Culture secretary Oliver Dowden says viewers might mistake “fiction for fact” is expected to write to Netflix about his request.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a billboard advertising 'The Crown' television series about Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family, during England's second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.
A man wearing a face mask walks past a billboard advertising 'The Crown' television series about Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family, during England's second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (Matt Dunham / AP)

The UK government is planning to write to Netflix to request that a warning is played before episodes of hit series "The Crown" over fears of damage to the image of British royal family.

"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," culture minister Oliver Dowden told The Mail on Sunday.

"Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact".

Dowden is expected to formally intervene by writing to the US streaming company to request it adds a "health warning" before each episode.

Questions of historical fidelity were not a major issue during earlier seasons of the show, which debuted in 2016 and traces the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, which began in 1952.

But the current fourth season is set in the 1980s, a divisive decade that many Britons remember vividly. Characters include Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose 11-year tenure transformed and divided Britain, and the late Princess Diana, whose death in a car crash in 1997 traumatised the nation.

The latest episode in the series revolves around Prince Charles and his doomed marriage to wife Diana. The troubled relationship of the couple, played by Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, is a major storyline in the series.

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Former royal press secretary Dickie Arbiter has called the series a “hatchet job” on Charles, the heir to the British throne, and Diana. 

Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, has also said the show should carry a notice that “this isn’t true but it is based around some real events.”

“I worry people do think that this is gospel and that’s unfair,” he told broadcaster ITV.

Some Conservatives have criticized the programme’s depiction of Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson.

Britain’s first female prime minister, who died in 2013, is portrayed as clashing with Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth to an extent that some say is exaggerated.

'Mixing of fact and fiction nothing new'

Historians are used to railing at inaccuracies in dramas such as the Academy Award-winning “Darkest Hour,” which included an invented scene of Winston Churchill meeting ordinary Londoners on an Underground Tube train during World War II.

“Mixing historical fact and fiction has been around since Shakespeare. This is not new to films, it’s not new to TV,” said Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, 

“I don’t recall the culture secretary complaining about the ridiculous presentation of Winston Churchill in ’Darkest Hour,” he said. “Because it went with the myth, with the idea of Churchill the hero, nobody complained."

“Nobody’s bothered if fact and fiction are all mangled up, so long as it’s saying nice things,” he added.

Pointless to have disclaimer – historian

Fielding, co-author of “The Churchill Myths,” which examines Britain’s wartime leader in popular culture, said the suggestion that “The Crown” carry a disclaimer was “reasonable and yet pointless.”

“It invariably doesn’t have an effect,” he said. “There are studies that show that people believe fiction when it’s presented as fact — even if you tell them it’s not fact.”

Fielding said it was no surprise that Charles and his allies were annoyed with the heir to the throne’s depiction as “a bit of an idiot.” But he said making a fuss about it only amplifies the attention.

More than 70 million households worldwide have watched The Crown, which is now on its fourth series, since it began in 2016, according to figures released by Netflix.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies