The Crown season 4: What it gets right (and wrong) about Princess Diana
For obsessive followers of British royalty like me, Netflix drama The Crown is a royal joy. The series, now in its fourth season, doesn’t get everything right, but it usually comes very close. It’s easy to see creator Peter Morgan and his crew have done their research with all the energy of Sarah Ferguson cheering on rocker Meat Loaf at the It’s a Royal Knockout tournament back in 1987.
Accuracy has been a hallmark of the show all along, but the creators knew the spotlight would be more intense than ever on the latest season, streaming now. Not only does 1980s British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played by X-Files star Gillian Anderson) have a major role, but the show had to cast and then dress and style an actress to look like perhaps the most famous woman of the 20th century: Diana, Princess of Wales. Get it wrong, and this high-class show risks looking like a hastily made Hallmark movie.
There are some wonderful accuracies royal watchers will appreciate. Actress Emma Corrin could never look perfectly like Diana up close — that famous face is too familiar — but from a distance, she resembles her more than most actresses who’ve tried. Diana’s pre-wedding car is right, a small red hatchback. The paparazzi flooding around her as she tries to go to and from her Earl’s Court apartment are right.
Her ironic “bluebird of happiness” engagement suit is perfect, as is Charles’ blunder of “whatever ‘in love’ means” when quizzed by a journalist. They use baby Prince William’s real nickname of “The Basher.” Even Diana’s bubbly, teenlike handwriting gets it right.
That said, half the fun of a series based on real life is poring over it to see where it nails the details and where things go awry.
Warning: Small spoilers ahead for season 4 of The Crown.
Meet cute, but not that cute
In the series, Prince Charles is dating Diana’s sister, Sarah, before he gets together with Diana, which is really how it happened. But the show sets it up so that while waiting one day for Sarah, Charles runs into 16-year-old Diana while she’s costumed as a “mad tree” for a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That scene feels pure Hollywood. While the two probably did meet when Sarah and Charles were dating, Diana probably wasn’t wrapped in leaves, bragging about her love for the play.
Sympathy for the prince
In the series, Diana runs into Charles while he’s stopped in traffic in his convertible, and simply walks up (no bodyguards in sight!) to tell him how sorry she is about the murder of Lord Mountbatten, Charles’ mentor and father figure. It’s part of Diana legend that she did sympathize with him over Mountbatten’s death, but Diana herself reported that it happened at the home of mutual friends in Sussex, England. According to Tatler, she also said, “He leapt upon me and started kissing me and I thought, ‘Urgh, this is not what people do.'”
Dear deer me
It also seems unlikely Diana cozied up to Prince Philip at Balmoral and they shot a stag together, as depicted in the season’s second episode. Although reports are Diana did present herself as a more outdoorsy, horsey sort than she turned out to be, she probably wasn’t this good of an actress, proclaiming “the muckier the better” and “I’m a country girl at heart.”
But this does convince her future father-in-law she’s the right woman for the heir to the throne, so the scene works. And the pink sweater that actress Emma Corrin is wearing when she leaves Charles is an exact replica of a famed one from Diana’s early years. The costumer re-creates famed outfits repeatedly, and for those who know Diana’s closet as well as their own, it’s rewarding and fun.
Ring me up
Diana is seen choosing her famed sapphire engagement ring, which was indeed not custom made, but in the catalog of crown jeweler Garrard. That fact is supposed to be somewhat shocking, because any commoner with enough money could wear the same model of ring. (But if that was scandalous, why did Charles even offer catalog rings as a choice? As an American, I’ll never get that.) Anyway, it is true Diana reportedly thought the ring looked like that of her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, and also true some say it was because it had the biggest stone. Prince William gave the ring to the Duchess of Cambridge when he proposed to her, and modern photos of the duchess make it easy to see how huge it is.
They see me rolling
Did Diana really roller skate through the royal hallways while listening to Duran Duran on her Walkman? Corrin tells Tatler she thinks so, but I’m kinda doubting it.
Apparently, some time before the wedding Diana and Camilla did really dine together at a Knightsbridge restaurant called Ménage à Trois. That name seems a little too on the nose, no? But it was a real place, and according to The Daily Mail, its menu indeed was designed specifically to appeal to women diners, offering no main courses (because, um, women don’t like those?), just appetizers and desserts.
Here comes the bride
Perhaps no wedding gown is as famous as Diana’s 1981 enormous marshmallow of a dress. The show didn’t set out to copy it completely, costume designer Amy Roberts told WWD, but the lace, the bows, the weirdly flat front, the gonzo train — those all match up with most people’s memories. The veil doesn’t look fitted around her face, though, and another mistake seems more glaring.
Diana wore her own family’s Spencer tiara, so legendary you can now buy replicas of it. But the tiara made for The Crown lacks the elegant simplicity of the Spencer tiara. Instead it’s enormous and sprawling, more like a cardboard Burger King crown. No big deal, perhaps, to many viewers, but to royal-watchers, it’s like watching a movie about the New York Yankees in which the famed “NY” symbol appears in Comic Sans.
Dance, ballerina, dance
Diana famously loved dancing, and it is true that in 1985 she pulled off a surprise for Charles, dancing on stage to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl at London’s Royal Opera House. The Crown nails this one — Diana’s slinky white dress looks just like the one she wore, and the dancer she’s paired with strongly resembles ballet star Wayne Sleep, her partner for the performance. Just as in the episode, Charles reportedly wasn’t impressed and thought his wife was showing off. Further proof, perhaps, that ballet-loving Di had to always be on her toes with her husband.