The third season of “The Crown” premiered Nov. 17, jumping forward a few years into Queen Elizabeth II’s (now played by Olivia Colman) reign. Now following the royal family into the 1960s and ’70s, the Netflix drama sees their rule plagued by a Russian spy in Buckingham Palace, a massive amount of debt that can only be settled by the United States, political turmoil at home with the changing prime ministers and multiple problems related to the mining industry. All of these things actually happened, although Peter Morgan and his team of writers dive deeper into the emotional toll of these events than history has reported.
Here’s what the show’s writers got right — and what they fictionalized — in Season 3 of “The Crown.”
The third season of “The Crown” opens with Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s (Jason Watkins) introduction — and a tough meeting at that. He’s not only met with Prince Philip’s (Tobias Menzies) immediate disapproval for his likability among the working class and antimonarchists, but his name’s followed through Buckingham Palace with a rumor that he’s a Russian Spy working with the KGB; his code name: Olding. Thus, the episode’s title.
“Well if you know it, and your chum knows it, obviously MI5 will know it,” says Queen Elizabeth II. “They must have come to the conclusion that Mr. Wilson was fine, or they would’ve done something about it.”
FACT: Wilson was a suspect of MI5 for his ties to Eastern Europe. According to the WashingtonPost, historian Christopher Andrew revealed the hidden file kept on the former prime minister in 2009. In his book “The Defence of the Realm,” an authorized history of MI5, Andrew alleged the information agency kept a file on the prime minister throughout his two terms making him “the only serving prime minister to have a permanent Security Service file,” Andrew told the Times of London. The Queen held good feelings toward the Prime minister and their regular meetings were rumored to have gone over hours, says the Sunday Post.
But, did Queen Elizabeth II really allow a KGB mole to stay in Buckingham Palace? “The Crown’s” writers supposedly hit the nail on the head with their portrayal of the scandal. Sir Anthony Blunt, the Queen’s surveyor of art and a member of the Cambridge Five British spy ring, was turned by the Soviets in the 1930s before working for MI5 in World War II.
FACT: After American authorities tipped off MI5 about the spy, Sir Anthony Blunt did continue to work under the Queen as an art historian in order to save the crown and the information agency from international embarrassment. The news was even kept a secret from then prime minister Alec Douglas-Home until Margaret Thatcher outed Blunt in the House of Commons in Nov. 1979, per The Guardian. Blunt eventually went on to hold conferences admitting to his double-crossing.
In the third season’s second episode, Helena Bonham Carter gives viewers a deeper look at Princess Margaret as she and Lord Snowdon (Ben Daniels) travel to the U.S. for a three week tour of the states. The royal couple first lands in San Francisco, where they party their way through California, and then Princess Margaret falls ill with laryngitis in Arizona, slowing the trip down for a brief period. Though, what begins as a private adventure turns into business. After President Lyndon B. Johnson makes no moves on the Queen’s invitations to visit, she employs her sister to make a trip to the White House in order to relieve the foreign tensions and secure financial aid for the country. By the end of their trip, Princess Margaret returns home as a champion having secured the billion dollar funding from the then-POTUS.
FACT: Correctly, the show doesn’t overstep its bounds by saying President Johnson rejected Queen Elizabeth’s invitations, but according to archivists at the LBJ Library, the two leaders never met in person. Johnson met with Prime Minister Douglas-Home on a few occasions though. While the archivists acknowledge the reason for the two not meeting is unknown, this episode suggests relations with the U.S. at this time are tense because of Harold Wilson’s refusal to back Johnson in the Vietnam War.
The primary reason for Princess Margaret’s visit to the states has been debated, but Foreign Minister Walter Padley says it began as an accepted invitation from a former U.S. ambassador in London, and then it developed into “a visit which consisted mainly of official and public engagements undertaken at the specific request of Her Majesty’s Government.”
The show does leave out the small scandal involving a few unpaid bills in Arizona, per the Netflix UK/Ireland featurette below. After the £30,000 trip, the Princess was banned from future visits in the ’70s.
The third episode focuses on the 1966 Aberfan mine disaster in Wales. In what may have been an unprecedented event to the rest of the world, an avalanche of coal waste from the Merthyr Vale Colliery tumbled down a steep hill taking everything in its path with it — including the lives of 144 people, 116 of which were children.
The Queen initially refused to visit Aberfan following the tragedy saying, “The crown visits hospitals, not the scenes of accidents.” But, she eventually makes the trip eight days later.
FACT: Queen Elizabeth II did refuse to visit the scene of the catastrophe. She actually sent Prince Philip in an official visit first in her place, in the episode and in real life. Biographer Robert Lacey details the account from a former advisor who said, “We kept presenting the arguments, but nothing we said could persuade her.”
In prepping for the visit to Aberfan, the episode acknowledges the wrongdoings of the National Coal Board by using Wilson’s aides to explain how the coal slurry was a manifestation of multiple tragic mistakes. The Prime Minister also mentioned the need to be careful in how they treated the situation.
“Come on, Harold, this is an accident caused by unprecedented rainfall,” one of his aides tells him. “It isn’t political.”
“Everything is political,” Wilson responds.
FACT: The scene definitely turned into a political match as the victims’ families and the people of Aberfan blamed the National Coal Board for the tragedy. It was found that many of the residents and local officials had placed complaints about the seventh tip’s location in 1963 and ’64. The overall concern was largely due to the tip’s proximity to Pantglas Junior School which held approximately 240 students at that time. Yet, the National Coal Board still ignored them according to History.com.
A tribunal later found the National Coal Board at fault for the incident, claiming the accident “could and should’ve been prevented.”
The Queen’s response to the tragedy remains one of her biggest regrets according to her former private secretary Lord Charteris.
Around the fourth episode titled “Bubbikins”, viewers see a more mature version of Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire). As the palace begins filming the British Royal Family documentary (which was a not-very-well executed attempt to show how ordinary the royal family is in the hopes to gain more financial compensation), The Queen decides to send for Princess Alice as tensions rise in Athens making it an unsafe environment for the Queen’s mother-in-law. Though, while she’s safe in Buckingham Palace, she’s not exactly met with a warm welcome.
The princess and her son maintained a tumultuous relationship, as viewers can tell from the flashback in the episode. Thus explaining some of Philip’s resentment and anger toward his mother, a term he uses to refer to her as a “technicality” because she wasn’t around for much of his young life. This is mainly due to her being treated in psychiatric hospitals for much of her life.
In an interview with The Guardian’s John Armstrong (another attempt to change the public image of the Royal family), Princess Alice reveals the trials and tribulations she was forced to endure, prompting the journalist to write a highly favorable profile. In it, Princess Alice alludes to being treated by Sigmund Freud after being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
FACT: Princess Alice was treated by Sigmund Freud, The Psychologist says. Shortly after her husband Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark was court martialed, Princess Alice was said to have gotten very religious in her exile claiming to have had conversations with Christ and the Buddha. She was admitted by her family against her will after receiving her schizophrenia diagnosis. Freud allegedly believed her religious ideas to be the cause of her sexual frustration and recommended X-raying her ovaries in order to reduce her libido. While she maintained her sanity, she stayed in the sanitarium until the mid 1930s.
However, the show took liberties with the way this comes to light, as there was no journalist named John Armstrong at The Guardian to interview Princess Alice. Instead, he is a fictional creation to shine a light on the royal family’s relationship with the public, via the media.
Still, the real Princess Alice was definitely deserving of the praise she received in the fictional interview. Congenitally deaf, she learned to read lips in multiple languages. Long after her conversion to the Greek Orthodox church, she created the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, an order of nuns committed to caring for the sick. At one point during the Nazi occupation of Greece, she even saved a Jewish family from the horrors of the holocaust by hiding them in her Athens palace. Prince William recently met with Phillipe Cohen, a descendant of the family on a 2018 visit to Israel, CNN reports.