by John Milbank
Thursday, 19
November 2020
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15:09

The Crown gets The Troubles wrong

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.

Join the discussion


  • November 23, 2020
    Surprised it happened in Mpls. St. Paul I would have understood. Read more

  • November 23, 2020
    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... Read more

  • November 23, 2020
    Who said anything about justification? There's never been any for the atrocities committed by either. Read more

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