Season four of The Crown has dropped, ruffling some Royalists’ feathers on the show’s accuracy.
ANU historian Professor Frank Bongiorno – who has binged the latest Netflix season – says Princess Diana did not thwart Australia’s attempts at becoming a republic.
“As much as I enjoy watching it, I would give The Crown about a five out of 100 for accuracy on that one,” Professor Bongiorno says.
Episode six follows Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s visit to Australia in 1983, with the storyline focusing on the risk of republicanism weakening the monarchy.
But the issue of republicanism in 1983 Australia was barely on the map for Bob Hawke, Professor Bongiorno says.
“The depiction of Charles and Diana’s visit as having saved the monarchy is absolute fiction!
“Australia was experiencing its worst recession since the 1930s, double figure unemployment and recovering from the Ash Wednesday bushfires with lots of devastation to lives and property.
“Australia was in a pretty grim corner at the beginning of 1983 and Hawke likely saw the Royal tour as a feel-good opportunity for Australians, not a rallying call for a republic.”
While it is a fiction that Diana had any real impact on Australia staying loyal to the monarchy and the series doesn’t stack up when it comes to many details, it can still make an important contribution to historical understanding.
“The show does really well capturing the mood of key periods in Britain’s recent history, Professor Bongiorno says.
“For example, episode five with Michael Fagan [who broke into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace in 1982] gets pretty right the feeling and reality of Thatcher’s Britain for the poor,” Professor Bongiorno says.
“There was such a strong sense of hopelessness, with the marginalised and unemployed at three million in the UK during that period.”
Professor Bongiorno sees the dramatisation of historical events through TV shows as a positive for further engagement with past events.
“The historian Greg Dening has said that historical films tend to be the present in funny dress, where they enact values and ways of thinking that are rooted in the present, but they do it stylised in a past world,” he says.
“A historian’s role is not to spoil people’s enjoyment but to educate people on how to best discriminate between sources of information. A television series such as The Crown has many virtues but it shouldn’t be treated as an authority on historical detail.”