After six seasons, The Crown is coming to an end (albeit in two parts to draw out the agony.) The royal drama helped to secure Netflix’s status as a maker of glossy prestige TV, winning a slew of Emmys in the process. It’s also inspired a barrage of discourse over its relationship with the truth. The dramatizing of the Windsor clan from the coronation of Elizabeth II onwards has made a surprising amount of people, from John Major to Judi Dench, angry at the possibility of a TV series not being 100% accurate. In the U.K., one MP even suggested the show should include a disclaimer to remind viewers that it isn’t a documentary (spoiler: Netflix did not add a disclaimer.)
All things considered, Peter Morgan has never been one to make drastic changes to real events to drum up drama. The Crown has always been stridently respectable in that regard, and the first half of Season 6 is no exception. With this arc focusing almost entirely on the final weeks of Princess Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) life, leading up to her death in a car crash in Paris. Most of this will be familiar to viewers, given that it only happened 26 years ago, but there are enough moments to leave people wondering what is real and what is imagined. Here are some of the biggest questions of fact versus fiction in Season 6, Part 1 of The Crown.
Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) is portrayed as a social-climbing puppet-master in the sixth season, following the previous season’s depiction of his humble roots and avid Anglophilia. As a confidante of Diana in her post-divorce years, he offers her a summer solace away from the press, although the cameras are never far away. His altruism is quickly revealed to be a matchmaking scheme to pair off the Princess with his own son, Dodi (Khalid Abdalla). The fact that he’s engaged to be married in a matter of weeks matters little.
The summer Dodi became acquainted with Diana, he was indeed engaged to American model Kelly Fisher and bought a house in Malibu, California, for himself and Fisher to live in after their marriage. When they split, Fisher went to the tabloids to announce that she was suing Al-Fayed for breach of contract after he had "led her emotionally all the way up to the altar and abandoned her when they were almost there." She dropped the lawsuit shortly after Fayed's death.
Episode 2 opens with an introduction to Mario Brenna (Enzo Cilenti), an Italian paparazzi who proudly compares his job to a hunting mission. He’s given the aura of being the most conniving of the photographers who tail Diana and her every move. The infamous images of Diana and Dodi kissing on his yacht quickly became world news and made him a massive amount of money, although they would, unfortunately, distract from the Princess’ charity work relating to landmines.
The series shows Mohamed Al-Fayed demanding that someone “with a long lens” head out to the pair’s holiday spot in the south of France and get pictures of them being intimate. He’s portrayed as eager for his son to marry Diana and secure the family’s status among the British elite. The resulting pictures make Brenna millions of dollars. However, there’s no evidence that Al-Fayed had anything to do with the Brenna deal. Brenna has always said that he got the images because he happened to be in the location on another job. Whether or not you believe the word of the paparazzi is another matter.
While the source of Brenna’s story is shrouded in mystery, it is true that he struck it rich with this exclusive. The series has one of the royal aides list the number of publications putting down big cash for access to the photos, with each willing to pay hundreds of thousands, even millions for the privilege.
According to one 1997 report, Brenna pocketed an estimated $5 million from various sales and licensing agreements. This was big news, even at the time when paparazzi had fewer restrictions and images of Diana were particularly valuable. The Crown suggests that the Dodi kiss photos sparked a renewed hunger for ever-more intimate pictures of her, resulting in the car chase that killed her. The number of photographers tailing her certainly increases dramatically after this moment, making for some of the most unsettling scenes in the season.
On their final night together in France, Dodi reluctantly proposes to Diana, who says no and that she’s not ready for another marriage, let alone to someone who just broke up with their fiancé. This moment signals the end of their summer fling, with Diana reminding Dodi that his father does not control either of them. Dodi then tries to tell his father that his big dream of having a royal daughter-in-law won’t happen, but chickens out before he can admit it. Diana only sees him pretend to do it via a one-sided phone call.
After their deaths, a lot of the press spun a fantasy of Diana and Dodi being wildly in love with a wedding on the horizon. This was a narrative reinforced for decades by Mohamed Al-Fayed, who erected multiple memorials to the couple in the famous department store Harrods (one of which is tacky beyond belief.) He claimed that Dodi had given him "the strongest indication" the couple would marry, and spent years insisting the couple were murdered. He was the only person who doubled down on this claim, with many seeing it as self-serving rather than a true desire to commemorate his son and Diana.
The Crown Season 6, Part 1 doesn't confirm or deny Al-Fayed's claims; an aborted phone call creates enough ambiguity for him to have been told about an engagement.
While Diana does her own work, Prince Charles (Dominic West) is shown working overtime to gain sympathetic media coverage for his girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), in the hopes that the public can be won over and the pair can finally marry. Part of this mission is centered on her 50th birthday party, which Charles hopes will be a moment of celebration and unity for his family. Having invited many of them to the occasion, only his aunt Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) turns up. The Queen decides to sit it out, concerned that attendance will be viewed as an endorsement of Camilla as the future Queen.
At the time, the party was viewed as Charles' "most public statement yet about the woman he has doted on for more than two decades." While it was a private party, the press had some access to it, which the series shows as part of the palace's machinations for Operation Camilla. A poll in The Mirror revealed that 67% of Britons thought the couple should marry, which is mentioned with glee by one of Charles' secretaries in the second episode.
The Queen did not attend, and was reportedly hesitant to be seen with Camilla for many years. According to one royal commentator, the Queen even skipped Charles' 50th birthday party because Camilla would be present and she thought that their relationship was “undermining the monarchy." She eventually issued a public statement decreeing that Camilla would officially become the Queen upon her passing.
The Crown Season 6, Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Kayleigh Donaldson is a writer of film and pop culture features for Screen Rant and Pajiba. Also seen at SyFy Fangrrls and Bright Wall Dark Room.