llustrations by Hannah Robinson
Netflix’s hit series The Crown, documenting the life of Elizabeth II, just released its fourth season and the first episode’s movement into 1979 see the introduction of the Troubles. The Troubles were a major event in modern Irish and British history and deserves a space on a Netflix show. However, there are two problems with its presentation on The Crown. Firstly, an English show, focused on the monarchy, approaching a topic where one side is inherently anti-monarchy is obviously not going to be without bias. Secondly, the episode was riddled with ignorance and historical inaccuracies, which made a mockery of an event that frankly deserved a true representation.
The voiceover at the beginning of the episode is the stereotype of the ‘angry Nordie’ based on Harry Enfield’s Angry Ulsterman (ironically, a loyalist). The stereotype is dated and undermines the legitimacy of the anger that was felt by republicans in the north of Ireland. The north of Ireland was, for the republican Irish, occupied by the British forces and continued repression and victimization of Catholics by both unionists and the British lead to violent revolt. The Crown, however, ignores the legitimacy of this anger and rather portrays it as savage.
The episode focuses on the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA in County Sligo in 1979. Although this incident was clearly devastating, especially due to the death of 14-year-old Nicholas Knatchbull, the portrayal in the episode is inherently flawed. Firstly, focusing the Troubles episode solely on the murder of Mountbatten, with no legitimate attempt at a portrayal of British atrocities (except for what the Belfast Telegraph dubbed a ‘hasty montage of Ulster’s greatest historical hits’) is an unbalanced portrayal of the conflict. Secondly, Mountbatten throughout the series is portrayed as an innocent fatherly victim ignoring some of his own convictions, specifically those of paedophilia.
Not only is the episode completely centred on the British side of the Irish conflict, but it is also filled with historical inaccuracies. The major one of these was, during the IRA’s claiming responsibility for Mountbatten’s murder, the screen is displaying not a republican paramilitary rally but rather a rally by the Ulster Defence Association. The UDA is an opposing paramilitary group and to display them and not the IRA is typical example of English ignorance to the Troubles.
The episode lastly prompts harmful political agendas. The singing of William Blake’s Jerusalem (dubbed ‘a new English national anthem’) promotes ideas of English exceptionalism and victimisation in the context of the Troubles, which is both inaccurate and damaging to the popular perceptions of the conflict. Along with the promotion of an English political agenda, an Irish agenda against the republican party, Sinn Fein, is also endorsed. Deirdre Conroy tweeted after the episode suggested using the episode to ‘try and learn where Sinn Fein comes from’. By centring on the Mountbatten murder and ignoring the atrocities of the other side, a biased opinion against Irish republicanism is fostered creating toxic propaganda responses as seen here.
The Crown and other series’ who decide to tackle the topic of the Troubles should consider more thoroughly researching the topic and at least attempt to create a less ignorant more balanced approach to the conflict.