A.N. WILSON: How utterly tawdry for The Crown to haul Princess Diana from her grave for the ratings
If it were not so cruel, I should say that the forthcoming series of Netflix drama The Crown was farcical – just a sick joke.
It depicts Diana Princess of Wales, played by actress Elizabeth Debicki, returning as a ghost both to Prince Charles and to Queen Elizabeth II.
What possible reason could Netflix have for wishing to inflict this drivel on viewers? The answer is transparently obvious. Viewing figures for the series have been plummeting.
When it began, we all took out fairly hefty Netflix subscriptions to watch the drama. Claire Foy playing the young Queen was simply inspirational, and the scripts, written by Peter Morgan, stuck reasonably closely to the historical truth.
Little by little, however, Morgan, a committed republican, began to stray from the truth in order to sensationalise the drama which, it was hoped, would attract bigger audiences and perhaps stir republican sentiment.
Princess Diana, plated by Elizabeth Debicki, Prince Charles, played by Dominic West, and The Queen, played by Imelda Staunton, appear on the ‘House Divided’ posters for series five of controversial Netflix drama The Crown
Dominic West as Prince Charles and Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, Princess of Wales
The then Prince and Princess Of Wales dancing together during a visit to Melbourne, Australia, in 1985
An early indication of the way things were going was when he invented the idea that Prince Philip was so badly behaved at Gordonstoun, his boarding school in Scotland, that his entire family had to fly over from Germany to deal with the situation.
READ MORE: Princess Diana appears as a GHOST to both her ex-husband and the Queen in The Crown’s final season
Their plane crashed, he lost his beloved sister Cecile and his cousins – and the inference was that it was all Philip’s fault.
No matter that the real reason they flew to Britain was to attend the wedding of Cecile’s brother-in-law Prince Louis, Prince of Hesse, nor that it was a bereavement from which Prince Philip never fully recovered and the made-up story-line was horribly upsetting to him.
After that, the cruel inaccuracies of The Crown multiplied, and we were treated to episodes in which Prince Philip threatened Diana with the possibility that she might be murdered if she did not toe the line; and where Prince Charles bearded the prime minister, John Major, asking him to help dethrone Queen Elizabeth II in his favour.
No such conversation ever took place. As well as departing further and further from history, the series recruited worse and worse actors.
None of the women depicting the Queen herself could hold a candle to Claire Foy, and rock bottom was reached by Olivia Colman, who did not look like the Queen or even pretend to speak, move or behave like the Queen.
But Diana, that extraordinary human being, continues to be box office.
So, having reached the point in the series when she dies, Peter Morgan can think of nothing better to do than to haul her from the grave and bring in her ghost.
I write as an ardent Diana fan. When she first appeared on the public stage, in common with most people in the world, I was bowled over by her beauty and youth.
But after things came unstuck – in particular, when she appeared on a BBC Panorama programme spilling the beans about her marriage – I felt she was making a terrible mistake.
And, in the crude way of us journalists, I started writing unbelievably rudely about her.
Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana leaving the wedding of Viscount Linley and Serena Stanhope in 1993
Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in most recent season of Netflix’s The Crown
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth at Prince Philip’s investiture in The Crown
The then defence minister Earl Howe said she was a ‘loose cannon’, and he was probably right – though he got a lot of stick for saying it.
Then she came to lunch at the newspaper where I worked and a few of us were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with her.
Over the years, I have dished out a lot of insults to public figures in newspaper columns and the general response to offended dignity has been one of surly pomposity. There was none of this about Diana.
She immediately alluded to my various attacks on her as if they were no more than jokes, and laughed merrily about them.
Not only was she a woman of melting beauty and overwhelming charm, she had perfect manners.
She won me round in two minutes and from that moment I became her unwavering champion.
Very few people in history have the quality she possessed of being able instantly to communicate with everyone. She had instantaneous crowd appeal.
But everyone she met personally was also knocked for six by her charm. It was not fake. She was one of those very rare human beings who can reach millions and we all miss her.
We can also see that her death continues to haunt her sons William and Harry. As children they had to come to terms not just with the death of a mother, but of someone who was an idol to countless people throughout the world.
I am not defending the often ridiculous way they have behaved over the years. I am merely asking what good is served by piling on the torture for them, just to increase the viewing figures for a tawdry, badly written and poorly acted TV series?
To have a drama in which Diana returns to Charles as he sobs over her body in the morgue, and in which she holds hands with the Queen as she is mourning her in Balmoral, is cruel – unutterably cruel.
It is also cheap. And anyone who watches the stuff will be demeaned by it.
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