Royals

Why The Crown has changed the way we think about the royals

From dad jokes to misunderstandings – Megxit shows that the Netflix show has made royal experts of us all. For the worse, says Rhiannon Evans.

By Rhiannon Evans
"I mean that's the thing isn't it? You know what the Queen's like. It's all about duty – she'll be furious!"
The news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were stepping away from their current royal roles broke last week, while I was at dinner with friends, and this was the immediate reaction of one.
I'm sure you've had similar conversations or seen them on social networks. I'm sure you're also not close personal friends with a royal correspondent of 20 years' experience. In my case, my friend with the close personal insight into Queen Elizabeth's deepest thoughts about one of the biggest crises to hit her family this millennium was… an insurance lawyer.
What she also is, though, is a big fan of Netflix show The Crown.
Never more than today, as we all sweep over every word of the (oh so beautifully designed) website the 'Sussex Royals' have created, has The Crown been so problematic.
As demonstrated by my friend, all of a sudden everyone thinks they know what is going on inside the Palace, in a way we never did before. Our heads are full of Claire Foy in 'steely-eyed and absolutely fuming, but also feeling a bit bad, but also not able to do anything because DUTY' mode. We see Olivia Colman scowling at Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles as he says he has a voice and she tells him "No one wants to hear it".
We envision Prince Philip - well, Matt Smith - trying to calm her down, or at least give her a bit of a reality check. Or Tobias Menzies, as a later Philip, trying to help her muster up more emotion on the subject. Prince Charles is somewhere… maybe he's quoting a Welsh proverb, or just wishing he wasn't there and on stage instead… no, that's about 40 years ago. OK, maybe we're not quite sure what Charles is up to.
Claire Foy portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in season one and two of The Crown. (Image: Netflix)
The problem is, remember what happens every time The Crown is on?
We all watch it, eagerly googling things like 'Did Princess Margaret meet the President of the USA, get drunk, recite limericks and save the UK economy while Olivia Coleman sat at home looking sad that she didn't get to go to The White House?' And, as entertaining as the show is (particularly that episode) you'll usually find out that no, not exactly … but something like it happened.
In a New York Times interview, The Crown creator, Peter Morgan, said of the veracity of everything that happens in the show: "I think there's a covenant of trust with the audience. They understand a lot of it is conjecture.
"Sometimes there are unavoidable accuracy blips — an event might not have taken place where, or even when, I imagined it did. But I'm absolutely fastidious about there being an underlying truth."
I fear that Peter might be overestimating us.
Our obsession with The Crown has given many of us the false belief that we're all royal experts now, Rhiannon Evans writes. (Image: Getty)
One of the reasons, perhaps, that The Crown is so successful is that it's giving us an insight into a world that previously was almost totally impenetrable. There are even whole storylines in the show about how people don't know what really goes on in the Palace, despite wanting to. And that's especially true of that past era.
Recently, Princes William and Harry have, of course, been praised for talking more openly about various issues and, in turn, there have been stories about the problems that's caused in royal circles. The old guard vs the new.
But it all goes to show that for most of our lives, while the monarchy has been everywhere, we've known very little about its members. And anything we do know has been filtered heavily by the teams that support them. Any details you get in The Crown seem all the more fascinating, then – you've often barely even heard rumour of them before. It's a history that is still playing out – where the characters are still in our lives - 'new history' almost. And it's very alluring.
This, combined with the 'hot take' digital era we live in, means that now whenever anything happens with the royals, we all think we know the score - and aren't afraid to say it. We know how they'll all react. We know what they'll be thinking. We know for sure what the Queen's face will look like...
Well, at least what Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth's face will look like...(Image: Netflix)
Except of course, we don't. You can live with people for decades and not be sure of their inner thoughts. Why, after three series of Netflix-bingeing, we all think we're royal experts I don't know. But judging by what I've heard come out of the mouths of myself and others, we do.
Maybe it doesn't matter – maybe it's just dinner table chat. It certainly sparked things on last night. But actually, it probably is problematic in the sense that it makes us think of these people as characters that we 'know' - and therefore can judge.
That might also feed into the whole issue we've found ourselves in with the Sussexes. In our post-The Crown relationship with the royals, we think we know them and own them. We think we can predict them. We think they deserve whatever we say about them – because we're not talking about people, we're talking about characters. We're basically 'book grouping' them.
WATCH: Duchess Meghan says she never thought becoming a royal would be easy. Story continues below...
When all the chat of how the Queen (based on our intimate knowledge of Netflix) must be feeling died down, and I realised I'd actually just been thinking about what Claire Foy would reckon, I thought differently. I thought about Meghan and Harry – two living, breathing humans, trying to figure out what was for the best. Two people who actually exist, not TV show characters.
It's something we don't do enough when it comes to all celebrities and now, as their lives play out on screen as entertainment, the royals. And that's not to say you have to be sympathetic, or change your opinion of them– it's just something worth keeping in mind.
Oh, and finally, something else for which we can pin the blame on The Crown? All the dad jokes along the lines of 'Can't wait to see this one on series 9 of The Crown'! Give. It. A. Rest. I tell you, I can just picture what Claire/Olivia/The Queen would make of them…
This story was originally appeared on our sister site, Grazia UK.