Netflix's much-anticipated period drama The Crown has earned plenty of comparisons to Downton Abbey since its premiere on Nov. 4. Both shows tackle the changing tide in Great Britain's caste system during the early and mid-20th century, but Downton Abbey is ultimately about a fictional aristocratic family, while The Crown follows the real-life accession of Queen Elizabeth II. Much of Elizabeth's personal life is unknown to the public, since, as the series explores, she always kept her emotions and desires in check in the face of duty. But is The Crown based on true events?
In fact, most of the episodes were built around conflicts that played out in real life. Fans of The Crown who have also seen the 2010 film The King's Speech may recognize the repetition of certain storylines. The movie followed Elizabeth's father, King George VI, as he ascended the throne following his brother's scandal-filled abdication. The Crown has a few flashbacks to this time, showing Elizabeth as a little girl during the early years of her father's reign, but it also captures the aftermath of her uncle's abdication and how it affected her style of ruling. She was much less able to modernize the role of the palace in British society than she would have liked because she was facing the tainted legacy Edward VIII left behind.
Here are a few of the other real-life historical elements woven into The Crown.
Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Was Televised
One of the most unique aspects of Queen Elizabeth II's accession was that it was the first internationally televised coronation. At the time, there was a whole Coronation Committee designated to grapple with whether or not to televise the event. As The Crown showed, some believed it would democratize the monarchy, making it accessible to all people and winning favor amongst the British, while others believed the aristocracy and caste system should remain exclusive to preserve its power.
What King George VI Died Of
King George VI, Elizabeth's father, ascended the throne unexpectedly just before World War II began, and continued to rule after the war. As The Crown showed, being a wartime King, and doing it unexpectedly after his brother chose to abdicate the throne, caused several stress-related health problems for King George VI. Heavy smoking led to the eventual diagnoses of lung cancer, arteriosclerosis, and thromboangiitis obliterans. After having a cancerous lung removed, King George eventually died in his sleep when a blood clot formed inside a blood vessel of his heart.
Princess Margaret & Peter Townsend's Relationship
One of the B stories in The Crown follows Princess Margaret's flirtation with a divorced war hero and member of her father's staff, Peter Townsend. This was actually a real-life relationship that never panned out. Margaret and Peter Townsend really did lobby Queen Elizabeth to allow them to marry, even though the Church of England forbade divorced spouses from remarrying. And the story really did blow up in the newspapers when Princess Margaret picked a piece of fluff from Townsend's lapel during the very publicly viewed coronation. Ultimately, they decided the royal perks Margaret would wind up having to sacrifice in order to marry Townsend weren't worth it, and the two went their separate ways.
Queen Elizabeth Marrying Prince Philip
The Crown dramatizes Queen Elizabeth's marriage to Prince Philip, depicting them as having made it together, despite her family being unenthusiastic about the match. It's true that Philip had to undertake a lot of formalities to be eligible to marry a would-be Queen. He had to renounce his inherited Greek and Danish titles, convert to Anglicanism, and change his last name to take his mother's British one, Mountbatten. But King George VI consented to Elizabeth and Philip marrying, provided they wait until her 21st birthday, which they did.
Queen Elizabeth's Close Relationship To Winston Churchill
Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill really did enjoy a close relationship. While not a lot is known about the particulars of their personal relationship, The Crown creator Peter Morgan and John Lithgow, who played Churchill, speculated that the ways in which Elizabeth and Churchill needed each other for public approval motivated them to get along.
The Great Smog Of 1952
The Great Smog really was a public health crisis that befell London in the first year of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. The blasé attitudes of Londoners at the time about things like air pollution contributed to a deadly five-day smog that would eventually inspire clean air legislation to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.
Ultimately, The Crown found clever ways to use real historical events in the service of crafting drama and intrigue during the "The New Elizabethan Era." Viewers may never know what the real Queen Elizabeth thinks about the series, but it definitely proved to be an entertaining glimpse into her life.