At the start of the new series of The Crown, I was really enjoying bathing in nostalgia. Lady Di’s knitwear, her pie-crust collar blouses, the haircut, with flicks blown back at the sides, which so many of my generation tried to copy with half a can of Silvikrin. (Pity the poor hair of the Eighties; it was only just recovering from the trauma of the bubble perm.)
I was almost the same age as Diana and it never entered my mind as she walked down the aisle of St Paul’s, managing to look both shy and incandescent (a devastating combination, never seen before nor since), that it was anything other than a fairytale we were witnessing. Why couldn’t we see? Diana had just turned 20; she was only a kid. The Prince of Wales was 12 years her senior and was never going to be found roller-skating with Duran Duran on the Walkman down the corridors of Buckingham Palace. It was a match made in Burke’s Peerage. Only poor Diana, weaned on the novels of her step-grandmother Barbara Cartland, thought it was a romance. Well, Diana, and 750 million viewers around the world, to be fair.
The fourth season of The Crown stretches from the election of the first female prime minister in 1979 to Christmas 1990, shortly after Mrs Thatcher’s brutal ejection from No 10 when the Wales’s marriage was in its death throes. “That’s the last thing this country needs – two women running the show,” says Prince Philip in the first episode. “Perhaps that’s exactly what the country needs,” says his wife tartly (Olivia Colman does do a delicious retort). Denis Thatcher put it more lugubriously: “Two menopausal women – that’ll be a smooth ride.” How right dear Denis was.
Gillian Anderson gets Mrs Thatcher’s voice right and the hairdo is a spun-sugar triumph. But this is a cruel portrait, a caricature that delights in mocking the PM for her suburban origins and can’t begin to comprehend her greatness. The sequence where she gets everything wrong at Balmoral is both unkind and not entirely true. As is much of the rest of this drama – it’s riddled with inaccuracies – but the makers of The Crown know the Royals won’t sue so who cares if you make Prince Charles, actually a very sensitive man, look like an unfeeling brute? The scriptwriter, Peter Morgan says: “Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth.” A neat line, but truth does tend to require accuracy.
Plenty of viewers will come away loathing the future King and his now wife, the then Camilla Parker Bowles. What is the point of stirring up ancient enmities which will only hurt the living and bring no comfort to the dead? Princes William and Harry don’t deserve endless scenes of their beloved mother retching over a toilet bowl. Emma Corrin perfectly captures Diana’s posture – shoulders shooting up to her ears when she was nervous – and her voice, but the actress is merely pretty where the real Diana had star quality.
We know the tragedy that’s coming towards them all and it casts a pall of sadness over the series. Next season, The Crown plans to intrude on Diana’s death, in the best possible taste I’m sure. You know, I think I’ll give it a miss.