The Crown Season 4 aired in November, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the end of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as the first woman and longest-running UK Prime Minister. Thatcher governed the country for 11 years throughout the 1980s, with her legacy remaining a disputed question.


The Iron Lady

Despite most of the episodes being dedicated to Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s turbulent relationship, a central theme throughout the 4th season is Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of the indomitable Iron Lady. Describing and analysing Thatcherism is of course no easy task. But one of Netflix’s most popular television series has managed to get away with reinterpreting significant elements of Mrs. Thatcher’s life and personality, against the backdrop of her role as Britain’s PM.

The new season reveals a more fragile and vulnerable woman, rather than the all-powerful Iron Lady she is historically seen as. Even if the writers tried to deliver a more complex vision of Thatcher’s personality (the public figure vs the private mother and wife), there is still too much focus on her private vulnerabilities — which are erroneously shown to influence her political decisions. The Crown depicts a prime minister more focused on finding her missing son Mark in the Sahara Desert, than dealing with the Falklands problem. In life, Mrs. Thatcher was indeed concerned about her son, but this did not hinder her judgement when it came to the Falklands War. This was perhaps, for the simple reason that his disappearance was in January 1982, while the Falklands’ invasion took place in April 1982.

Missing events

Her resolute spirit of ‘no compromise’ was more evident after her son was found alive and well. She is shown standing her ground in the Falklands fiasco and during negotiations with South Africa. However, the former issue is one of her less debatable political choices, while in treating the latter, attention was centred on Thatcher’s alleged clash with Queen Elisabeth II. These are the only two foreign political events Netflix writers chose to show, while creatively ignoring other important happenings. Amongst these is of course her stance during the ongoing Cold War; her relations with US President Ronald Reagan (and the political and historical significance of their tight connection); as well as Britain’s rocky ties with the wider European Economic Community.

What’s regrettable is the near negligent absence of Thatcher’s domestic policies. For instance, there is no reference to the 1984-85 miners’ strike. And the only mention of the social impact of her government on the wider UK population is shown primarily through the desperate actions of Michael Fagan — the man who broke into Buckingham Palace to speak with the Queen about how British society was struggling under Thatcherism. But here too, the writers seem more interested in the scandal surrounding poor palace security, than in exploring the wider ramifications of Thatcher’s policies across Britain.

Thatcher vs. The Queen

Thatcher’s relationship with Queen Elisabeth II is the beating heart of The Crown‘s portrayal of this woman. Their interactions are styled as an exchange of agreements and disagreements between ‘two women in power’, more than anything else. As noted by the writer Hugo Vickers (author of several Royal biographies), the relationship between the two women was not strained. Instead, it was a cool but productive political collaboration. The whole ‘women in power’ clash is pure nonsense, made to create TV drama.

In Vickers’ own words: ‘As far as the Queen and Mrs. Thatcher are concerned, I can assure you that the Queen goes out of her way to get along with all of her elected prime ministers’, he told Insider. Adding, ‘Maybe they weren’t the closest of friends, but they had a close working relationship’.

A closeted feminist?

In her first meeting with he Queen we hear Thatcher admitting:

‘I have found women in general tend not to be suited to high office. They become too emotional’.

Whether or not this was ever said can hardly be proved. But what we do know, is that Mrs. Thatcher delighted in being a woman and the head of government, amongst a sea of men. She never explicitly campaigned for women’s rights, which explains why the series’ producers preferred to show her doing traditionally female tasks, such as cooking for her Cabinet ministers, against the reality of her role as leader of the Conservative Party. The impression we have is that this woman could clearly be both — a feminist and a homemaker. 

That last episode …

The tenth episode which sees the Iron Lady cry in front of the Queen following her defeat at 10 Downing Street, is almost certainly pure fiction. Having asked for Parliament’s dissolution, after Cabinet ‘betrayed’ its prime minister, and being denied this, the Queen treats Thatcher in a maternal manner by honouring her service to the Crown and the British people with the Order of Merit.

The reality of those final days though, is strikingly different. According to the historian Dominic Sandbrook, not only did the dissolution request never occur, but there was also no final meeting between Mrs. Thatcher and the Queen either ‘after Thatcher’s ministers told her to go’. However, Thatcher did indeed receive the Order of Merit, but this was one month after her premiership had ended — not on the last day of her role as Prime Minister.

Despite the extraordinary cast, costumes, makeup, and meticulous scenes, the creators of Season 4 missed one important detail — accurate historical portrayal of a divisive historic figure.