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The Crown: how it airs a classic conundrum

Prince Harry admitted during the interview that they have “watched some of it”, which may be a typical British understatement of having watched all its seasons.

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Thu 18 Mar 2021, 8:06 PM

The conundrum of real and reel life colliding hung in the air as millions across the globe were riveted to the two-hour interview of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For many, it was as though another episode of The Crown was being played out. The popular Netflix series is seen widely as a fictional narrative based on real events featuring leading lights of the royal family over the decades — but it became the context, a reference point that helped many to make sense of the latest row.

Prince Harry admitted during the interview that they have “watched some of it”, which may be a typical British understatement of having watched all its seasons. The series depicts several instances of members of the royal family facing the same problems that Meghan said she faced and that drove her to mental health issues: traumatised, silenced, ignored or stifled. At one point, Oprah Winfrey referred to the Australian tour of Prince Charles and Diana in the series, which showed Diana becoming the focus of mass adulation, but faced turmoil in her personal life. The Crown also provided the backdrop to Prince Harry’s remark that Prince Charles and Prince William were “trapped within the system”.

There is circularity at play: The Crown’s portrayal of personal challenges faced by royal family members helped lay the foundation for public sympathy for the couple, particularly among the young and the middle-aged viewers, while the interview and its aftershocks may further boost interest in future seasons of the series. The couple has already entered into a deal with the streaming giant, but Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown, says it would not feature the couple and the row because it is too current. The latest Season Four ended with trouble brewing between Prince Charles, Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and the next season is not expected before 2022.

For Anna Lily Self, 23, a post-graduate student at the University of Bath, it was significant that the interview was broadcast in the UK on International Women’s Day: “I’ve been critical of the monarchy, but acknowledge that members of the royal family are people as well. TV programmes like The Crown have made me realise that the Queen is also still a human. So, when Harry said that members were trapped in the system, it sort of confirmed that. But it also made me look at them as being different from the institution. Sure, they may be the face of it, but they aren’t necessarily in control. It is perhaps unfortunate that they represent an institution with a colonial past that has maintained these issues in present day.”

Queen Elizabeth and the royal family may evoke a range of opinions among the white British community, but they are held up with almost universal respect in the British Asian community. Problems within families — the saas-bahu dimension — is a familiar theme in Bollywood films and soaps on South Asian channels that are widely available in the UK. By all accounts, the interview was also avidly watched by the Asian community.

Says Rajeev Mehta, who produced television soaps in Mumbai before migrating to London in 2006: “There is a correlation between TV soap themes and the unfolding royal saga involving Harry and Meghan. It has all the ingredients of a soap opera that would connect with an Indian audience; for example, the control wielded by the mother-in-law in a family. I am a republican, but can see that the British, including many Indians and Asians here, are emotional about Queen Elizabeth, who they believe has achieved a lot in her life.”

After moving to the US, Prince Harry and Meghan have set up a production company to develop projects for Netflix and have signed a multi-year deal to make television series, films and children’s shows. “Through our work with diverse communities and their environments, to shining a light on people and causes around the world, our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” the couple said after signing the deal in September last year.

Meanwhile, millions will be looking forward to the next episode, when real and reel life may collide again.

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