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13 February 2023 - RESCHEDULED FOR 7 MARCH


Seminar: Dramatizing the British Monarchy on Screen and the Controversy of 'Still Living' History

Sarah Betts (University of York)




In the wake of the death of Elizabeth II in September 2022, Netflix drama, The Crown, experienced a significant surge in viewings as viewers turned to pop cultural and media presentations of the life of the Queen and the wider Royal Family to better interpret or experience current events. Ahead of the release of the drama’s fifth series, former Prime Minister, John Major, has expressed outrage at the presentation of ‘false history’, reigniting debate about the need for ‘fiction warnings’, which have mumbled in the background  since the series began in 2016, but which intensified in 2020 following a call for such warnings from the then culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, as the newly-released fourth season was watched by record numbers in pandemic lockdowns and the period covered by the show had reached the 1980s, and featured controversial figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana comfortably within living memory for an increasing proportion of viewers. The new series, which is expected to cover the 1990s is set to be potentially even more controversial, covering for example, the affair of the present King and Queen and its public role in the breakdown of the former’s first marriage, and more events and figures within the memory of a growing proportion of its audience, and portraying evermore issues, and especially people, still alive today. Major’s intervention is a significant moment, as he is the first of Elizabeth II’s Prime Ministers to be covered in the series who is still alive at the time of its release.


This paper will examine these controversies surrounding The Crown and contextualize them within a discussion of wider debates about cultural depictions of recent, even contemporary history and other portrayals of the 20th and 21st Century British Monarchy on screen. 





Seminar Timetable

17:00 – 17:10: Introduction (Chair)

17:10 – 17:55: Presentations

17:55 – 18:15: Q&A


Presenter bio

Sarah Betts is a PhD candidate at the University of York working on memories of the English Civil Wars with broader interests in the history of monarchy and history on screen and in popular culture. She has published multiple pieces on memory of the civil wars and on the Early Modern and Modern British Monarchy. She has also published pieces on history on screen including an article in the RSJ in 2019 entitled ‘“Something as Passionless as Brilliant Administration”: Royal Sex and Sexuality in 1970s British Historical Television Drama’ which discussed representations of different British monarchs ranging from Henry II to Edward VIII. She recently edited the RSJ’s first cluster feature on Prince Philip, to which she contributed a piece on Philip on Screen. Amongst other projects she is currently preparing a monograph project about The British Monarchy in Television Serial Drama and researching a biography of Mary of Teck, the Queen of George V.

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