We all love a bit of drama, but in shows based on true life stories, the need for gripping action often derails the truth. As we approach the Platinum Jubilee, let’s look back on the show’s first season to see how much they got right about the Queen’s journey to the throne.
The Queen finds out she is the Queen
In The Crown, Princess Elizabeth, then aged 25, learned of her father’s death while in Kenya on a royal tour. The Princess’ staff receive a phone call. Holding the receiver to his ear, one of the aides goes through an array of emotions before rushing to turn on the radio. The report blaring through the speakers confirms that the King has died.
In a panic, the team rushed to the Sagana Lodge where the Princess was staying, informing Prince Philip so he could break the news softly. Moments after being told, Matt Smith as Prince Phillip and Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth share nothing but a knowing, solemn look across the hotel’s garden, enough to tell the young monarch her father has passed.
The real life unfolding of this story is not dissimilar. Her Majesty became Queen on the day her father George VI died – February 6 1952. The Queen and her party had been staying at the Sagana Lodge in Kenya but on the night the King died, they happened to take a couple of days holiday from the state visit, going to Treetop Lodge, a small hotel just outside of Nairobi.
Due to their remote location, in both real life and fiction, the Queen was one of the last people in the world to hear the news. The private nature of the event means there is some dispute over how Princess Elizabeth found out. There are two possible stories, the first depicted in The Crown. The second comes from ITV’s ‘My Years with the Queen’, where Lady-in-waiting Pamela Hicks discussed the breaking of the news. She recalls that a reporter asked the Queen’s private secretary, Martin Charteris, to comment on the Queen’s reaction to her father’s death, unknowingly informing him of the news. Charteris raced back to the lodge and played the radio announcement to Prince Phillip, who then took Elizabeth for a walk to break the news.
Coming home to reign
In The Crown, as the Queen leaves her Kenyan hotel to return to England, paparazzi await for her to emerge to grab a photo of her sorrow. When the Queen steps out into the Kenyan sun, hotel workers and tribesmen perform a tribute, serenading the Queen and bowing their heads to her. Paparazzi snap pictures until the Queen steps into her car and speeds off, leaving them in a cloud of dust. On the plane ride, the Queen’s staff realise she doesn’t have a mourning dress and one is organised to meet them in London.
This portrayal is vastly different to the real life event. The monarch requested no pictures be taken of her leaving, and all paparazzi who came stood respectfully and silently outside the lodge as the cars drove away. No shots were taken of the moment.
Upon arriving at the Kenyan airfield, a thunderstorm delayed the Queen’s departure. The forgotten dress is true though. In fact, because of this happening, every time any member of the Royal Family leaves the country, they must take a black mourning outfit with them in case one of their relatives dies.
Planning the coronation
Now the Queen has ascended to the throne, thoughts turn to her coronation. In The Crown, Churchill informs HRH that her Coronation will be delayed for her benefit, never expanding on this further. The planning of the historic event is entrusted to Prince Philip who is appointed chair of the Coronation Commission. In his new role, the Duke of Edinburgh immediately threw out a radical idea: to televise the event for all of Britain to see. He wanted the event to reflect the Queen as a symbol of a new era. The rather riled up PM then visits the Queen to complain about her husband, who takes very little convincing from the Duke to support his idea.
In real life, the coronation was delayed by 14 months to allow an appropriate length of time to pass after the King’s death. It was thought disrespectful to celebrate the new monarch before the previous one could be properly mourned.
The Duke of Edinburgh was the chair of the Coronation Commission and his idea to televise the event caused huge controversy within the Government. One of the biggest advocates for keeping the Coronation private was Winston Churchill. At the time, the BBC reported the prime minister was “horrified” at the thought of using cameras inside the sacred Westminster Abbey.
Despite Churchill’s reservations, the Queen was anxious to show the country she was its leader and thought televising the Coronation, an event historically only witnessed by the upper classes, would aid in breaking down class barriers, the BBC reported. The reluctant PM gave in and the BBC broadcasted the event on live television.
The big day
On June 2, 1953, Princess Elizabeth was officially crowned as the Queen of England. The Crown’s portrayal of the coronation is incredibly accurate as, because it was televised, everyone knew exactly how it happened.
The coronation ceremony in The Crown takes up very little time in the episode but in real life the affair lasted for nearly three hours. The sales of TV sets skyrocketed when Buckingham Palace announced the event would be televised, with 27m people tuning in. A further 11m listened to the events unfold on the radio.
In a fun easter egg for viewers, in the coronation footage we see characters watching on their TVs in The Crown is the actual footage broadcast by the BBC.
The Crown’s costume department deserves endless praise for their recreation of the coronation dress. The gown is nearly an exact replica of the Queen’s actual one, featuring all the emblems of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries embroidered in varying tones of white and silver and highlighted using small diamonds and crystals.
The part of the coronation depicted in the crown, the Act of Consecration, was the only part of the ceremony not broadcast on the BBC, yet the show still got it near perfect. In The Crown, the Queen removed her crimson cloak to reveal a plain white dress before sitting on a wooden throne to be blessed.
We don’t see the end of the coronation in The Crown but after the event, the Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with her family by her side, waving to the masses. From then on, Elizabeth Windsor officially became known as Queen Elizabeth the Second.