Royal Historian Explains Differences In History and What You See On Screen in 'The Crown' Season 3

Queen Elizabeth II presided over quite a few controversial and even scandalous moments during the third season of the Netflix original series, The Crown. The new season, released on Sunday, covers the monarch's reign from 1964 to 1977, an era that brought a number of historical changes and upsets not just within the royal family, but the entire United Kingdom.

Of course, with only 10 episodes in a season, The Crown couldn't possibly depict every single thing that occurred outside and behind the Buckingham Palace corridors during the specified time frame. To achieve the most compelling episodes of the series, showrunners typically combine a year-by-year timeline of the biggest historical events and choose from there and they work with the keepers of Britain's archives to do so—according to British historian Robert Lacey, the author of the show's accompanying book, The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 2, Political Scandal, Personal Struggle, and the Years that Defined Elizabeth II.

In an interview with Newsweek on Friday, Lacey said the historical events chosen for each episode of the series were based on a matter of drama and story. He noted there were just some aspects of the past where the story had more potential to resonate more deeply with audiences. But in regards to major historical moments that occurred during Season 3's time frame, Lacey insisted the most impactful ones were indeed included.

"Obviously some things get more emphasis than others. We could have done more about the oil embargo in the 1970s. On the other hand, we did still get a glimpse of scarcely believable times when Britain only worked three days a week because of that energy shortage," Lacey explained, referring to episode 9.

Royal Historian on 'The Crown' Events
Olivia Colman appears as Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix original series, "The Crown." In an interview with Newsweek, royal historian Robert Lacey discussed how the events included in the series were chosen. Des Willie / Netflix

In the episode, titled, "Imbroglio," the British government issued an embargo on gas, resulting in blackouts throughout the city of London in response to coal miners' protests for increased wages. Elizabeth, portrayed by Olivia Colman, and the rest of the royal family (and city) are forced to work and eat by candlelight. But that moment in history is overshadowed by a much bigger theme of Season 3—Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) and Camilla Shand's (Emerald Fennell) relationship.

"[The oil embargo] happened around the time Charles was starting his relationship with Camilla, so we felt that's the highlight," Lacey explained. "People of a certain remember it well. But then there are some people who have forgotten or are too young to remember Charles had a love affair and relationship with Camilla before he met Diana, and people won't be meeting Diana until Season 4."

Then there are events like episode 3's "Aberfan," which Lacey said is essentially a historical drama. "From the point of view of the drama, this was the first time that the queen's reticent became a problem. It's the time the people remember—after the death of Diana—that she did not want to come down from London," Lacey said.

"Well here the Aberfan episode, you get a view of that. You saw it would be days before the queen would go to Aberfan. And what's evident in the episode—and what I discuss in great detail in the book—is the emotional reticence of the queen, which is often a great tactical advantage in her work. A professional advancement is a detachment of those situations because she embodies something that has to be detached from ordinary human context," he continued.

While every episode of The Crown is a dramatized depiction of real events—Lacey said "half of the show is historically accurate and the other half is imaginatively accurate"—screenwriter Peter Morgan noted the episode based on the Aberfan disaster stayed the closest to public record. Speaking on The Hollywood Reporter's podcast, TV's Top 5, released Friday, Morgan said the sensitivity of the tragedy—which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, a majority of them being school children—forced showrunners to be more conscious in how they portrayed the event.

"Still 50 years on, it's still an extraordinarily sensitive subject. That involved an extraordinarily amount of consultation with the local community," Morgan said.

While the dramatization of the series may seem to blur the line between historical fact and fiction, the imaginative elements of the show are still built on emotional truths, according to Lacey. Referring to the 2006 movie, The Queen, in which Helen Mirren plays Elizabeth, Lacey recalls an encounter the character has with a stag in the woods and warns it to run. "It's a wonderful image but nobody imagines for a second for that the queen spent even two seconds of her life talking to a deer. It was totally an imaginary scene, but it contains an emotional truth," Lacey said.

"When people are looking at the premises of The Crown, we're looking for stag scenes. One stag scene in the show is when the royal family's documentary is being made and young Princess Anne thinks that the interviews are very boring and so she pushes her cigarette-smoking Greek grandmother, Princess Alice, in her nuns outfit in front of the cameras, and she gives the best interview there," he continued. "That never actually happened, but it conveys a truth about what should have happened within the royal family."