“The Crown” knows all about controversy.
After all, the critically-acclaimed Netflix drama centered on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II has tackled plenty of salacious royal fodder throughout its first four seasons.
From Princess Anne‘s relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles to Princess Margaret‘s overdose, from the reveal of the Queen and Princess Margaret’s secret cousins to the monarchy’s treatment of Princess Diana, The Crown has certainly never steered away from scandal.
However, season five, which dropped Nov. 9 on Netflix, has managed to stir up more furor than any season that’s come before.
On Oct. 16, former UK Prime Minister John Major, played by Jonny Lee Miller in season five, called the new episodes “damaging and malicious fiction” and a “barrel load of nonsense” in an interview with The Mail on Sunday.
Major pointed to one scene in particular, in the season’s first episode, in which then-Prince Charles (Dominic West) attempts to convince former PM Major to persuade Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) to abdicate the throne.
The former PM insisted no such conversation ever happened and the scene was written “for no other reason than to provide maximum—and entirely false—dramatic impact.”
Days later, on Oct. 19, Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench, seemingly inspired by Major, voiced similar concerns about the validity of “The Crown” season five.
“Given some of the wounding suggestions apparently contained in the new series—that King Charles plotted for his mother to abdicate, for example, or once suggested his mother’s parenting was so deficient that she might have deserved a jail sentence,” Dench wrote in a letter to U.K. publication The Times, “this is both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.”
Dench also wrote that “The Crown” “seems willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism” and alleged the program promoted “an inaccurate and hurtful account of history.”
As part of her criticism, Dench called for a disclaimer to be added to each episode “as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people so dutifully for 70 years, and to preserve their own reputation in the eyes of their British subscribers.”
While a disclaimer was added to the series’ trailer on YouTube and Twitter, calling the show a “fictional dramatisation,” no disclaimer was added to the episodes themselves.
With all of this knowledge, we did a deep dive into the most dramatic and outrageous moments from the fifth season of “The Crown,” all with one question in mind: Wait, did that really happen?!
What’s the deal with Prince Philip’s obsession with carriage driving?
In the second episode of season five, the late Prince Philip is forced to give up his beloved polo for another horse-inspired hobby: carriage driving. As it turns out, the former Duke of Edinburgh stumbled upon the activity by happenstance.
“I was looking ’round to see what next, I didn’t know what there was available,” Philip told ITV in 2017. “And I suddenly thought, ‘Well, we’ve got horses and carriages so why don’t I have a go?'”
Carriage riding became an activity that was eventually passed down by the generations. Philip’s granddaughter, 18-year-old Lady Louise Windsor, is now an accomplished carriage driver and took sixth place in the junior novice division at the British Indoor Carriage Driving Championships in April.
Did Queen Elizabeth II really love the Britannia that much?
In short, yes.
The fifth season of “The Crown” opens with a cameo from Claire Foy, reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II from seasons one and two of the series, in a flashback scene showing the official launch of Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia, in April 1953.
Later in the episode, the Queen, played by Staunton, suggests to PM Major that the Britannia needs to undergo an expensive refurbishment. Major, who tells the Queen the work would cost the public millions, balks at the idea. The Queen, of course, struggles to understand his reluctance.
In 1997, after years of historic voyages involving many members of the royal family, the Britannia was retired. During the official decommissioning ceremony, the Queen was infamously seen wiping a tear from her eye.
Was Princess Diana’s phone really bugged?
In season five, Diana hears mysterious clicking noises on the opposite end of her phone calls, leading the late Princess to think her conversations are being spied on. While there’s no evidence that her calls were actually being recorded, the scenes are based on very real fears Diana had throughout her life, even in the days before her death.
In 2007, Diana’s former private secretary Michael Gibbins told The Guardian that Diana “clearly” thought she was being recorded.
“Her actions were such, in terms of changing her telephone number,” he said, “that it was clear that that was a concern to her, yes.”
Did Mohamed Al-Fayed actually buy Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s French estate?
The third episode of season five does an abrupt change and shifts the focus to Mohamed Al-Fayed, the father of the late Dodi Fayed, who died in the 1997 car crash that also took the life of Princess Diana.
In the episode, Al-Fayed buys the French home owned by Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, after Wallis died in 1986.
Indeed, Al-Fayed did buy the home, located in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne. “It’s like a mausoleum,” he told People in 1990. “It sometimes gives you the creeps—both of them having died here. But it’s still a happy place, a great fantasy which I love to live in.”
Al-Fayed, who is currently 93 years old, still owns the property.
How are the Windsors and the Romanovs actually connected?
The sixth episode of season five opens in World War I–era Britain, when King George V (Richard Dillane) receives a letter from the British prime minister suggesting that the government was willing to send a ship to Russia to save their Russian relatives, the Romanovs, who had recently been overthrown in the Russian Revolution.
Later, an imprisoned Tsar Nicholas II (a.k.a. Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov) is awoken by a soldier who informs him that he and his wife Tsarnia Alexandra (a.k.a. Alexandra Feodorovna) are being moved, causing Nicholas to exclaim, “It’s cousin George!”
Their hopes were unfounded, however, as just minutes later, their entire family is murdered—thus revealing that the royal family refused to help.
The episode later finds Queen Elizabeth II preparing for a meeting with Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Federation. It is revealed that Elizabeth and Prince Philip are related to the Romanovs, which motivates Philip to do some digging.
So, how are the families intertwined?
Maria Feodorovna, the sister of Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandmother Queen Alexandra, married Czar Alexander of Russia. Maria’s eldest son, the aforementioned Nicholas, was the last ruler of Russia—and also the first cousin of King George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather.
As “The Crown” depicts, George did in fact refuse to help save Nicholas, despite the two sharing a strong relationship.
Did Diana give Queen Elizabeth’s notice after her explosive Panorama interview?
Season five shines light on Diana’s infamous 1995 interview with Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) on the BBC documentary series Panorama, in which she discussed the dissolution of her marriage with then-Prince Charles.
The series shows Diana herself giving Queen Elizabeth a heads-up about the explosive interview, but that’s not what happened at all.
“It’s hard to beat the scenes depicting Diana allegedly summoning up her courage and dropping on the Queen the bombshell news that she had secretly recorded an interview with Martin Bashir for Panorama,” Diana’s former private secretary Patrick Jephson told The Telegraph Nov. 8. “This part of the story was made up, and therefore might reasonably earn the ire of “The Crown’s” scholarly-exact detractors.”
How can he be so sure?
“I know it was made up because I was there,” he said, “and I can tell you that the Princess absolutely failed to summon up the necessary courage and delegated the job to me.”
Did Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles really get embroiled in Tampongate?
They sure did.
In 1993, the transcript of a private phone call between then-Prince Charles and his then-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles was released by members of the British press. On the call, which was recorded in 1989, Charles joked that he’d like to be reincarnated as a tampon so he could “live inside” Camilla’s trousers. Thus, the scandal was dubbed “Tampongate.”
In an exclusive conversation with E! News, Dominic West, who plays Charles, explained why “The Crown” creator Peter Morgan insisted the scene be included.
“Peter explained how on a lot of ‘The Crown,’ he gets to choose what he wants to put in,” Dominic said, “but there are certain things that if he doesn’t put in, it’s a half-baked job. I think that is one scene that he was obliged to tackle.”
Dominic further revealed that playing Charles and learning more about the details of the scandal impacted the way he viewed the entire ordeal.
“What was surprising was, seeing after 20 years hindsight and actually playing these characters, what we found is how the papers had initially perceived it as something dirty and in some way unsavory was actually something rather intimate and tender and sweet,” Dominic said. “What was dirty and unsavory was the press treatment of it.”
Olivia Williams, who plays Camilla, exclusively told E! News why she thinks the scene was so integral.
“I think what’s so clever about what Peter Morgan does with this is that he shows the effect the stealing of that conversation had on the crown,” she said. “That is the point of including it in the series. Everything that is shown in “The Crown” had an impact on the crown, the monarchy, in history.”
The fifth season of “The Crown” is available to stream now on Netflix.