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The Crown Stars reflect on their final season
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[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the fifth episode of The Crown Season 4, “Fagan.”]
In the fifth episode of the newly released fourth season of The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) wakes up early one morning and finds a man on her bed. No, it’s not Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) coming to say good morning, or Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) looking for a mom-time (honestly, can you imagine?). It’s Michael Fagan (Tom Brooke), an unemployed painter and British citizen, who broke into Buckingham Palace for the second time this summer and wants to have a friendly chat with his sovereign. It’s a story so wild it has to be true – and that’s because it is, at least most of the time.
Like much of The Crown, the palace break-in depicted on the show is fact-based but given an artistic flair. Queen Elizabeth II, as you may have already assumed, has never spoken publicly about what really happened in the few minutes she spent with her intruder, but Fagan has given interviews since then. Based on these and reports from the time of the incident, it’s clear that it didn’t go exactly as portrayed on the show.
In 1982 Michael Fagan was an unemployed painter and decorator who was in the process of divorce and his wife had taken their children with her. The show uses Fagan to examine the impact of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s (Gillian Anderson )’s conservative policies on the working class during the UK’s early years in office. Thatcher hit a recession and millions were unemployed. Fagan was one of those millions. In The Crown, Fagan is shown going to his ex-wife, the employment office, and even his local MP for help or at least voice his grievances, but every step of the way he is supposed to go grabs his Problems with someone else. After all, he has no one to talk to except the queen herself.
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During his first break-in into the palace in June, he just wandered around and drinks some wine until he is caught by a maid and leaves. By the time he breaks into Buckingham Palace for the second time on July 9, Fagan’s personal situation has worsened and he doesn’t seem at all intimidated into waking the Queen and telling her how Thatcher is ruining the country and she must do something about it . Colman’s Elizabeth is obviously scared, but she stays calm while they talk, and when a maid finally comes into the room with tea, she tells her, very matter-of-factly, to get the guards. Before Fagan is taken away, she offers him time to tell her everything he wants, but he said everything he needed. He usually just looks relieved that someone has finally taken the time to actually listen to him. He was taken away, and since entering was not a crime at the time, he spent several months in a mental hospital instead of being thrown in prison.
Although it looks like Fagan’s actual break-in – scrambling over the palace fence, flying up a drain pipe, and climbing through a window – was so incredibly easy at The Crown (his efforts were aided by malfunctioning alarms), according to the Real Michael Fagan, he actually had no meaningful conversation with the queen. In 2012, he told The Independent that it was over when he woke her up [him] and ran out of the room. “He also said that a servant poured him a glass of whiskey while they waited for the police.
In the same interview, Fagan reported the first time he claimed to have broken into the palace. His version of the first break-in is close to what happens on The Crown, right down to drinking cheap wine. But there is one detail in Fagan’s story that is noticeably missing from the Netflix series: According to Fagan, he peed on the corgi’s food.
Fagan also mentioned that his motivations for the break-in may have been less carefully thought out than the show would lead you to believe: “I only thought about going in there at the last second when it occurred to me to do it”, he said The Independent. He even suggested that his actions were due to the ongoing effects of mushroom picking months earlier. However, in a 2020 interview with The Telegraph, Fagan mentioned that he was “frustrated with unemployment” at the time.
Reports of the incident immediately after the crime offer different stories: In a July 14, 1982 article in the New York Times, Fagan’s then attorney said that the Queen and Fagan spent about ten minutes in front of a maid, mostly about the royal family led him out of the room. The current Scotland Yard report of the incident, as published in the New York Times in July 1982, tells another version of the story in which the Queen, while waiting a few minutes for the police to arrive, “caught the attention of the Maid and together they led Fagan to a nearby pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette. “The Scotland Yard report also states that Fagan broke a glass ashtray in the palace (on the show he comes in bleeding Bedroom because he broke a window). He reportedly carried a piece of the broken ashtray into the queen’s room and “said he intended to cut his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty”.
At this point, we may never be sure what exactly happened in the Queen’s bedroom that early morning, but The Crown’s portrayal of the incident provides an interesting depiction of what could have been. Regardless, the one moment of the whole episode that I consider a fact comes at the end when Philip regrets that he wasn’t there to protect Elizabeth. Despite all adversities, I am looking for these crazy children and their love story!
Crown season 4 is now streamed on Netflix.