Giving up the ghost

by Rick Johansen

My apathy, and borderline disdain, towards the royal family makes me exactly the wrong person to offer an opinion on the Netflix series ‘The Crown‘, having never watched more than an excerpt of the show, as part of a preview when I am about to watch something else or by way of research for my day job as a blogger. But offering an opinion is what I am going to do.

I was previously of the view that the royal family was something I could basically live with. Inherently mad, as we volunteer to become serfs to a fabulously rich elite group of people whose job in life is to wave, open things and say nothing of any consequence. You have to admit they’re good at it. But now, having read And What Do You Do by Norman Baker, my weary acceptance of having a royal family at all has turned into something approaching republicanism, though not to the extent that I can be bothered to do anything about it, apart from moan. Yet even I feel like cutting them a little slack when I read about what’s happening in the sixth and final season of The Crown.

In it, the show focuses on Princess Diana and her ‘playboy’ boyfriend Dodi Fayed, something I guess you need to include if you are going to present anything like what actually happened when they lost their lives in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel crash. Mercifully, the show doesn’t make any attempt to recreate the tragic incident, which is heard through the ears of an old guy walking his dog, encouraging it to take a shit, only to hear the screech of tyres and an enormous crunch. I imagine the producers thought that a more tasteful option than putting together the carnage of the crash with actors pretending to be dead. Those who watch the show – and it is fair to assume I won’t be one of those – can decide that for themselves.

In any event, I have a great deal of trouble with shows which hire actors to play famous people because I am always thinking, “Well, that doesn’t look anything like him/her” and even when someone does resemble a famous person, I know it’s not really them. Only Steve Coogan, with his incredible portrayal of Jimmy Savile, convinced me he was the person he was playing. The brief preview I have seen of Di and Dodi’s scenes shows two actors who don’t convince me. However, if the aim of the series is to accurately portray the royal family, how can you describe what happens after the crash?

Princess Di and Dodi come back as ghosts. In fact, Di comes back from the grave saying “Ta da!” as you would if you found you had in some small way survived your own death. Then Dodi comes back, too. Now, I do not have expert knowledge of what goes on with the royal family, but I am going to take a punt that maybe this didn’t actually happen. I certainly didn’t read about it at the time and I am pretty sure the tabloids would have run with it by now and even if the story of Di and Dodi coming back had happened, my feeling is that as ghosts do not exist someone may have made it all up.

So now people are being asked to watch something which they are encouraged to believe was true while at the same time being presented with something that palpably was a work of pure fiction. In which case, aren’t we really saying that The Crown is a work of fiction build around real people? I think we are. How come, then, so many people watch it?

Well, first and foremost because it’s entertainment. It’s a show about people we see day in, day out in the media and we’re happy to switch our brains off and see what they’re up to. Before you suggest I am being patronising towards viewers of The Crown, I’m not, and this applies to anything you call fiction. Call it escapism, call it what you like. No one really believes that professional wrestling is a real sport, but as with The Crown, one ignores the obvious sense of disbelief and joins an imaginary world where bad things happen to everyone else and not you. A little fiction here and there is no bad thing. However, does The Crown go to far?

We know that there are William and Harry characters in the show and they are seen mourning their mother’s death. I am loathe to criticise something I haven’t seen, but would you like to see your own dead mother turn up as a ghost FFS, played by someone else, on a TV show, in the name of entertainment? If the answer is yes, I do fear for you. I think I’d want to punch someone’s lights out in the unlikely even someone pretending to be my own deceased mum turned up as a ghost.

But then, millions of Netflix viewers can’t all be wrong. There is clearly a market for watching a pantomime tragicomedy about a wildly dysfunctional family living totally bonkers lives. And I would say it’s not a million miles away from being a fan of, say William and Kate rushing round, shaking hands with people, waving and opening things, before being whisked away to do exactly the same thing somewhere else. “And what do you do?”

I think it’s all slightly mad, but then I grew up watching and loving Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), a TV show about two private detectives, one of whom was dead and could only be seen by the other. I suppose the difference is that no one pretended that the characters were real, we all knew they weren’t real and we took leave of our logical minds to just enjoy the show. Which is probably not far from what The Crown fans do.



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