The Crown's depiction of Thatcher is grotesque

22 November 2020

6:31 PM

22 November 2020

6:31 PM

My favourite The Crown blooper so far was the one recently spotted by a Telegraph reader: ‘As Head of the Armed Forces and Colonel-in-Chief of four Scottish regiments, the Queen would not choose The Atholl Highlanders with which to pipe her guests into dinner […] It is inconceivable that the Queen’s Piper would play any incorrect notes – nor would he march to a 6:8 time signature while playing at the speed of a slow air.’

Yup. We all spotted it. ‘How could they have permitted such a glaringly obvious mistake?’ we all cried as we writhed on our sofas, face-palming in utter incredulity.

Mind you, one mistake that really did give me pause – and this time I’m not joking – was when scriptwriter Peter Morgan inserted the words ‘blood sports’ into the Queen’s mouth. This is a politically loaded term used only by anti-hunting protesters. The correct one, as Max Hastings used to drum into us in his days as Telegraph editor, is ‘field sports’. I’m amazed none of the series’ technical advisors spotted this, for it really does detract from the authenticity.

To those who say: ‘It’s just one phrase. So what?’ I’d reply that the purpose of getting these small details right is to allow you more leeway with the big ones. Morgan, as we know, has taken quite a few cheeky liberties with history – his decision, for example, to have Mark Thatcher getting lost in the desert at the same time as the Argentines invaded South Georgia, even though in reality they happened two months apart. This is entirely his prerogative as a dramatist. But we viewers – the more educated among us, at any rate – will only tolerate such nonsense up to a point. If we feel the series is being too cavalier with propriety and verisimilitude, then we may well decide not to carry on watching.

For me, the big annoyance – and potential deal-breaker – in season four is Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher. Anderson has made a big thing in interviews of how hard it was to portray sympathetically someone whose politics she has always despised. But she needn’t worry. She has caricatured her so grotesquely that you’re really in no danger of liking her.

Perhaps I’m wrong. No less an expert than Mrs Thatcher’s biographer Charles Moore has praised the accuracy of Anderson’s rendition. But to me it feels strained, tortured even. She has tried too hard to get that deep voice and has got the half-strangulated rasping quality but not the seductive element which admirers like Alan Clark found so sexy and beguiling. It sounds almost like she’s auditioning for Don Corleone in The Godfather, just before he drops dead between his tomato crop.

But this is what happens when lefties take on a project like this. Inevitably they colour it with their prejudices. For example, various people have complained to me about the scene in episode two where – in a fit of class war pique induced by her uncomfortable stay at Balmoral, Mrs Thatcher decides to sack all the toffs in her cabinet as a punishment for their ‘entitlement and privilege’.

Well, for a start, ‘entitlement and privilege’ are a post-2000 fixation and didn’t have nearly so much currency in the early 80s, when those scenes are set. And anyway, though both she and Denis undoubtedly had the Pooterish qualities of the petty bourgeoisie, they were perfectly comfortable with toffs. If Mrs Thatcher ditched ministers, it would have been for ideological reasons – that they were too wet; definitely not because they were too posh.

My guilty confession is that despite all these annoyances and infelicities I still enjoy watching The Crown. I like the naughty pleasure of watching improbable scenes like the one where a bemused Mrs Thatcher struggles with the rules of the parlour game ‘Ibble Dibble’, while the entirety of the Royal family blacken their faces with charred cork. And I like the lavish production values and the sometimes charming vignettes, like the beautifully played scene where Lady Diana Spencer persuades the Duke of Edinburgh she’s a suitable match for his boy by calling the wind direction correctly as they stalk and kill a stag. Also I like its portrayal of Prince Charles: the series has his number.

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