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The Truth behind The Crown: The Queen

Nigel Brown
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The first two series of Netflix drama The Crown generated a massive amount of interest in the monarchy, drawing a huge number of viewers into the tensions and intimate relationships within the British Royal Family.

As the indisputable star of the show – and, of course, the Royal Family itself – Queen Elizabeth II is the nexus of every single one of these relationships. The first and second series saw her coming to terms with her new role as Head of State, and the new dynamics this created within her family. 

With reports claiming that season three is set to cover the Queen’s reign from 1964 to 1977, we take a closer look at the life and rule of our beloved monarch during this period. Here are the true stories behind the next instalment of the opulently-produced hit drama. 

A Growing Family 

The first and second seasons of The Crown were underpinned by the friction brought into Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage with her ascent to the throne, and Philip’s discomfort with being relegated into his wife’s shadow. 

The series portrayed the strain caused by the couple’s suddenly inverted power dynamic, with the second culminating in The Queen brandishing a picture of Russian ballerina Galiana Ulanova and confronting Prince Philip for having allegedly strayed outside of their marriage. In a highly ambiguous scene, Philip stops short of owning up to infidelity while insistently voicing his commitment to his wife and the Crown – no admission of guilt, but as sincere a statement of deference as he has yet provided. 

A year later, in 1964, The Queen gave birth to Prince Edward. In 1960, Prince Andrew had been the first child to be born to a reigning monarch since Queen Victoria gave birth to Princess Beatrice in 1857. Famously The Queen’s favourite child, this relationship and the birth of her fourth child open up the possibility of portraying a more maternal side of Elizabeth II – something that was notably not included in her relationship with Charles as depicted so far. 

The Queen’s expanding family, then, seems set to underpin the personal drama of the upcoming series of The Crown. How will Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship develop as they mature and raise their children? Will Philip’s allegiance to The Crown – and, by extension, his wife – continue to waver, or will he make good on his oath to support Elizabeth as both a Prince and a husband?

A Shrinking Empire

When Elizabeth II took the throne, Britain had more than 70 overseas territories and it was estimated that one in every four people on the planet was a British subject. However, even as she became Queen, the British Empire was already on the wane. 

The government had started to realise that the current situation was unsustainable, and that colonies would need to be given up in order to retain power – many colonies were starting to become uneasy and restless, ostensibly gearing up for revolt and insurrection. So, after the independence of British Somaliland in 1960, and a speech given in South Africa by Harold Macmillan that ushered in the “winds of change”, the British Government began the systematic disassembly of the British Empire. 

Independence ceremonies became a frequent occurrence throughout the 1960s, where a member of the Royal Family would visit a specially constructed stadium in a colony’s capital city, and oversee the lowering of the Union Jack at the stroke of midnight – symbolising the end of Imperial rule. 

As such ceremonies grew in number throughout the decade, Colonel Eric Hefford was appointed to represent The Crown wherever they occurred – travelling back and forth across the globe to oversee the occasions that were now so frequent that they earned their own specific name: “freedom at midnight.”

It must have been strange for The Queen to oversee the reduction of her Empire, when all of her predecessors had been so concerned with expanding it. Yet, in many ways, it was simply another marker of Elizabeth II ushering in a new era of the monarchy – walking the fine line between preserving tradition and modernising the Royal Family. 

A Cultural Revolution

The conflict between modernity and tradition was something that was prevalent in wider society, too. The 1960s saw the beginning of the counterculture revolution; an uprising of anti-establishment feeling that encompassed civil rights, sexuality, women’s rights and experimentation with various mind-altering substances. 

The period that the new series is set to cover is bookended by two groundbreaking musical groups that plot a seismic shift in cultural attitudes – both in general and specifically towards the Queen. The Beatles meteoric rise had already begun by 1964, very much heralding the era of experimentation and free love that would come to define the 1960s – a stark contrast to the buttoned-down unwillingness to express emotion that is associated with the Royal Family and pre-1960s Britain.

In 1977 – the year series 3 is rumoured to end – the Sex Pistols released the caustic God Save the Queen to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Despite being seen by the public as an attack on the monarchy, the song peaked at number two in the popular music charts, suggesting a profound and perhaps even hostile shift in the nation’s attitude towards the Queen and her family. 

Again, the friction between the new and the old is something that has very much defined the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and any portrayal of the Royal Family in the 1960s and 1970s will need to look at the monarchy reconciling itself with its rapidly changing nation. 

The Truth Behind The Crown

At True Royalty, we have the real story of Queen Elizabeth II during the 1960s and 1970s. Dive into our in-depth documentaries about the monarchy during this time – The Queen’s Diamond Decades: 1960s and The Queen’s Diamond Decades: 1970s – and get up to speed on the reality before the Netflix drama even hits the screens.

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