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Is The Crown the Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but the Truth? – CT

This weeks column in Christian Today – you can get the original here

Season 4 of The Crown on Netflix was one of the most eagerly awaited media events of the year. The past three seasons were known for their quality, good acting, thoughtful scripts and evocative presentations of a bygone age. Season 4 promised to be so much more.  For many of us, this was no longer just history but it was our history.

Being a teenager in the 1970s, how could I forget Mrs Thatcher, the wedding of Charles and Diana, the Buckingham Palace intruder, the Falklands War and the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne? I looked forward to seeing these events portrayed on TV 40 years after – especially as I was one of those who had enjoyed the first three series. However it was a somewhat surreal and disappointing experience.

Not all the events listed above were portrayed. For example, the kidnapping of Princess Anne has been inexplicably left out. That fact alone should give a hint about what was wrong with the series – that it is a select account of events which tells us as much, if not more, about scriptwriter Peter Morgan than it does about the reality of what happened.

The more I watched, the more I was amazed at the false history and distorted caricatures that The Crown portrayed. It was clear that Mr Morgan had an agenda, not just to make good TV or to present history, but rather to present a history reflecting his own political and personal prejudices.

The beauty and interest of history is in the details. And so many of the details as well as the substance in this instance were wrong. For example, Mark Thatcher did not go missing in the desert the same time as the Argentinians invaded South Georgia. Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham Palace in 1982, is now 70 and even he complained that the scene in which he and the Queen discussed politics was ‘a complete fiction’ that he thinks was made up to have a go at the Queen – although more likely it was to have a go at Margaret Thatcher.

Does the truth matter? There are those reviewers who don’t really care; they say ‘it is just fiction’.  But they forget that fiction in today’s society is often regarded as true history. How many people think they know Scottish history because they have watched Mel Gibson’s Braveheart? Or just know that ‘the Bible was made up’ because they have seen or read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

Fiction portrays truth far better than documentary, and that is the genius of the show.”

Jacqueline Maley, writing in Sydney’s Sun-Herald, clearly did not care: “I find myself straining to care when I read articles where ‘sources close to the prince’ tell us such-and such an event never happened that way, or that the depiction of Charles as insecure and mean is false. So what? Fiction portrays truth far better than documentary, and that is the genius of the show.” 

Made up stories, shot through with personal and political prejudice, portray ‘truth’ far better than documentary?! And this is ‘genius’?! If you believe that, don’t ever complain about living in a society where truth doesn’t matter, where each can pick and choose their own version of history and where the Manic Street Preachers song ‘This is my truth, tell me yours’ is fulfilled.

This matters because when someone is put on trial, it is important that the judge and jury have ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. The Crown is trial by screen, and as such, it has been cruel and heartless. It doesn’t matter whether the portrayal of Prince Charles as the evil husband, or Princess Dianna as the downtrodden angel is true; it’s what people want to believe. And so, it must be true, surely. But real life is much more complex than the caricatures given us by Peter Morgan.

Thatcher Caricature

Speaking of caricatures there was none more bizarre and surreal than the portrayal of Margaret Thatcher by Gillian Anderson. Apparently Ms Anderson could not abide Mrs Thatcher but did not want that to come over. If that was her aim, she failed miserably. The Thatcher portrayed in The Crown is a grotesque caricature who might as well have been the infamous Spitting Image puppet. I was involved in student politics when Thatcher was Prime Minister. I went on marches against her and politically despised her. Until I heard Tony Benn state that we should not be caught up in personalities and should campaign on and against policies. I was ashamed as a Christian that I had fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book – demonising those we disagree with, a trick that Morgan plays with skill and deceit.

The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has asked Netflix to put a ‘health warning’ at the beginning of each show, pointing out that it is in fact, fiction. In a world where Twitter and Facebook feel that it is necessary to give us trigger warnings over Donald Trump’s outputs, perhaps Dowden has a point. But I suspect many people don’t care what is true about history – and ask how would we know anyway? All that matters is what we want, and feel, to be true.

The Whole Truth?

From a Christian perspective this is from the pit of Hell. We believe it is possible to know truth. It is not possible for us to know what really happened between Charles and Diana, never mind to know what was in their hearts. But it is possible for us to know reality and truth, and above all to know The Truth. The Bible gives us truth, not in fictional drama; not even in series of historical propositions. No, the Bible gives us truth in a person – Jesus Christ. He is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. By him we can relate and judge all other truths.

One of the saddest things about The Crown, apart from the cruelty and the politisied caricatures, is that it largely missed out on something that is easily verified and very public – and that is the Queen’s Christian faith. Because that is seen as being of little importance by Mr Morgan, it is then deemed to be of little importance to the rest of us. In determining for us what we should and should not be interested in, The Crown has shown itself to be little more than a work of almost comical fiction dressed up as history. In other words, it is a lie.

The Queen and Billy Graham

Why Does Armenia Matter?

13 comments

  1. “The Bible was made up” – OK and this is not an uncommon belief. That it is akin to mythology, fairy tales, belief in leprechauns and the like. So what we are looking at here is one reader response approach to the bible with a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. On the other hand another reader response would be akin to what you advocate David with “the Bible gives us truth” with a belief consistent with a “hermeneutic of faith”. And the word “hermeneutic” coming from the Greek god Hermes – the messenger.

    You say “all that matters is what we want, and feel, to be true” you then follow that with “this is from the pit of Hell”. So is this what you feel to be true?

    A “Christian perspective” is a broad term and unless you literally claim to be speaking for all of Christianity (which would be an arrogant claim) it is there for rhetorical effect. I prefer to think of you as not being arrogant and yes this is what I want and feel to be true. There fore it follows that your “pit of hell” comment is there for rhetorical effect as well. There’s no right or wrong judgement in this.

    So where does this leave us? What has always puzzled me is this idea of respecting people’s opinions which seems to be part of the ether. Opinions don’t care whether they are respected or not and any person with an ounce of common sense knows that nobody gets it right all the time and would be wise to hold onto opinions lightly, especially non-evidenced opinions. Stephen Fry has a few things to say about respect and offence being no “more than a whine” if someone is offended. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnSByCb8lqY

    OK if what he is saying is true, then it is a whine to be offended by the Gospel of Christ crucified. Either it is true for every occasion of anyone being “rather offended” or it is never true. What it can’t be is true in some occasions and not true in others.

    So I go back to what you say about us wanting and feeling to be true. OK there would never be disagreement within Christian circles if there were to be unity in every understanding of biblical interpretation. Since this is not the case there is self-evidently a number of grey areas. And this is where there has been an attempt on compromise. On the other hand unity in compromising leads us down the liberal path of “diversity, inclusion and tolerance” and looking out on the western world, this noble aim seems somewhat to have missed the mark when we consider the increasing divisiveness we see in society.

    So yes I hear where you are coming from – an appeal for truth. So how then do we figure out how to do this without killing each other over differences?

    I honestly don’t think we can of our own volition. I think it requires the divine. And by grace God gives the freedom for use to choose whether to welcome this or not. Jesus stands at the door waiting for it to be opened, he doesn’t force his way in. And neither should we, even if we are standing for truth and doing so lovingly. The loving part is respecting people’s freedom. Ultimately if someone does reject God, then God’s judgement is in effect “OK have it your way” and him removing his presence.

    And that indeed is hell. I think positive optimism with human endeavour without God as an attempt to address church dogma with the period of the enlightenment that let to two world words that had nothing to do with religion can show us what a hell on earth, literally can look like.

    And therefore how churlish and a display of ignorance of history it is it is to reject the divine.

  2. And is the certainty of Christian truth alluded to in the final words of John’s Gospel-too much evidence, rather than too little? And should we be aware of the same problem with the pro-life cause? In terms of efficiently proclaiming the truth this Christmas are ‘abortionreversal.com’ and ‘#HancocksHealthcare’ (on the CBRUK website) two of our greatest current succinct resources? Perhaps someone should inscribe those on a nativity crib.

  3. The Crown is a hugely popular advertisement for the concept of Royalty.

    I prefer the simpler idea of Monarchy.

    Here , the extended family of Royalty is more rigorously subjected to the principle of primogeniture and , like the younger sons of Victorian noblemen , (not to mention daughters ), is set , Govt funding – wise , financially adrift ( the Monarch may use personal funds to alleviate distress ) and be as normal as possible.

  4. The most concerning thing in this article is that the Culture Secretary of a democratic country wants to put trigger warnings on fiction that he disagrees with.

    All historical fiction has an element of fabrication so I’m not sure the point of the article, do you think that people are too stupid to know the difference between fact and fiction?

    1. If you genuinely can’t work out the point of the article I would suggest re-reading it. And yes – people are too dumbed down in today’s culture to know the difference between fact and fiction – as the quote form the columnist in the article makes clear…

  5. It just goes to show that people’s portrayal of history is what they choose to present and may not been true the the actual events.
    And there will be many people that will accept this as the actual facts of the events.
    As seen in the US by the number of people who accept the events surrounding JFK’s assassination by the portrayal within a film by Oliver Stone
    The same goes for the old Hollywood films of Cleopatra and various other icons of history.
    I don’t see the Bible as an account of the history of Jesus to be any different.

    1. That’s an interesting comment – and shows how you are allowing your own prejudices to cloud your reason. Anyone who equates the Gospels as equivalent to The Crown has either never read them, nor understood them – and certainly has no grasp of history…!

    2. -‘B 48 The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony’- by R Bauckham is available from Grove Booklets in Cambridge costing five pence under four pounds (to include UK postage). There are more detailed academic books of various types exploring the theme, but for a snappy and fast read (while not compromising on academic quality) this short pamphlet is very good.

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