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‘Crown’ star Dominic West calls Charles and Camilla’s romance ‘a tragedy’

Dominic West and Olivia Williams spoke to TODAY about feeling protective of the royals they play in the fifth season of “The Crown.”
/ Source: TODAY

Warning: This post contains spoilers from “The Crown.”

Dominic West and Olivia Williams believe “The Crown” shows the “humanity behind the icons.”

The actors take over the roles of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in the fifth season of the Netflix drama. Set in the '90s, the new season shows just how Charles and the late Princess Diana's marriage crumbled publicly, due to scandals like "Camillagate" (an intimate phone call between Charles and Camilla leaked in 1993) and Diana's tell-all biography in 1992.

Many on social media have been criticizing the depiction of Charles and Camilla, claiming the series shows them in a more favorable light than Diana.

West and Williams told TODAY via Zoom that what attracted them to the roles was showing what Charles and Camilla were going through amid the drama.

Charles and Camilla met around 1970 and "fell in love" in 1971, per Penny Junor’s biography of Camilla, “The Duchess: The Untold Story." After marrying other people, their relationship began again in 1986, per Jonathan Dimbleby’s authorized biography of Charles.

“My memories of that time were (questioning) whether they were the villains in the piece, really,” West said. “They were the people who’d destroyed this great fairy tale and the most famous wedding of all time and ended in divorce. And these were the people we were going to blame for it, and the media and the press were blaming them for it.”

West said that what has changed is that now there’s 20 years worth of perspective and in the new season viewers “can see where (Charles and Camilla) were coming from.”

“We can see the tragedy for them, really, that thank God has has worked out OK for them,” West added of the couple who has been married for 17 years. “And I think that’s what ‘The Crown’ does best: Shows us the humanity behind the icons.”

The Crown, Season 5
Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles and West as Prince Charles.Netflix

Charles and Diana got married in 1981, before formally separating in 1992. Two years later, the then-Prince of Wales admitted his infidelity during a televised interview — which many believe prompted Diana to wear the Christina Stambolian “revenge dress” at the 1994 dinner at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Diana would later go on to share intimate details about her and Charles tumultuous marriage in a 1995 interview with BBC’s Panorama.

“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she famously said, referring to Charles’ relationship with Camilla, now queen consort. Charles and Diana would go on to divorce on August 28, 1996, one year before her tragic death.

“I think very few people realized that Camilla had a dreadful time at that time as well. The feeling about her was that she was the cause of the divorce."

Olivia Williams

“I think very few people realized that Camilla had a dreadful time at that time as well. The feeling about her was that she was the cause of the divorce,” Williams told TODAY. “Whereas, in fact, she really was just another victim of an appalling situation. And when Charles revealed their affair on his television interview, that she was another divorce that happened and she was dropped into a sort of no man’s land.”

Camilla was previously married to Andrew Parker Bowles, with whom she shares two children. They also went their separate ways in 1995, following Charles' on-air confession to infidelity during an interview with journalist Jonathan Dimbleby.

“But she’s emerged from this as this woman who has never looked for vengeance or never been vindictive. There’s never been a book, ‘Camilla: Her Story.’ And actually, she’s generous and forgiving,” Williams said, referring — likely — to Diana's biography, "Diana: Her True Story," written by Andrew Morton with the assistance of the late royal.

“And the thing that was a real clue for us into their relationship: Whenever you see them together at a public event, they seem to be laughing at some kind of private joke between them or being deeply supportive of each other, and that makes her such an extraordinary personality. I was very happy to get the chance to play her.”

Williams calls Camilla "an extraordinary personality."
Williams calls Camilla "an extraordinary personality."Netflix

 West has never portrayed a real-life living person before "The Crown." He previously told Variety that he offered to quit his position with the Prince’s Trust — a charity King Charles leads — after he was cast, but “was turned down.”

Telling TODAY, West said it was “a new experience” as an actor and “totally” felt protected of current King Charles III as he filmed Season Five and Six.

“You always feel, I think, for your character. You feel slightly protective and you give them the benefit of the doubt,” West said. “And I think with this character more than any, I think, because he’s a man who’s suffered intense scrutiny and criticism all his life and has done, despite of that, an enormous amount of good and is devoted a life that could have been, as he says in the show, ‘spent through dissipation’ and boozing, having a good time, which some of his predecessors did, and I certainly would have done.”

West is definitely “rooting” for Charles, even if the newly-crowned King was recently pelted with eggs while greeting well-wishers at a Nov. 9 engagement.

Charles and Camilla would go on to get married in 2005.
Charles and Camilla would go on to get married in 2005. Keith Bernstein

Charles would go on to marry Camilla in 2005. It’s likely that the sixth and final season of “The Crown” will show their wedding just like it shared a glimpse at Charles and Diana’s.

While there has been criticism over rehashing old headlines and sensitive events in the final seasons of the show, the cast and Netflix has stressed that the show is a “fictional dramatization” and “inspired by real-life events.”

However, there are some incidents — including the leaked private phone call between Charles and Camilla called “Tampongate” —that, at times, hit too close to home.

Willams, on her end, shared her views on replicating some of Camilla's most uncomfortable moments and how she might have felt.

“All the pictures of Camilla from the ‘90s show her looking rather hatchet-faced and and angry. And then you realize that everyone who was taking those pictures was sort of trespassing on her property, was hidden in a bush at the end of her garden, and she either doesn’t know she’s having her picture taken or she’s just realized there’s a man hidden in a bush trespassing on her property,” Williams said. “And what’s lovely is to get a chance to show that that was no picnic for her.”

And while it might be difficult for people to see these moments play out, Williams noted that everything that creator Peter Morgan writes for the series “is having an influence on The Crown, as in the monarchy.”

“What happened between Charles and Camilla, and the way it was portrayed in the press, did nearly bring down the monarchy,” Williams said. “And that’s why it’s in the series.”