nog niet in seizoen vier, maar idd omdat het allemaal zo dicht bij onze eigen tijd komt, ga je er meer en meer van uit dat het historisch juister en juister is wat er wordt weergegeven. Allez ik dus. Naïeve ik 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nope Charles en Camilla zagen elkaar niet tijdens zijn eerste huwelijk en hadden helemaal geen affaire. Hij was wel verliefd op haar maar Camilla was dus getrouwd en zijn relatie met Diana was er een van het verstand. Wij zijn net naar the Crown beginnen kijken en waar nodig geef ik het lief wat historische duiding. Er klopt veel ze, maar niet alles 😃


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