Robert Lacey, who acts as the historical consultant on Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ is interviewed by The Morning Show in Australia as The Crown series 3 airs. Robert Lacey’s book The Crown: Volume 2 is published on 19 November.
The Crown is the most expensive show on TV right now – and with an estimated $95 million spent on each series, it’s no surprise it’s been such a global success.
In the first two series, we watched as The Queen grappled with the weight of responsibility on her shoulders, a distant husband, and a young family.
With its impressive drama and realism, viewers felt they’d been allowed inside the grand walls of Buckingham Palace – and renowned British historian Robert Lacey is there every step of the way as the show’s historical consultant.
So how much of it is actually true?
“It’s all true, but it’s true in two different ways,” Lacey said.
“There’s a difference between history and the past. We, historians, are like gardeners: we stand there with a sieve, and all the events of the past go through the sieve, and a lot of it falls below.
“What’s left in the sieve, that’s the history that the historian deals with. But lots of things pass through and can only be accessed by informed invention and imagination, and that’s what we do with The Crown. We do incredible research.”
Where fact and fiction intersect
In one memorable scene from the first series, The Queen and Philip are shown having a quarrel while on tour in Australia. She hurls a shoe and a tennis racquet at her husband, only to stop suddenly when they spot an Australian film crew in the garden.
“The TV cameras and everything outside is true, and is based on the actual newsreel of the time,” Lacey said.
“They were waiting outside a bungalow for The Queen and Prince Philip to emerge for a nice, civilised interview – and suddenly the door flies open and out comes Philip being pursued by The Queen.
“That scene is true – and we actually interviewed some of the survivors of newsreel crew who were there. What we don’t know is what provoked the row in the first place.”
A focus on Prince Charles
The new series takes a deeper dive into Prince Charles as he comes of age and deals with the pressure of being the heir – as well as his early relationship with Camilla.
“There’s no secret that Charles and his mother were at a distance and at odds,” Lacey said.
“He was attending Cambridge at that time, and suddenly he was told that there was trouble in Wales and he would have to go Aberystwyth, a Welsh university, and learn Welsh there.
“To his credit, he did go to Aberystwyth and he did learn Welsh, and Welsh people who listened to his speech said it sounded to them as if he’d been learning Welsh all his life.”
Helena Bonham Carter’s method
Series three introduces Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, but Lacey says the actress didn’t rely on him for her character research.
“Helena hasn’t leaned much on my skills as a historian,” Lacey said.
“She’s got a mystic who can put her in touch with Princess Margaret, and who can convey the essence of the Princess better than I can.
“And who is to argue with Helena Bonham Carter? It’s an absolutely fantastic portrayal.”
A crowning Glory
“I think the show taps into people’s affection for The Queen,” Lacey said.
“All the headlines are about the saucy bits – but basically, we love The Queen. Peter Morgan, who’s written the show, is deeply loyal to The Queen.
“Whether you’re a republican or not, you have to admit the lady’s done a great job. That sense of duty that she acquired during the war and that stiff upper lip may be outdated, but a lot of people still have respect for it.”
And as for whether or not the royal family watch the show, Lacey says that if they do, they aren’t admitting it.
“I once asked Prince Andrew that, and he looked at me with absolute scorn and disdain and said, ‘Of course we don’t watch anything like that.’
“But I’ve got the feeling (they do). They’re only human after all.”
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