The new cast of "The Crown" premiered the upcoming season of the hit Netflix series on Tuesday, insisting viewers know it's a drama and do not need a disclaimer for its fictionalised storylines.
The award-winning show, which follows the reign of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, returns for a fifth season on Wednesday, portraying the royals in the 1990s, when they faced marital upsets, public dissent and a fire at Windsor Castle.
It has drawn criticism and calls for disclaimers over its dramatised storylines. Some commentators have voiced concern over its airing just two months after Elizabeth's death and the impact it could have on her son Charles' reign.
Netflix describes "The Crown" as "fictional dramatization", inspired by real events. "Everyone has watched 'The Crown' for four seasons, hasn’t bothered them before," actor Imelda Staunton, who plays Elizabeth in season five, told Reuters. "I think the audience will be comforted by just spending time with these people again."
Staunton was filming season six when Elizabeth died. "I was inconsolable that night and it surprised me... I thought 'Well I’ve been living with her so closely with her for 2 and half years'... (Seeing) People lining up to see her, it was so moving."
New plotlines include Charles' divorce from the late Princess Diana and intimate conversations with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now his wife. "It’s a time of his life that was not only the prime of his life but also in many ways the most difficult time of his life," actor Dominic West, who plays Charles, said. "I felt enormous empathy and sympathy for him, and that’s been one of the challenges and also the joys of playing him... I don’t think (season five) is flattering but I think it’s fair." Olivia Williams, who plays Camilla, said: "It was a very hard time for her and I wanted to do justice to that."
Critics have given mixed reviews on season five but most praised actor Elizabeth Debicki's portrayal of Diana. "When you join ‘The Crown'... there’s an enormous amount of archival footage that’s available to you, so I just dove in," she said of preparing for the role.
Among the prominent critics is Judi Dench, an Oscar-winner for her role as Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love.” In a letter to The Times of London, the actor blasted elements of the drama as “cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.”
She called for each episode to carry a disclaimer labeling it as fiction. It's a demand that Netflix has heard before and continues to resist, framing the series as drama inspired by historical events. Series creator Peter Morgan was unavailable for comment, Netflix said.
Dench is not amused by the streaming service's intransigence. “The time has come for Netflix to reconsider — for the sake of a family and a nation so recently bereaved, as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people so dutifully for 70 years,” she wrote.
Her plea followed a rebuke of the series from former Prime Minister John Major, shown in the new season being lobbied by Prince Charles — now King Charles III — to help maneuver the queen’s abdication. A spokesman for Major labeled the scene as false and malicious.
Cast members including Jonathan Pryce, who plays Elizabeth’s stalwart husband Prince Philip, beg to differ with the series' detractors.
“The queen is in no danger from ‘The Crown,’” Pryce told The Associated Press. He said critics are lambasting the new season despite ignorance of it, reminding him of what the British once termed “the Mary Whitehouse effect.”
Whitehouse had “a huge following and she criticized programs she’d never seen,” he said. “I think a lot of the protests this time, people haven’t seen this series. They don’t know how these issues are treated. I have to say they’re treated with a great deal of integrity and a great deal of sensitivity.”