The real history behind season 5 of The Crown

The Crown: Full trailer for fifth season

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To date, each instalment of The Crown has spanned approximately a decade. Initially, its fifth series was set to do the same, to be the show’s final season and take the royals from the early Nineties into the Noughties. However, Peter Morgan — the show’s writer and creator — later decided to split the events of the decade into two series. It is well-documented that the first half of the Nineties was particularly tumultuous for Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family. Here, looks at what’s coming next in the hit Netflix show and reveals the truth behind the dramatisation.

‘Annus horribilis’ 

The voice of the Queen, played by Imelda Staunton, opens the trailer with the words: “In light of the events of the last 12 months, perhaps I have more to reflect on than most.” 

Several events made 1992 a year of disaster in the eyes of Queen Elizabeth II and many were included in the trailer for The Crown season 5, suggesting that it is likely to play a key part in the series.

1992 saw the dissolution of three of the monarch’s children’s marriages: the separation of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in March; Princess Anne’s divorce from Captain Mark Phillips, which was finalised in April; and then-Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales’, separation, which was confirmed in December. 

It also saw the publication of Andrew Morton’s bombshell biography ‘Diana: Her True Story’, which detailed the late Princess’ battle with bulimia and depression, and Prince Charles’ betrayal with Camilla Parker Bowles. 

In 1992, during a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession, the late monarch described that year as her ‘annus horribilis’ which can be translated as a year of disaster or misfortune. 

During the address, she said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis’.” 

Windsor Castle Fire

Setting the stage for the turbulence of the Nineties are the scenes of a fire ravaging a castle. The first image seen in the trailer for the fifth season shows the building up in flames and later, the lone figure of Queen Elizabeth II standing in the debris. 

This stirring scene, which is in reference to the fire at Windsor Castle in November 1992,  foreshadows the havoc and hardship that the Royal Family faced at the time and will be depicted in the drama. 

The fire caused extensive damage to the Castle and devastated Queen Elizabeth, whose love for Windsor was well-known. Of course, the fire was significant due to Windsor Castle’s place in the late monarch’s heart, but it also triggered important changes within the Firm. 

As a result of the fire, Buckingham Palace — the royals’ primary residence in London — was opened to the public to help fund the repairs at Windsor; it also eventually led to Queen Elizabeth paying income tax. 

The official completion date for the restoration of Windsor Castle was November 20, 1997, five years to the day after the outbreak of the fire and the 50th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip.  

Charles and Diana’s divorce 

While then-Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales’ marriage was only one of the royal relationships to break down over the course of the Nineties, theirs was the most high-profile and significant for the Royal Family. 

Season 4 showed the growing tension between the couple and season 5 is set to portray the full dissolution of their marriage. The trailer clearly establishes the deepening animosity between Charles and Diana, suggesting that their separation and eventual divorce will be featured in the upcoming series. 

The Prince and Princess of Wales’ relationship woes are well-documented as they dominated the headlines during the late Eighties and early Nineties, with infidelities on both sides exposed in the tabloids. 

Scenes from the trailer show Diana in her famous ‘revenge dress’ which she wore the night that Charles publicly admitted to having an affair. 

Charles and Camilla’s affair

Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (now Queen Consort Camilla) is also expected to be covered in the upcoming season. Their relationship was largely blamed for the breakdown of the Waleses’ marriage, particularly following the death of Diana in 1997. 

Scenes from the trailer show Charles and Camilla sharing intimate moments as they conduct their relationship in secret. It is rumoured that The Crown will depict some of the most notable moments from the affair, including what came to be known as ‘tampongate’ — an incident that saw recordings of the couple’s private conversations get leaked in the press. 

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The hit Netflix show has depicted the moment “sympathetically as two young people in love,” and addresses the intrusion into the royals’ personal lives, according to The Telegraph. 

Josh O’Connor, who portrayed a young Prince Charles in series three and four, had previously claimed he all but refused to take part in scenes addressing the scandal. He told SiriusXM in 2020: “When they offered me the role, one of my first questions was – I say questions, I think it was pretty much a statement – ‘We are not doing the tampon phone call’. [The Crown] was my one chance for my parents to see something [I’ve acted in] with no shame and there’s no way I was going to scuttle that by talking about tampons on Netflix.”

Meanwhile, Dominic West, who will portray the new King in the upcoming seasons of the show, said the scandal made him “extremely sympathetic” towards the royals. He told Entertainment Weekly: “I remember thinking it was something so sordid and deeply, deeply embarrassing [at the time]. Looking back on it, and having to play it, what you’re conscious of is that the blame was not with these two people, two lovers, who were having a private conversation.

“What’s really [clear now] is how invasive and disgusting was the press’s attention to it, that they printed it out verbatim and you could call a number and listen to the actual tape. I think it made me extremely sympathetic towards the two of them and what they’d gone through.”

John Major

While Season 4 focused heavily on Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year run as Prime Minister, Season 5 is set to cover the tenure of Sir John Major, who took over from Thatcher in 1990. 

During his seven years in office, Major faced considerable difficulties, including a recession that dominated the early Nineties. Perhaps the most significant event of his premiership was Black Wednesday, an event that saw the rapid devaluation of the exchange rate of the sterling pound. Black Wednesday was a huge contributor to the Conservative party losing the 1997 general election, leading to the rise of the Labour Party and the selection of Tony Blair as Prime Minister, something that is set to be covered in The Crown as actors to play Tony Blair and his family have been cast for the show. 

Another rumoured storyline will show Charles plotting to persuade his mother to abdicate from the throne back in 1991. One episode, entitled ‘Queen Victoria Syndrome’, is thought to show Charles talking enthusiastically about a poll that suggests 47 percent of the public believe he should replace his mother as monarch.

In a rumoured scene, the now-King will summons Major to a meeting and scheme to oust the Queen. 

However, a spokesperson for the former PM has rubbished the claims, telling the Mail on Sunday last month: “Sir John has not co-operated in any way with The Crown. Nor has he ever been approached by them to fact-check any script material in this or any other series.

“There was never any discussion between Sir John and the then Prince of Wales about any possible abdication of the late Queen Elizabeth II.”

The spokesperson added that if such scenes are broadcast, “they should be seen as nothing other than damaging and malicious fiction. A barrel-load of nonsense peddled for no other reason than to provide maximum – and entirely false – dramatic impact”. 

It is widely believed that Major shared a close relationship with the late Queen.

Diana’s Panorama interview

In 1995, Princess Diana sat down for her infamous interview with Martin Bashir. Titled ‘An Interview With HRH The Princess Of Wales,’ Diana spoke to Bashir about her early expectations of her and Charles’ marriage, her experiences as a member of the Royal Family and the circumstances that led to the breakdown of her marriage. She also confirmed that both she and Charles had been unfaithful during their relationship. 

The Panorama interview caused major problems behind the scenes and was largely seen as the final straw for not only her suffering marriage but also the reputation of the Royal Family. It is understood that the interview led to the Queen finally permitting the divorce of her son and Diana. 

The trailer for season 5 showed the build-up to the interview, with shots of Bashir, played by Prasanna Puwanarajah talking to Diana, played by Elizabeth Debicki. In one scene, the Princess tells the journalist: “I won’t go quietly. I’ll battle ’til the end.” 

An estimated 200 million people watched Diana’s tell-all interview and it became one of the most-talked-about moments of the 20th century. However, in 2021, a BBC investigation found that Bashir had commissioned fake documents in order to mislead the Princess into telling her story. 

In July, a source close to The Crown told Press Association: “Season five of The Crown will dramatise events surrounding the Panorama interview, given the pivotal part it played during the time period the new series covers. It will reflect what we now know about how the interview was obtained and how Diana was treated.” 

It came after the BBC vowed to “never” again broadcast clips from the interview. 

Princess Diana’s death

Though it isn’t featured explicitly in the trailer for The Crown season 5, there are many images that invoke the build-up of circumstances that led to the untimely death of Princess Diana, indicating that the tragic event could be covered or hinted at in the upcoming season. 

Dodi Fayed, Diana’s partner at the time, and Mohamed Al-Fayed, Dodi’s father, have been cast, lending credence to the possibility that the events surrounding the Princess’ death will be included.

The Crown’s coverage of Diana’s tragic passing has been the subject of major controversy, with Jemima Khan, a friend of the Princess, departing from her role as consultant on the show due to concerns over the depiction of the incident. 

Concern surrounding the handling of Diana’s death is just one element of the backlash, with many criticising The Crown for not being explicit about its fictionalisation of fact. 

Amid the controversy, a spokesperson for the show came to its defence, she said: “The Crown has always been presented as a drama based on historical events.

“Series five is a fictional dramatisation, imagining what could have happened behind closed doors during a significant decade for the royal family – one that has already been scrutinised and well-documented by journalists, biographers and historians.”

Season 5 of The Crown will be available to stream on Netflix from November 9. 

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