Younger generations, especially gen Z, have only recently been exposed to more than a few significant events in British monarchy history in the past decades. Many may only remember the jubilees in 2012 and 2022. A whole generation was not even born on the fateful night in 1997 when Princess Diana was killed in a car accident. The royal family has maintained stability for the younger generation in Britain up until the recent "Megxit", which culminated in Prince Harry's resignation from his royal duties in 2020, followed by the Queen's death last year.
Unlike the 1960s, 1980s, or 1990s, there were no major scandals or significant threats to national security in recent decades. Instead, many now perceive the monarchy through the lens of the Netflix show ''The Crown'', which portrayed some of the most dramatic, scandalous, and even beautiful events in the history of the royal family since the marriage of Elizabeth II to Prince Philip.
The Crown has provided the younger generation of Britons with a closer look at these historical events and a fresh perspective on the senior members of the royal family. While the show's creator, Peter Morgan, maintains that it is a tribute to the Queen, several episodes and character portrayals often serve as critiques of the monarchy. As a result, the audience is often left feeling sympathetic, as the show highlights the limited control the royals have over their own lives.
For instance, in Seasons 1 and 2, The Crown exposes the limited free will that Princess Margaret and Prince Philip had once Elizabeth II was crowned. Philip's role became that of a shadow overseer, while Margaret was unable to marry the man she loved. The show depicts how, during the 1950s and 1960s, the monarchy's institution revolved around the monarch, with every other member expected to defend and promote the institution.
Prince Charles makes his entrance as a child in season 2, episode 9, when his college is being decided. Due to how much he was struggling in school, the Prime Minister suggests that Eton College is the best choice for his further studies, as he describes Charles as shy and sensitive. The Queen agrees for his sake; however, Prince Philip feels otherwise and is determinedly set upon his alma mater, Gordonstoun in Scotland. The Queen agrees for his sake. However, Prince Philip holds a different opinion and adamantly insists on his own alma mater, Gordonstoun in Scotland.
Despite his mother's awareness of the challenges that awaited him, she was unable to intervene, and Prince Philip remained unwavering in his decision. Charles was sent to Gordonstoun without any say in the matter. The show parallels Prince Philip's own experiences at Gordonstoun with Charles's, highlighting the stark differences between them. Charles, physically weaker and more intellectually inclined, grapples with the realization of his dissimilarity to his father. The audience can't help but feel sorrow for young Charles, especially considering his father's disappointment. The overarching theme of both characters lacking agency persists throughout the narrative.
In season 3, The Crown delves into Charles's life as a bachelor and his meeting with Camilla Parker Bowles, illustrating the obstacles they faced in their personal relationship. The royal family members intervene and prevent their relationship from progressing due to the scandal surrounding their meeting. This portrayal highlights another instance where Charles lacks the ability to make his own decisions, emphasizing how his family prioritizes the interests of the Crown over his personal happiness.
Princess Diana is introduced in Season 4, along with the portrayal of the genesis of her fairytale story with Charles. The Crown depicts Charles as ungrateful and envious when he witnesses the immense attention Diana receives. The season thoroughly explores their tumultuous marriage and Charles's ongoing affair with Camilla, whom he remains deeply in love with. The storyline of Princess Diana tackles the issues that only became public when she was preparing to divorce Charles. The British people believed in their fairy-tale love story, especially in the presence of their children, William and Harry. Season 4 includes scenes that depict Diana's suffering and anxiety as a result of Charles' treatment.
Young Britons have been heavily influenced by The Crown's representation of massive historical events. According to an interview with the BBC, royal expert Professor Pauline Maclaran stated that the Netflix show casts a "negative light on King Charles, while Princess Diana will become a cultural icon''.
Professor Maclaran also highlighted that a YouGov survey revealed a majority of Gen Z individuals believe The Crown accurately represents historical events, a sentiment shared three times more by this demographic compared to the over-65 group. She admitted to the BBC that previous cinematic projects, like the 2006 movie The Queen, had been beneficial for the royal family. However, she noted that "The Crown" may leave younger viewers with a more nuanced impression of the royal family.
Royal experts and historians have expressed concerns about the younger generation perceiving the series as a documentary rather than a dramatization. Additionally, Buckingham Palace has emphasized that the portrayal of the subjects in the Netflix show, particularly Charles and Camilla, is sensitive to the members involved. During the 1990s, there was widespread resentment and hatred towards the newly crowned King and Queen Consort, particularly following the tragic accident that claimed Princess Diana's life.
However, a significant portion of those generations have clearly embraced the show. Season 5, which was set to premiere nearly two months after the passing of Queen Elizabeth, was heavily promoted as the "most controversial season to date." It delved into the divorce of Charles and Diana, including the infamous interview Diana gave to Martin Bashir for BBC Panorama.
Prince William has acknowledged that the interview was a challenging period for their family, particularly considering the circumstances surrounding how Martin Bashir obtained it, which The Crown delves into in episode 8, "Gunpowder". The show also incorporates the perspective of a young William, introducing another prominent member of the royal family. season 6 is highly anticipated to depict the early stages of William and Kate's relationship, along with the subsequent highs and lows they experienced.
Nontheless, The Crown has generated newfound interest in the royal family among the younger generation, despite previous claims of disinterest in their lives. According to a YouGov poll, a significant number of young Britons expressed a preference for abolishing the monarchy, with 41% supporting the idea of a new elected head of state as of May 2021. However, the success of The Crown in providing glimpses into the private lives of the royals has sparked curiosity and engagement with the monarchy, almost as if it were a reality show. Time reported that just a few days after the passing of the Queen, viewers streamed a staggering 40.8 million hours of The Crown.
The internationally acclaimed series The Crown, while garnering widespread acclaim, has raised concerns for the newly crowned King and Queen Consort. It has resurfaced distressing memories for the royal family while also presenting certain controversial alterations that have left some viewers perplexed. However, it has sparked interest among the younger generations of Britons, who express a preference for the abolition and transformation of the monarchy rather than upholding its centuries-old legacy and traditions.