PERHAPS because the royal saga is so often revisited, or simply because the Highland landscape is breathtaking, but my favourite parts in The Crown so far take place at Balmoral. Scenes where the Windsors go walking and stalking, in battering rain, ankle-deep mud and wind strong enough to overturn a Land Rover, are engagingly hearty. Vignettes of the family collapsing into armchairs, filthied and rosy-cheeked after a day in the hills, offer a rare moment in this new series when they are allowed to be themselves. For a few minutes they do not have the finger of blame pointed at them as if they were players in a Greek tragedy.

Tragedy of course lies in the wings, as well as misery untold, which is doubtless what will keep us glued to the screen. And there is much about The Crown to admire: not just the acting but photography, costumes, staging, and the sense of brooding conspiracy behind every oak door. It is Wolf Hall with the lights on. But also like Wolf Hall, it is filled with villains. Unfortunately, it is this that sticks in the throat like the fishbone that nearly carried off the Queen Mother. Unlike with Hilary Mantel’s work, most of the people whose thespian doubles fill the screen can tune into Netflix and see their private lives picked over in portrayals that are close to caricature.

Only pedants would switch off because the Queen is wearing the wrong uniform when reviewing the Trooping of the Colour. Other gaffes, however, are less forgivable. Peter Morgan, the creator and lead writer of the series, has taken liberties that are in danger of rewriting history for a modern generation.

In the first episode he shows Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles’s beloved mentor, being lambasted in a phone call from the prince as a “quisling” for criticising his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. There can be few more wounding accusations in a family that prides itself on its patriotism. Moments later, Mountbatten writes Charles a letter, telling him to do his duty by marrying “some sweet and innocent well-tempered girl with no past” and settling down. The letter arrives in the wake of his murder by the IRA. This sequence is interwoven with images of the royals blasting game birds and clubbing salmon, as if bloodsports were in some way equivalent to terrorism.

This is only one of several significant examples of where the story departs too far from the truth. Morgan says that “in my own head” that acrimonious conversation and letter are how he imagined things might have happened. Except there is no evidence to support this theory. It just makes for better television.

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The result is the gradual besmirching of Prince Charles’s image; clearly he is being set up to be as maligned and mocked as Prince Philip has been throughout the entire series. The introduction of a mischievous Diana Spencer is also historically inaccurate, although this scarcely matters. What does, however, is that from her first appearance it is obvious this retelling will owe as much to Grimm’s Fairy Tales as to the documentary record.

As Diana flits across the stage, you think of her sons having to endure yet another account of her unhappy marriage, and all that followed. The princes have been immensely stoical and dignified over the decades, but the toll their mother’s death took is evident. It can be deduced from the causes they espouse, and from Harry’s self-exile, to protect his wife from similar media hounding. Anybody who thinks the denizens of SW1A are thicker-skinned than ordinary mortals is deluded. They might inhabit a world miles from our own, but they are otherwise no different.

It is one thing to traduce the Tudors, quite another to meddle with the living. The supremacy of fiction over fact in this case is especially unjust, because those who do not remember events might well unquestioningly believe this version. The Windsors’ latest misfortune is to be the casualty of fake news.

In the aftermath of the Trump era’s manipulation of the truth in order to sway public opinion, it should perhaps come as no surprise that this docudrama’s veracity is stretched like aged knicker elastic. The deluge of garbage that emerged from the White House in the last four years has dangerously corroded society. Each of us has been in some way influenced or affected by the barrage of misinformation that has flourished since Trump took power. Like Covid, this outbreak is a virus that leaps continents. We’ve seen its effects here, not least in mendacious Brexit propaganda. Long after Trump has become history, the pernicious legacy of fake news will continue to infect the body politic.

In this respect, The Crown’s tweaking of dates, timelines and events might be seen as small beer. Who cares who at the palace said what and when? Since the royals famously do not demean themselves by issuing law suits, the writers have carte blanche. It is up to us what we choose to believe.

And yet it is no trivial matter. The Crown’s distortions and innuendos are another unedifying example of what Barack Obama calls “truth decay”. Some fiction tries to stick close to the essence of reality, some actively and wantonly warps it. Peter Morgan has said that ‘We do our very, very best to get it right, but sometimes I have to conflate [incidents] . . . You sometimes have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth.’ And yet, according to the Royal expert Hugo Vickers, “I am sorry to say that truth is frequently forsaken.”

The worst of The Crown’s misdeeds is not the creative leaps required to keep Netflix subscribers hooked. It is the insidious realigning of the story to frame the Windsors as gargoyles who swallowed the princess alive. You’d think there’s more than enough drama in the bald facts of their lives without further invention and spin.

How would Morgan feel if his family affairs were reimagined and twisted for millions to gawp at? If words were put into his mouth that he never thought let alone spoke, and his parents or children were transformed into frigid brutes, accused of mental cruelty and possibly worse?

No wonder Prince Charles refuses to watch it. How wise and sane. And how unrecognisable from the way he appears on screen.

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