(This article contains some spoilers for the season 4 premiere of “The Crown” on Netflix.)
Four seasons in, we know “The Crown” doesn’t shy away from dramatic tragedies and threats, especially as they relate to the royal family — that is, in fact, kind of the whole thing with this show. And this season opened with a bang — literally. In the season premiere, Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten (otherwise known as Lord Mountbatten, and Queen Elizabeth’s cousin) is killed by a bomb that was planted in his fishing boat by the Provisional Irish Republican Army — better known generally as the IRA — in 1979.
The episode shows us an otherwise serene summer day in August, a day where Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) has decided to take a boat out for fishing with several family members including his daughter, his son-in-law, and his grandsons. He’s unaware that a Provisional Irish Republican Army member named Thomas McMahon has put a radio-controlled bomb on the boat, and “The Crown” jumps between Charles fishing, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) shooting, and the Queen (Olivia Colman) at Balmoral before showing Lord Mountbatten’s boat explode.
It’s no doubt a shocking way to start a season, and it sets a tone for the political and familial violence we’ll see during later episodes of “The Crown.” But just how much of Lord Mountbatten’s death was real, and how much was played up for the sake of flashy television drama?
As it turns out, quite a lot of what you saw was real. The Provisional IRA really did kill Lord Mountbatten — along with his daughter’s mother-in-law, his grandson Nicholas, and a young crew member named Paul — with a bomb planted on his fishing boat. Andrew Lownie, author of “The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves,” described the on Aug. 27, 1979 incident as “fifty pounds of gelignite exploded, sending showers of timber, metal, cushions, lifejackets and shoes into the air. Then, there was a deadly silence.”
Though the assassination came as a shock, it wasn’t surprising that he was targeted. He was close to the royal family, serving as a mentor to Prince Charles, and one of their more beloved members. He also was considered an easy target, as he refused any security deal in the Irish town he routinely vacationed in. The IRA basically saw him as an easy target.
But his assassination was only part of what turned out to be one of the deadliest days of The Troubles, the roughly 30 year period of sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland beginning in the late 60s and ending with the 1998 Good Friday accords. Just hours after killing Mountbatten, the IRA ambushed a British army convoy near the Northern Ireland town of Warrenpoint, just across the border from Ireland. Using two bombs — one of which was timed to affect incoming reinforcements — the group killed 18 British soldiers and wounded 20 more. Two civilians were also killed by British forces exchanging fire across the border with Provisional IRA guerillas.
As depicted on “The Crown,” the attacks had huge political consequences for England, in particular hardening newly elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher against the IRA and leading her to embrace the idea of treating its members like criminals. That’s something that “The Crown” deals with later in the season.
This is “The Crown,” and there will always be moments when the drama is heightened for the sake of our viewing pleasure. But in this case, the tragedy that sets up season 4 is just about as real as it is in the history books.