It’s no fun serving up the intimate details of your personal life for public consumption. Just ask Peter Morgan.
Last year, the 59-year-old screenwriter was the subject of a high-profile real-life drama when he split from actress girlfriend Gillian Anderson, who played Margaret Thatcher in The Crown, and entered into a relationship with socialite Jemima Khan.
There followed gossip coverage of the brief affair, fueled by both the glamorous nature of the lead actors and the fact that Khan, who worked as a consultant for the Netflix show, was until now considered a friend of Anderson’s. And Morgan didn’t like it. Not at all.
So he hired Schillings, the combative law firm that helps oligarchs and celebrities manage their reputation, to send an outraged letter to the papers ordering them to stop writing about the entire case. Or, as the document read, “to refrain from invading our client’s private life and to stop publishing speculations about his relationships and family life.”
It seemed like a spectacularly hypocritical request at the time, given that Morgan owes the lion’s share of his fame and considerable fortune to creating fictional drama about real (and often living) individuals.
Peter Morgan described the royal family as “survival organisms, like a mutating virus.” If that’s really what he thinks, one wonders why he chose to accept a KBO’s offer in 2016
Indeed, nearly all of his most famous movies and TV shows—which have won a bag full of Golden Globes, Baftas, and Emmys and have seen him nominated twice for an Oscar—dive into the most private and confidential moments of other people’s lives without permission. .
Take The Crown, his most lucrative creation, which will have a red carpet premiere early next month for its fifth series at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane. Morgan neither sought nor received King Charles’ permission before choosing to dissect his entire life on this so-called “fictional dramatization,” which falsely portrays our new monarch as a selfish and unfaithful man.
Nor was Charles allowed to veto a large number of hurtful scenes depicting completely fabricated events.
One particularly unreliable example comes through an episode where Morgan makes up a conversation in which the then Prince of Wales tells his late mother ‘that if we were an ordinary family and social services came to visit, they would have thrown us into care and you [the Queen] into jail’.
Another, set in the early 1990s, involves a fictional exchange in which Charles conspires with John Major to oust the Queen and install himself on the throne. The former prime minister called it “malicious nonsense” this weekend.
Other royals who are casually smeared in The Crown’s latest series (which runs from 1991 to 1997) include Prince Philip.
Last year, the 59-year-old screenwriter was the subject of a high-profile real-life drama when he split from actress girlfriend Gillian Anderson, who played Margaret Thatcher in The Crown.
To that end, an entire storyline is devoted to the suggestion that he had a scandalous extramarital affair with Penelope Knatchbull, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who is played by Natascha McElhone.
Viewers watch the late Duke of Edinburgh (or at least Morgan’s version of him) tell Knatchbull that he’s grown the Queen in different directions.
Then, on a carriage ride, they briefly touch hands as Morgan’s camera zooms in and lingers on stage before Philip gives his companion a private phone number.
Needless to say, there is no credible evidence that such an exchange took place, or that Philip was anything other than a devoted husband to Her Majesty. To suggest otherwise so soon after their deaths is distasteful at best and downright cruel at worst.
Then there are episodes that seem to lend credence to the barmy conspiracy theory that Princess Diana was murdered.
At various points during the series, her phone calls end with strange clicks, suggesting that MI5 is listening in, while in another incident, her car’s brake cables appear to have been cut, causing a near miss.
Of course, if Morgan’s movies were about fictional characters, this would all be harmless entertainment. But these are real people. And (rightly or wrongly) there are millions of casual viewers who view The Crown as a vaguely accurate portrayal of fairly recent events.
That could explain the mounting criticism that has greeted every passing series of the Netflix show: Where Morgan once took liberties with the reputations of George VI, Edward VIII or other long-dead historical figures, recent reruns of the program have begun. invade the privacy of royals who are still alive.
Rightly or wrongly, there are millions of casual viewers who view The Crown as a vaguely accurate portrayal of fairly recent events. Pictured: Morgan with Matt Smith and Claire Foy on the set of The Crown
Among those now lining up to critique the screenwriter is William Shawcross, the Queen Mother’s official biographer. This week he called The Crown “an abominable series, full of lies and half-truths shrouded in lace and velvet”.
“It’s astonishing and deliberately hurtful to members of the royal family – officials who can’t answer, let alone demand compensation,” he added, further accusing Morgan of conducting “a campaign to to abuse monarchy’ and ‘destroy by lies’ a vital institution’. He called the whole thing “an absolute disgrace.”
The vehement nature of this criticism may have surprised Morgan, the privately educated son of a German immigrant who began writing at the University of Leeds in the early 1980s.
He stayed outside the firing line for much of his career, and after working in relatively obscure television roles in the 1990s, he only rose to prominence in the early 2000s, when he wrote The Deal, a current TV movie about the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which was a big hit.
Morgan went on to confirm his status as a titan of historical drama (and darling of Hollywood) via the 2006 hit The Last King Of Scotland, which portrays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He followed it up with 2008’s Frost/Nixon in which Sir David Frost portrayed the interviews with US President Richard Nixon after Watergate.
There was also the 2006 film The Queen, for which Helen Mirren won the Academy Award for Best Actress, portraying Her Majesty in the wake of Diana’s death in 1997 (although that was generally regarded by critics as showing more respect for royalty than Morgan’s). recent dramas).
While some sort of fame inevitably followed, the closest Morgan to scrutinizing his own existence came during the final years of his marriage to Austrian aristocrat Lila Schwarzenberg, née Princess Anna Carolina zu Schwarzenberg, mother of his five children. Before their breakup in 2014, she wrote in an Austrian magazine, which she believes were his failed attempts to seduce her on vacation using the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Peter still has the fantasy that the combination of sun, sand and sea will undoubtedly lead to countless sex sessions,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I have to admit that Shades Of Gray hasn’t really changed much over the course of our vacation.”
On another occasion, she described how Morgan was once furious to be served a dinner of fish fingers.
“Peter always says you can measure the state of our marriage by the number of fish fingers he gets served in a week,” she wrote in 2013. She served him the leftovers from the kid’s meal. He glanced and said, “I’m neither five years old nor a real penguin.” ‘
What he would think of a rival playwright turning these incidents into entertainment for the masses is, of course, a mystery.
Friends this week described Morgan as “quite traumatized” by the mounting controversy over The Crown’s new series. He has not tried to destroy the reputation of the royal family.”
However, history suggests otherwise. During an interview with the Sunday Times in 2017, he revealed his real views on the monarchy, stating that Queen Elizabeth II was “of limited intelligence”. . . She’s in her nineties and barely knows what the internet is.’
He went on to label the royal family as “surviving organisms, like a mutating virus,” saying the Queen’s faith in Christianity had been “derailed” and the monarchy itself was “insane.”
If that’s really what he thinks, you wonder why Morgan chose to accept the offer of a CBE in early 2016 (before the first series of The Crown aired).
During an investiture ceremony, the (then) Prince Charles is said to have chatted and told him: ‘Scriptwriting isn’t that easy, is it? I tend to think that the most important thing is not what you leave in, but what you leave out.’
As anger mounts over what he chose not to leave out in The Crown’s latest series, Morgan may wish he had taken that advice.