Netflix released the fifth season of The Crown on Wednesday without adding any disclaimers to the show's 10 episodes warning viewers that they're watching a fictional production.
The award-winning drama has been criticized in the past for taking creative liberties, but following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III, Netflix faced new criticism and calls to add an explicit notice before each installment of The Crown, but the streaming giant declined. The show's official description, however, does make a point of stating that it's not a documentary with the tagline: "Inspired by real events, this fictional dramatisation tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and the political and personal events that shaped her reign."
The newest season depicts the British royal family in the '90s, a tumultuous period that saw, among many other things, a devastating fire at Windsor Castle and the breakdown of three royal marriages — most notably, the messy separation and divorce of Charles and Princess Diana.
In the lead-up to the show's premiere, a number of high-profile voices pushed for The Crown to add disclaimers.
Former UK prime minister John Major, who is played in the series by Jonny Lee Miller, told the Telegraph, “I gather Netflix continues to refuse to put out a disclaimer at the top of the opening credits, on the basis that ‘everyone knows this is a drama series.’ But this is simply not good enough. If everyone knows, why not acknowledge that? Without such action, many millions — around the world — could still be influenced by a damaging and fictional script, which claims ‘authority’ by being interspersed with historical fact."
In a letter to the Times published Oct. 20, award-winning actor (and friend to Charles's Queen Consort Camilla) Dame Judi Dench expressed her concerns that the show's newest season would depict "an inaccurate and hurtful account of history," calling it "cruelly unjust to the [members of the royal family] and damaging to the institution they represent."
"While many will recognise The Crown for the brilliant but fictionalised account of events that it is, I fear that a significant number of viewers, particularly overseas, may take its version of history as being wholly true," Dench said in her statement.
A disclaimer should be added, she said, "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, and to preserve its reputation in the eyes of its British subscribers."
A number of the show’s actors, however, disagreed with this take.
“I think it’s a dangerous area to get into when we whack disclaimers on art,” Claudia Harrison, who plays Princess Anne, said at the London premiere of The Crown on Tuesday. “This is a show made by an exceptional dramatist and the role of the dramatist is perhaps to imagine conversations and imagine how things might have felt. And I think that’s why we watch, and I think it does come back to the audience intelligence thing. Don’t underestimate that ever.”
James Murray, who plays Prince Andrew, agreed.
“I think some of the press want to go for this show because it’s been so close to the Queen’s death and everybody is raw and sensitive,” he said. “And I think, wrongly, they assume that it’s derogatory and degrading about the monarchy, which it’s not, in my opinion.
“So it’s a cheap shot. And I think to just demand a disclaimer is kind of patronising to the audience. I think the audience are fully aware, not just in this country, but in other countries too, that this isn’t a documentary or a political mandate or religious doctrine, this is a TV show.”
Meanwhile, Dominic West, who plays Prince Charles, said the calls for disclaimers were “quite flattering, really.”
The Crown is now streaming on Netflix.