Once a royal always a royal. In an outspoken letter to the Times, Judi Dench has accused The Crown of “crude sensationalism” in its depiction of the royal family, calling Netflix’s Emmy-winning drama series “cruelly unjust.”
Dench’s letter comes ahead of the fifth-season premiere of The Crown, which follows the disintegration of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage in the late ’80s and the ’90s. Though Netflix has said the series will not depict the fatal accident that ended Diana’s life, season five has already garnered controversial headlines. John Major, former prime minister of Britain, called the series a “barrel-load of nonsense” after it was reported that season five contains a fictionalized scene in which the Prince of Wales propositions Major with a plan to get Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, to abdicate.
“Sir John Major is not alone in his concerns that the latest series of The Crown will present an inaccurate and hurtful account of history,” wrote Dench, lending her voice in support of Major. “Given some of the wounding suggestions apparently contained in the new series—that King Charles plotted for his mother to abdicate, for example, or once suggested his mother’s parenting was so deficient that she might have deserved a jail sentence—this is both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.”
Dench is no stranger to the royal family, onscreen or off. She’s played two queens onscreen—Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love (1998), for which she won an Oscar for best supporting actress, and Victoria in both Mrs. Brown (1997) and Victoria & Abdul (2017). Offscreen, Dench has ascended the ranks of nobility as well over the course of her six-decade-plus career. Hailing from Heworth, York, Dench was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, made a dame in 1988, and appointed a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005. She’s also known to be a friend to Queen Consort Camila, visiting the Isle of Wight with Camilla in 2018.
“No one is a greater believer in artistic freedom than I, but this cannot go unchallenged,” wrote Dench. “Despite this week stating publicly that The Crown has always been a ‘fictionalized drama,’ the program makers have resisted all calls for them to carry a disclaimer at the start of each episode.”
Dench closes the letter with a missive for Netflix, asking the streaming platform to “reconsider” The Crown, while invoking the memory of the late Queen Elizabeth II. “The time has come for Netflix to reconsider—for the sake of a family and a nation so recently bereaved, as a mark of respect to a sovereign who served her people so dutifully for 70 years, and to preserve its reputation in the eyes of its British subscribers,” she writes.
Last month, The Crown creator Peter Morgan called the series “a love letter” to Queen Elizabeth II, and paused filming in September out of respect for her death. A spokesperson for The Crown said earlier this week: “The Crown has always been presented as a drama based on historical events. Series five is a fictional dramatization, imagining what could have happened behind closed doors during a significant decade for the royal family—one that has already been scrutinized and well-documented by journalists, biographers, and historians.”