“The Crown” is back — and so is the Netflix series’ accompanying drama about what is and is not factually accurate. This season feels particularly explosive, as the first batch of episodes to take place in the oh-so-well-documented 1990s. Among the many topics tackled are the dissolution of marriages (Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie, Anne and her husband, whoever he was), the discovery of the remains of the Tsar of Russia and his family, the election of Tony Blair — and Prince Philip’s obsession with carriage driving.
In order to sift through what is historically accurate and what is merely conjecture (if not outright dramatic fiction), we turn to the Internet’s favorite arbiter of fact versus fantasy: Jonathan Frakes, the host of late ’90s meme-fave “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction.” Are these “um, what?!?” moments true? Or is Peter Morgan just pulling the crown over our eyes?
Did Prince Charles really cut short his second honeymoon with Diana and their children?
Although press reports of the couple’s trip to Italy with family and friends referred to it as a second honeymoon, there is no evidence that Charles (Dominic West) or Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) considered it to be one. Likewise, there’s no record of Charles leaving early — and certainly not, according to then-Prime Minister John Major, to make a case to the P.M. for his mother stepping down so he could become king.
Did Mohammed Al Fayed really buy the Windsors’ house and belongings to curry favor?
The third episode of Season 5 of “The Crown” takes audiences into the life of Mohammed Al Fayed (Salim Daw), father of Diana’s future boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed (Khalid Abdalla). We see how fascinated by the royal family Al Fayed is, down to hiring the Duke of Windsor’s former valet, Sydney Johnson. (Fact!) And we see Fayed attempting to break into the inner ranks of British society by, among other things, buying Harrods and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s home in Bois du Boulogne — complete with furnishings.
In real life, some of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s personal possessions had already been whisked away to eventually be auctioned off before Fayed took possession. (The Duchess of Windsor’s attorney, Suzanne Blum, sniffed to People magazine that “haggling isn’t the word for it” regarding the offer Fayed made for the Duchess’ jewels, which eventually sold for $50.3 million.) Among the belongings that remained in what Fayed intended to be a museum were the desk on which the Duke wrote his letter of abdication and his polo trophies. But no, Fayed did not watch the Queen’s emissaries remove the most valuable items — though he did accuse the executors of stealing the couple’s love letters.
As for the house? Fayed chartered a jet and flew 120 people — including Diana’s father — for an opening party after the restoration. His 50-year lease is still in effect, though the villa remains closed to the public 20 years later.
Did Gorbachev shit-talk the palace during a photo op?
Who knows! But probably not. From press accounts, their meeting was warm and friendly, though it took place in 1989 and Margaret Thatcher was at their luncheon (they ate cornets of smoked salmon stuffed with crab, fillets of beef, duck, and artichoke baked in pastry if you’re curious). Though the Queen accepted Gorbachev’s invitation to visit Moscow, she did not make the trip until 1994, when Boris Yeltsin was in power.
Did Diana’s brakes suddenly stop working while driving?
This may be the most ludicrous aspect of Diana’s story as told in “The Crown” — but apparently, Diana really did tell confidantes that she thought someone tampered with her brakes in 1995. And allegedly, when told of the Paris car crash, the Queen’s initial response was, “Someone must have greased her brakes.”
Wait — was Diana’s infamous 1995 interview with Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) really that pointedly scheduled?
“Even the televisions are metaphors,” Queen Elizabeth tells William in the eighth episode. What unfolds would seem like the usual elbow-to-the-ribs from “The Crown,” with the interview scheduled to be conducted on Guy Fawkes Day, its announcement set for Prince Charles’ birthday, and the broadcast airing on Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s 48th wedding anniversary. All true! (And yes, Bashir forged documents to convince Diana to do the interview.)
Did surgeon Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed) really ghost Diana after the interview?
No. They were together off and on until shortly before her death in 1997, despite intense press scrutiny. Diana and Khan ended things not long after she met Dodi Al Fayed aboard his father’s yacht.
Was Charles ever really as hot as Dominic West?