When you’re watching The Crown, there’s always one question that springs to mind: did that actually happen?
There’s no shortage of drama in the fourth season of the Netflix show, but just how historically accurate is this on-screen dramatization of the events that have defined the royal family’s lives?
Well, when it comes to The Crown’s portrayal of The Troubles in Northern Ireland — three decades of violent sectarian conflict between unionists and nationalists from the late ’60s to late ’90s — in Season 4, Episode 1, there’s a number of pretty crucial historical errors.
The opening episode of the new season centers on the assassination of Louis Mountbatten (Charles Dance) by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Mullaghmore in County Sligo, Ireland in August 1979. Mountbatten, known throughout much of the series by his nickname “Dickie,” was Prince Philip’s uncle and a mentor and “honourary grandfather” to Prince Charles.
In The Crown, you see a yellow vehicle with two men watching on as the bomb detonates. Thing is, the vehicle shown in the scene has an English number plate: YKH I29J. Why would the IRA use a vehicle with English plates in the Republic of Ireland? This is unlikely to have been the case in the real-life events — the IRA members would have been far more likely to have been using the Republic of Ireland registration plates or Northern Irish plates.
Who were the two figures in the vehicle? In reality, the bomb-maker behind the assassination, Thomas McMahon, was arrested by the Garda (the Republic of Ireland’s national police service) two hours prior to the detonation on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle along with accomplice Francis McGirl. McMahon left the radio-controlled bomb on the boat the night before it was detonated. The IRA members were already in custody when the bomb detonated, and not, as the episode appears to suggest, waiting in a car nearby. Granted, the scene could allude to the fact that others may have been involved in detonating the radio-controlled bomb.
The most glaring error comes around 40 minutes into the episode during Lord Mountbatten’s funeral. As a choir sings “Jerusalem,” we hear the IRA’s statement taking responsibility for the killing of Lord Mountbatten. As the statement is read, the scene cuts to footage of an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) march — an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group. Ulster loyalism is the political movement for keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom — a movement staunchly against Republicanism. In the background of this scene, you can see the Ulster Banner flag being waved — a flag featuring the Red Hand of Ulster with a crown on it. An undoubtedly Loyalist flag.
As a newsreader’s voiceover declares that “cloying tributes” will be paid to Mountbatten over the coming weeks, we see footage of a placard that reads “H Block hunger strike, HELP.” This is a reference to the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status, for those serving sentences related to the Troubles. This moves into a montage showing the names B. Sands, F. Hughes, R. McCreesh, and P. O’Hara on a mural — in reference to Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, and Patsy O’Hara, the hunger strikers who died at the Maze Prison in 1981. Mountbatten’s death and the funeral took place in 1979, so overlaying this news voiceover with images referencing events that occurred two years later, is a confusing edit, to say the least.
This montage appears to be a kind of whistle-stop tour of the Troubles, used for creative effect but with little attention to historical accuracy. As the Belfast Telegraph put it, “Those unacquainted with the minutiae of Northern Irish history in the 1980s may be left confused by a hasty montage of Ulster’s greatest historical hits, but at least an effort has been made.” The Irish Times called The Crown‘s potted history montage of the Troubles a “Now That’s What I Call The Troubles! version of Irish history,” writing, “It doesn’t help that the actor delivering the Provo rant appears to have been inspired by Harry Enfield’s William Ulsterman character (ironically a satire of intransigent Unionism). The ‘angry Nordie’ stereotype is surely long past its sell-by date.”
Some viewers picked up on the aforementioned hiccups inaccuracy.
But hey, at least they managed to reproduce Princess Diana’s wardrobe with pinpoint accuracy.