by John Milbank
Thursday, 19
November 2020
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15:09

The Crown gets The Troubles wrong

Netflix's heavy-handed portrayal insults both Britain and Ireland
by John Milbank
Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten in season 4 of The Crown

I’m a fan of The Crown. It offers slower pace, better scripts, acting and filming than many recent BBC offerings. It provides an accurately uncanny sense of an archaic culture living in a time-warp that has still significantly inflected our recent past.

At its best, for example the handling of Prince Phillip’s relationship to religion, it has achieved subtlety and seriousness about living issues usually ignored.

The liberties taken with facts and the usually fine fictional dramatisation of known tensions are justifiable where they do not seriously distort the truth, even if this line has too often been crossed.

All these virtues remained in evidence in the first episode of the fourth series, especially in the brilliant handling of Charles’s first encounter with a Puckish Diana. But this apparent subtlety of presentation eventually led to a crudity as to both style and content.

I refer to the treatment of the death of Lord Mountbatten. The build-up to the explosion which killed him was inter-spliced with well-shot but heavy-handed scenes of royals hunting, shooting and fishing, including Mountbatten himself, on his last voyage. And then the scenes of his funeral were intercut with scenes of Bloody Sunday and voice-overs of IRA spokesmen celebrating revenge.

In either case, a certain levelling and equivalence of ‘British’ with ‘Irish’ violence was implied, in a fashion that is insulting to both countries.

To be sure, there is a link between royal and imperial violence and a predatory attitude towards nature. Yet the royal family is also very much pro-ecological, and no awareness of such past linkages justifies terroristic murder in the present.

Again, it is not unfair to remind viewers of ancestral British mistreatment of Ireland as a whole, nor of atrocious mistakes made during the military occupation of Northern Ireland. But there can be no equivalence between the action of soldiers murderously out of control and the cold-blooded killing, not just of a supposed symbol of political oppression, but of innocent children.

It played to an American market by not distinguishing the Irish Republic from the part of Ireland that remains part of the UK and by framing things as a straight British-Irish conflict. No reference was made to the pro-British Protestant Ulster majority. The reality that divisions of politics and religion run historically through all of Ireland, and that these divisions are linked to similar divisions within Britain, was not even gestured towards. Some subtlety should not have been beyond the penetrating pace of this series.

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Owen Polley
Owen Polley
1 year ago

“The military occupation of Northern Ireland.” Northern Ireland was not occupied, militarily or otherwise. It remains an integral part of the UK and the consent of its people underpins its place in the Union. A good point about equivalence undermined by using a phrase straight from the republican terrorist handbook.

brian.callinan
brian.callinan
1 year ago
Reply to  Owen Polley

By your logic Ireland wasn’t occupied between the act of union and Irish partition either.

William Cable
William Cable
1 year ago
Reply to  brian.callinan

No – because Northern Ireland is a legal part of the UK, with representation in parliament, devolution, and a persistent majority in favour of Union.

ard10027
ard10027
1 year ago
Reply to  William Cable

Just a great pity it’s not an legitimately organic or culturally identifiable political entity with a historical provenance, like Wales and Scotland. It’s almost like it’s borders were carved arbitrarily out of the soil of Ireland to create a completely artificial constuct. Oh, wait…

opn
opn
1 year ago
Reply to  ard10027

What co-operation did the Irish Free State offer in determining the boundaries of Northern Ireland ? Why is it Six Counties and not Three ? Just asking…

Damian Grant
Damian Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Owen Polley

Owen, Im sorry, mate, but you’re delusional if you seriously think that the British never occupied Northern Ireland militarily…..and I say that respectfully…

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Owen Polley

Not to mention the FACT that the army was initially deployed to protect the CATHOLIC population.

Campbell P
Campbell P
1 year ago

Having served two tours as an infantry officer there, I can tell you all that it was not just the Northern Irish Protestants but a large proportion of the intimidated Catholics in the North and very many in the South who also hated the IRA. The Dublin Government soon changed its attitude once it realised that its Marxist core was hell bent on their destruction too. So, yes. these things are never as cut and dried as they appear to many. But the Yanks will lap it up, so it will make lots of money!

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
1 year ago
Reply to  Campbell P

Americans can be gravely, naively irresponsible about the IRA.

In Minneapolis I was taken to a fleadh (Irish music & dancing). I was amused and intrigued how everyone I met claimed to be Irish.

A comedian from Ireland made a very funny, inoffensive joke about the English. So I was startled when I realised I was the only one laughing. People nearby pressed me to explain the joke. I could only reply that if you were truly Irish – or English – you’d get it.

Outside I was invited to put money in a tin “for the cause”. My hosts were astonished when I explained that the money could easily be spent on killing innocent bystanders like me in England.

I then lived in a town with a large first generation Irish presence. While some were supporters – the useful idiots- many loathed and feared the IRA.

(Edited)

opn
opn
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Mushroom

Surprised it happened in Mpls. St. Paul I would have understood.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

It’s TV. Even worse, it’s woke TV. So it will inevitably get everything wrong.

Stanley Beardshall
Stanley Beardshall
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Quite. Really a series of caricatures of the Windsors – it seems to me that the producers detest the family (as do I), and have instructed the actors and actresses to ham up their characters in order to show the people of Britain just how they are being hoodwinked and exploited by a flawed dynasty….

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
1 year ago

I wonder if you detest the people who cold bloodedly killed three youngsters as collateral damage as they blew up a member of the Royal Family?

MHD
MHD
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Absolutely. I have found this season’s offerings to be more akin to spitting image with the portrayals of the Royals and Mrs T to be rather grotesque caricatures. We’ve also skipped through quite a lot of events that would have given some context. I am getting a very strong impression that the writers really aren’t fans of their subjects.

bob alob
bob alob
1 year ago

I watched the first episode and will not be watching more, it was garbage, the Margaret Thatcher portrayal made it seem like she was at deaths door with no vitality whatsoever, while the royal family were portrayed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, I wouldn’t expect any historical events to be accurate in any way with this series so it’s binned for me.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  bob alob

I agree. The hair had more personality. I doubt that Thatcher lectured the Queen, The most ridiculous meeting was when she stood up and said she had to leave. She was going to the Falklands victory parade and the Queen said she didn’t know about it. Charles was miserable from beginning to end except when with Camilla and was walking about with his head constantly down. It also seems that script writers all use “this family”. Who talks about their family in that way? Normal people would say our or my family.

Jim Gill
Jim Gill
1 year ago

It’s a soap opera for goodness sake. Stop taking it too seriously… its only one step along from that other hilarious show ‘The Windsors’. Lighten up!

David Whitworth
David Whitworth
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Gill

Exactly. The acting’s straight from The League of Gentlemen meets The Woodentops. Watching the first two episodes of S4 reminded me of d**k Emery’s ….”You are awful but I like you”. I’ll continue to watch the remaining episodes with equal reverence.

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Gill

Soap opera in the article’s case about very, very serious matters.

As Ian Acheson points out in The Spectator, the bombers “watched three children, an elderly woman and a couple get onto the boat with Mountbatten. The bomb the IRA placed on the boat had enough strength to kill them all. The youngsters were expendable.”

I wonder if you would have the courage to say “Lighten up!” to the faces of the children’s families all these years later.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
1 year ago

Because there was never, ever any cold blooded killing of innocent Irish children by the English over the past 800 years.

Pull the other one, you numpty.

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

What a ridiculous rejoinder.

Martin Featherstone
Martin Featherstone
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

We’re going back 800 years now are we ? To justify the IRA murder of children with car bombs in city centres.

James Moss
James Moss
1 year ago

The Crown is not really about history – the history is a backdrop for what is a fictionalised family drama. The death of Mountbatten was used as a dramatic device by which Charles was maneuvered further towards marrying someone other than CPB at the behest of his family. We had to wait for the following episode for the hapless Diana to be found available to fill this slot.

They could have spent another 100 hours of TV trying to explain the full background to the Troubles and still not got it quite right to everyone’s satisfaction.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
1 year ago
Reply to  James Moss

But CPB was married already at the time and so not on the market.

And you’re 110% right about the full background to the troubles.

James Moss
James Moss
1 year ago

That’s true, but the “market” was flawed. So the story goes, they always wanted to be together, and being married to one person doesn’t prevent you being together with someone else – ultimately divorcing one to marry another. In the Royal Family this had a bad history.

This was the story behind Crown Series 1 – Elizabeth was never meant to be monarch and had this role unexpectedly thrust upon her because of the abdication of her uncle (since marrying a divorcee was a “bad” thing). That was the story and like most TV dramas, by the time it gets to Series 4, they are flogging a dead horse to an extent.

In “The Crown” Series 17, we may get to deal with the risks of a member of the royal family marrying a woman of colour. Or maybe they will have cancelled it by then.