Warning: contains spoilers for The Crown season 5.
The Crown and historical accuracy enjoy a fleeting rather than steadfast acquaintance. Peter Morgan’s Netflix drama concertinas history and jumps between time periods to follow emotional and symbolic through-lines rather than sticking to the recorded facts and timelines. “Inspired by real events, this fictional dramatization…” goes the proviso at the top of Season Five. School pupils shouldn’t rely on it to do their history homework, is the general consensus.
That established, below is the timeline of the 1991 – 1997 period depicted in Season Five according to the TV drama, with the odd note on where episodes diverge from what we know to be the real-life sequence of events.
As a reminder, Season four covered ‘The Thatcher Years’, running from Margaret Thatcher’s election as prime minister of Great Britain in May 1979 to her resignation as leader of the Conservative Party in November 1990, after which Thatcher was replaced by John Major. Season five picks up eight months later in July 1991 and runs until just before the death of Princess Diana in August 1997.
Episode One: July 1991 – September 1991
‘Queen Victoria Syndrome’ opens in July 1991, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was 65 years old. Prince Charles and Princess Diana have been married for a decade, and in August 1991, take a holiday on the Italian Riviera that was intended as “a second honeymoon”. The episode concludes in September 1991 at the Ghillies Ball held annually in Balmoral at the end of the Queen’s summer holiday in the Scottish royal residence.
Episode Two: October 1991 – July 1992
‘The System’ begins around one month later, with the funeral of The Hon. Leonora Knatchbull, who died of cancer in October 1991 and was the five-year-old daughter of Penny and Norton Knatchbull. The episode goes on to cover the July 1992 publication of the bestselling book Diana: Her True Story, written by journalist Andrew Morton.
Episode Three: Various
‘Mou Mou’ ranges from 1946 to the 1980s and early 1990s as it tells the story of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, the growth of his fortune and property acquisitions, and his struggle to to be accepted by English society. It covers events including the 1982 Academy Awards Ceremony, in which Chariots of Fire (produced by Mohamed Al Fayed’s son Dodi) won Best Picture, and the 1986 funeral of the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, as well as depicting Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s first meeting.
Episode Four: November 1992
‘Annus Horribilis’ jumps back and forth from late 1992 to Princess Margaret’s 1981 appearance on BBC Radio 4 long-running programme Desert Island Discs. It includes a cameo appearance by Timothy Dalton in the role of Princess Margaret’s would-be husband Captain Peter Townsend. The episode also features an audience between Prince Andrew and the Queen in which he discusses the “toe-sucking” scandal involving paparazzi photographs of his then-wife Sarah Ferguson with John Bryan. The episode ends in November 1992 with the fire at Windsor Castle and Her Majesty the Queen giving her famous “Annus Horribilis” speech at London’s Guildhall at a celebration of her 40 years on the throne.
Episode Five: January 1993 – July 1994
‘The Way Ahead’ opens in January 1993 with an infamously intercepted and intimate phone call between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. It includes Prince Charles’ interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, which was broadcast on the 29th of June 1994 (the timeline here appears, as ever, a bit sticky).
Episode Six: October 1993 – October 1994
‘Ipatiev House’ sees Queen Elizabeth II watching a news report on the Russian 1993 October Coup, and having an audience with Prime Minister John Major (played by Jonny Lee Miller) after his February 1994 visit to President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow. It concludes with the Queen’s royal visit to Moscow in October 1994.
Episode Seven: Late 1994 – 1995
‘No-Woman’s Land’ is the beginning of the Martin Bashir saga, in which Princess Diana was approached to be interviewed for a BBC Panorama special with the journalist. It opens with a meeting of the BBC Board of Governors at which the renewal of the corporation’s royal charter for another ten years was announced (even though the event it depicts appears to have happened in January 1997 and not 1995).
Episode Eight: November 1995
‘Gunpowder’ depicts the filming of the infamous Bashir-Diana interview on Guy Fawkes’ Night 1995, and its TV broadcast on the 20th of November that year.
Episode Nine: July 1996
‘Couple 31’ focuses on Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s petition for divorce, which was granted on the 15th of July 1996, after approx. four years of separation. It ends with a flashback to their royal wedding in 1981 as crowds gathered on London’s streets.
Episode 10: January 1997 – July 1997
‘Decommissioned’ opens in early January 1997 when Princess Diana is seen watching Carlton Television’s “Monarchy: The Nation Decides” phone-in programme, hosted by (now Sir) Trevor McDonald. Then it jumps to the Queen’s 1997 birthday celebrations on the 21st of April in that year, before skipping to the Labour Party victory in the General Election on the 2nd of May 1997. Prince Charles attends the Hong Kong handover ceremony on June 30th and July 1st 1997, while plans for Camilla’s 50th birthday party at Highgrove in July 1997 are discussed.
It ends with Diana packing for a holiday taken in St Tropez as guests of the Al-Fayeds, with the young Princes William and Harry. Season five concludes shortly before the Princess of Wales’ tragic death in August 1997, which will be depicted in The Crown’s sixth and final season.
SEASONS 1 – 4 TIMELINE IN BRIEF
- Season One takes place over a period of around eight months (not including flashbacks) from November 1947 to November 1955.
- Season Two extends over roughly eight years, starting in July 1956 and concluding in May 1964.
- Season Three replaces lead actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies, and picks up a few months later in October 1964 and runs for over 12 years, to June 1977.
- Season Four skips two years, starting in May 1979 and ending in December 1990, after which point Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce took the lead roles of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, with Lesley Manville taking over the role of Princess Margaret from Helena Bonham Carter.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.