London: The popular Netflix series “The Crown” has taken viewers on a sweeping tour of modern history through the eyes of the British royal family, dramatizing pivotal events from the post-war era to Margaret Thatcher’s administration.
But the show’s revisions to the historical record — embellishments, exaggerations and even some outright inventions — have long stoked debate among scholars and biographers, and now Britain’s culture minister is weighing in.
Oliver Dowden, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for culture, told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that he believes Netflix needs to make it abundantly clear to viewers that “The Crown” is a work of fiction, not a by-the-book history lesson.
“It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that … Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact,” Dowden said.
The Mail reported that Dowden was expected to submit a request to the streaming giant asking that each episode of “The Crown” come with a warning label explaining that the Emmy-winning series is a fictionalized version of the Windsor family saga.
Dowden and the U.K. culture department did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment. NBC News has reached out to Netflix for comment on his statements.
Peter Morgan, the creator and principal writer of “The Crown,” has made no secret of the fact that his show takes artistic license with British history, amplifying certain events for dramatic effect as it traces the arc of Queen Elizabeth II’s life from the late 1940s to the aughts.
But as the show’s storyline advances to the modern day, the fictionalized treatment of famous figures such as Princess Diana and Prince Charles has rankled many viewers — from professional historians and Windsor family relatives to politicos who swirled around Buckingham Palace.
Dickie Arbiter, the former royal press secretary, has called “The Crown” a “hatchet job” on Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and his first wife, Diana (Emma Corrin).
The latest season of the show largely revolves around the royal couple’s strained marriage and extramarital affairs, mining their private pain for explosive drama.
Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, has also said episodes should be prefaced by a warning that “this isn’t true but it is based around some real events.” He told the British broadcaster ITV: “I worry people do think that this is gospel, and that’s unfair.”
Windsor family historians have also taken issue with the new season’s depiction of the relationship between Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) and Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), insisting their real-life rapport was not nearly as frosty as the show suggests.
Morgan, who wrote the films “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon,” has consistently stood by his approach to history, saying the creative team behind the show does extensive research.
It is not unusual for movies and television shows based on historical events and notable figures to stray from the strict factual record in the service of capturing the subject’s spirit.
But thorough research may not be enough to appease persistent critics of “The Crown.” Sally Bedell Smith, the author of a biography of the queen, told NBC News that Morgan’s credo might as well be summed up as “false drama and conflict overriding the truth.”
“The danger is that in the public mind, [the show’s] fictitious version of events is replacing what really happened,” Smith added, “which not only does a terrible disservice to the queen and her family, but does violence to history itself.”