The Crown: Did Prince Charles really have a meeting with John Major?

The Independent
The Independent

Netflix ’s The Crown is back with its fifth season. The latest instalment follows the British royal family as they navigate trials including the Queen’s “annus horribilis” in 1992 , and the lead-up to death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

While the series is a fictitious take on Queen Elizabeth II ’s reign, it does take real life events into account, so it can often be hard to discern what is fact and what is fiction.

In one of the scenes from the first episode, Prince Charles (Dominic West) is seen speaking to the prime minister at the time, Sir John Major (Jonny Lee Miller).

In the scene, Charles appears to be lobbying for his mother to abdicate the throne, referencing a poll that showed Charles was more popular than his mother that referenced “Queen Victoria syndrome”.

“It was just a poll, Sir, polls come and go,” Major is seen saying to Charles.

“But it’s dangerous to ignore them,” Charles replies, adding: “There must have been many polls around the time of Mrs Thatcher’s departure, some people wanted the Iron Lady gone forever. What makes the conservative party the successful electoral force that it is? Its instinct for renewal, winning, making way for someone younger.

“For almost 60 years, my great great grandfather, Edward VII, was kept waiting in the wings. It was said that Queen Victoria had no confidence in him, thought he was dangerous, free thinking. He longed to be given responsibilities, but his mother refused.

“When the time came he proved his doubters wrong, his dynamism, his intellect, his popular appeal made his reign a triumph.”

When Major asked Charles what he was saying, Charles replied: “I’m saying, what a pity it was, what a waste that his voice, his presence, his vision, wasn’t incorporated earlier, it would have been so good, for everybody.”

So did this meeting really happen? It is unlikely. While it was rumoured for years that the now-King Charles III wanted his mother to abdicate, he never commented on this speculation.

Major also criticised The Crown in October, calling the show a “barrel-load of nonsense” .

A spokesperson for the former prime minister told the Mail on Sunday : “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 said the scene in question 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.”

Netflix responded to the criticisms from Major, with a spokesperson saying the show “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.”

It’s not the first time Netflix has been criticised for its depiction of the royal family.

After the fourth season came out in 2020, culture secretary at the time Oliver Dowden urged the streaming platform to put a warning at the beginning of each episode for younger viewers.

At the time Dowden told the Mail on Sunday : “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.”

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