'The Crown' Vs. The UK Government: An Explainer

- The Crown -
'The Crown' Vs. The UK Government: An Explainer

The Crown is many things: it's filled with the most enviable period costumes, it's juicy, and, yes, it is based on real events. It is not, however, a documentary. And a recent push by U.K. politicians wants to ensure that nobody ever thinks The Crown is completely factual. Is it obvious? Yes. Do they have the right to ask for a disclaimer? Sure. What does it mean for TV? Well, that's TBD. Let's breakdown the fight between The Crown and the U.K. government, and why Netflix is refusing to concede.

Nov. 29 — UK Culture Secretary Challenges Netflix

This whole thing started when the U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden publicly asked Netflix to add a disclaimer to The Crown, just a week or so after Season 4 premiered. In an interview with The Daily Mail in November, Dowden said, "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." (I'm not sure what "other TV productions" Dowden is referring to. No offense to the culture secretary, but I don't remember seeing a disclaimer at the start of every episode of Riverdale.)

Nov. 30 — Helena Bonham Carter Supports A 'Crown' Disclaimer

Image: Ollie Upton/Netflix

The Crown's own Princess Margaret, Helena Bonham Carter supported the idea of a disclaimer. "It is dramatized. I do feel very strongly, because I think we have a moral responsibility to say, 'Hang on, guys, this is not ... it's not a drama-doc, we're making a drama," she said during an appearance on The Crown: The Official Podcast on Nov. 30, per Us Weekly. The rest of the cast has refrained from weighing in thus far.

Dec. 6 — Netflix Responds

One week after Dowden's public plea, Netflix responded with a statement to Variety, making clear that the company had no intentions of adding any disclaimers to the show. "We have always presented The Crown as a drama — and we have every confidence our members understand it's a work of fiction that's broadly based on historical events," said a Netflix spokesperson. "As a result, we have no plans — and see no need — to add a disclaimer."

Disclaimer or not, The Crown is technically already labeled fiction on Netflix. In the U.S., it's tagged genres are "British, Political TV Shows, TV Dramas." Nowhere does it imply that the show is in any way a docuseries.

Dec. 15 — UK Culture Minister Suggests "Regulations" On Netflix

After a failed attempt to get Netflix to add a disclaimer to The Crown, declaring it as fiction, the U.K. government is trying a new tactic. "U.K. traditional broadcasters are subject to quite stringent requirements... and then you have the video on demand services, which are really subject to no regulation or requirements at all, said Culture minister John Whittingdale speaking to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Dec. 15, per Deadline. "Whether or not we would want to look at having some kind of basic requirements on the video on demand services is something which I think the government might well think about."

It's unclear what "requirements" Whittingdale might want the government to consider, or how they might impact Netflix's reach overseas. As Deadline points out, Netflix is not regulated in the U.K., but in the Netherlands, so the U.K.'s actual political power might be limited. But the conflict does raise questions about the Royal Family's influence over content, both fictional and otherwise.

Why Now & What Does It Mean?

The Crown premiered on Netflix in 2016, and the U.K. Government has never asked for any disclaimers before, so why now? According to Dowden, the concern comes out of a desire to inform younger viewers. "Without this [disclaimer], I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact."

This may be true, but it's worth pointing out that these concerns come at a time when The Crown's subject matter has grown increasingly controversial. Season 4 introduced the tumultuous marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, including cheating subplots that don't necessarily reflect well on the Royal Family. The somewhat negative depiction of Prince Charles has even prompted allies of the Royal Family to speak out, like former Buckingham Palace Press Secretary Dickie Arbiter. "It's a hatchet job on Prince Charles and a bit of a hatchet job on Diana," Arbiter told the BBC.

If the conflict continues, it could very well lead to a bigger discussion on censorship and possible defamation of real people, even in fictional content.

Image: Des Willie/Netflix

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