Scott D. Pierce: ‘The Crown’ will re-create Diana’s death. Is it too soon? Absolutely not.

The Netflix series doesn’t make King Charles look bad. He did that himself.

(Netflix) Elizabeth Debicki is Princess Diana in Season 6 of "The Crown."

The sixth and final season of “The Crown” has just begun streaming on Netflix, and, yes, it portrays the tragic death of Princess Diana.

Episodes 1-4 (now available to stream) depict the burgeoning relationship between Diana (divorced from Prince Charles) and Dodi Fayed. Episodes 5-10 (which will be available to stream Dec. 14) include the car crash that took their lives, the aftermath and how it affected the royal family.

Critics of “The Crown” argue that it’s just too soon. That Diana’s death was such a tragedy that depicting it will cause too much anguish. Including for her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. But the truth is that Diana died more than 26 years ago. About a third of the population of the United Kingdom was not yet born when the car in which she was riding — with a drunk driver behind the wheel and pursued by paparazzi — crashed in a tunnel in Paris.

The death scene hasn’t been screened for critics, but there are reports that it’s pretty horrific. Without seeing it, it’s impossible to comment on whether it’s too graphic.

But let’s not pretend that this is unprecedented. The episode that depicts Diana’s death will stream 26 years, 3½ months after the car crash. “The Gabby Petito Story” aired less than 13 months after she was reported missing. The first of several movies about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart aired eight months after she returned home. (It’s probably worth pointing out that 2003′s “The Elizabeth Smart Story,” based on a book by her parents, was wildly inaccurate.)

It might be nice to live in a world without based-on-fact TV depictions of human tragedy, but we don’t. Ripped-from-the-headlines, true-crime dramas have been a staple of the industry for decades. It’s not unusual for there to be protests by family members, but that doesn’t stop the programs from being produced and aired.

It is, oddly, fair to compare depictions of Diana’s death with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, at least in terms of the public mourning that followed. There have been dozens of TV and theatrical films that depict JFK being shot in the head, and dozens (hundreds?) more series episodes and movies in which the assassination played into the plot.

(Daniel Escale | Netflix) Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Fayed and Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in Season 6 of "The Crown."

The first aired in 1964, less than a year after JFK’s death, when his children were still very young — Caroline Kennedy was 6; JFK Jr. was 3. Today, Prince William is 41; Prince Harry is 39.

And it’s certainly nothing new for British royals to be the subject of based-on-fact dramas on the stage, in movie theaters and on TV. You could even argue there’s something Shakespearean about it — 10 of the Bard’s plays were about members of the monarchy. (He didn’t write about his contemporaries, however. “Henry VIII” premiered about 66 years after Henry VIII’s death; Shakespeare’s other royal plays all debuted a century or more after the monarchs portrayed died.)

The sticking point with “The Crown” might be the actual depiction of Diana’s death. The acclaimed 2006 film “The Queen” was all about the aftermath, but it did not actually show the crash that killed her.

(”The Queen” was written by Peter Morgan, the executive producer of “The Crown,” and he was nominated for a best original screenplay Oscar. All five previous seasons of “The Crown” have been nominated for best drama series Emmys, and it won for Season 4.)

King Charles III’s apologists continue to argue that “The Crown” is making him look bad. A headline in The Guardian back in 2020 put it best: “‘The Crown’ isn’t making the royal family look bad. They do a fine job of that themselves.”

Certainly, the king would prefer that “The Crown” didn’t exist — because it reminds people of his bad behavior. Charles married Diana as a matter of duty and convenience. He continued a long term affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles (now Queen Camilla) while he was married to Diana. There were multiple embarrassing incidents along the way, including that infamous and, quite frankly, gross phone call to Camilla in which he expressed the desire to “just live inside your trousers” and went on to reference tampons.

But, overall, “The Crown” has treated the royals with no small degree of compassion. It would’ve been easy to portray Charles as a mustache-twirling villain, but the series showed us how he became the person he is. Charles faced the pressure of family and public expectations from the day he was born. He was sent to a boarding school where he was bullied and abused. His relationships with both his parents were fraught. His pre-Diana relationship with Camilla was torpedoed. He was pressured to find a wife, and Diana was the unfortunate victim of Charles’ circumstances.

You can’t excuse Charles — but you do, perhaps, understand him better.

(Justin Downing | Netflix) Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in Season 6 of "The Crown."

The same could be said of other members of the royal family. Overall, they’re depicted as people who put their country first as they fulfill their often onerous obligations. Even royals who behave badly — including the likes of Princess Margaret and Prince Phillip — are treated sympathetically. And no one has been treated more sympathetically than the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Showing her mistakes and lessons she learned has made her more relatable and more lovable, not less.

Yes, “The Crown” is not 100% accurate. It’s based on fact, but it’s not a documentary. Any more than Shakespeare’s plays were. It’s entertainment.

I’ve made this point before, but there’s a certain irony — OK, hypocrisy — in people like actress Judi Dench attacking “The Crown” for being “willing to blur the lines” between fact and fiction and convince viewers that “its version of history” is “wholly true.” Because Dench has done exactly that herself, portraying Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love” and Victoria in both “Mrs. Brown” and “Victoria & Abdul.”

Morgan and the team behind “The Crown” are in a difficult position. If they depict the accident that killed Diana with anything less than 100% accuracy, they’re going to be pilloried — even though the series is full of fictionalization. Should they have depicted it at all, or could they have just shown us the aftermath, like in “The Queen”? We’ll find out next month.

Maybe the answer will be no, but the producers certainly have the right to tell the story as they wish. It’s not too early, and members of the royal family are not due any consideration not afforded to anyone else.

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