Dr. James Colthurst’s Fleeting Appearance in The Crown Feels Inadequate

Within the early days of Princess Diana’s marriage to the person who’d grow to be king, Dr. James Colthurst knew something a lot of the world as yet didn’t: The Princess of Wales was miserable. An old friend from her days as a blushing London socialite, Colthurst shared her stately pedigree; because the second son of an Irish baronet, his family home was a literal castle. More importantly, they shared a confidence—one in every of the few within the late princess’s short life that was challenged but never outright betrayed.

In the most recent season of the Netflix drama The Crown, Colthurst is depicted in just one episode by the actor Oliver Chris. True, his scenes with Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana are hardly the best acting work in a series stacked with high-caliber performances. And yet, a niggling sense of loss stays after the season 5 finale; a lot of Diana’s most significant moments and relationships are relegated to a handful of scenes. Her friendship with Colthurst is one in every of them.

I’m not unsympathetic to The Crown’s must cover entire many years within the span of just a few hours. But denying Chris’ Colthurst even one additional appearance looks like a missed opportunity. Showrunner Peter Morgan takes a measured approach to his depiction of the princess, refusing to commit to either her side or Prince Charles’, and further refusing to permit The Crown to grow to be The Diana Show. However the errors of omission seem to seem more regularly in Diana’s camp. Further integrating Colthurst would have contextualized Diana’s involvement in her own implosion.

The 17-year-old Lady Diana Spencer first met the long run radiologist while he was still a medical student, at a chalet within the French Alps, where she slept on his Etonian friends’ sofa bed after injuring her ankle skiing. The 2 struck up a friendship they maintained until the princess’s tragic automobile accident in 1997. By the point we meet him in The Crown, he’s already a physician at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and while he clearly has some form of pre-established closeness with the princess, his primary role is to serve because the middleman for what would grow to be the explosive book Diana: Her True Story.

Much of what The Crown depicts here is accurate. The journalist Andrew Morton, whom Debicki’s Diana refers to as “one in every of the friendly ones,” did strike up a chummy rapport with a 35-year-old Colthurst over lunches and games of squash, as journalist Tina Brown wrote in her 2007 book The Diana Chronicles: “Morton picked up on Colthurst’s message to not fish for information concerning the Princess, but he took care to water his source against the day he might.” Their camaraderie made its way back to Diana, and he or she agreed to record audiotapes of her answers to Morton’s interview questions, with Colthurst ferrying the tapes backwards and forwards from author to source.

Oliver Chris as James Colthurst in The Crown.


In The Crown, Chris’ Colthurst expresses some shock over the revelations in these interviews, but the actual Colthurst had already known much of what was occurring in Diana’s marriage. As Brown outlines, he knew she had bulimia nervosa; he knew that bodyguard Barry Mannakee was her first extramarital affair; he even knew that the Waleses had troubles in bed, with Diana confessing to Colthurst that the problems were “geographical” in nature.

Diana trusted Colthurst with startlingly intimate secrets, though their very own relationship never turned romantic. Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles, “Colthurst’s ability to retain Diana’s esteem over time very likely trusted their not becoming sexually involved…His qualification for consigliere was not only his intelligence but in addition the protective fondness he felt for the trapped Princess whom he had often known as a lady.”

The doctor believed in Diana: Her True Story because Diana needed him to. She needed to imagine in it, so she could imagine in her marriage. The Crown gets this right as well: When Chris’ Colthurst asks why Diana has agreed to record her answers for Morton, she tells him it’s because she’s already “tried every little thing” else. The true Diana felt the identical way. If she cracked open her diary, poured out her very soul for the world to devour, it’d persuade her husband—and his parents—of their very own hand in her misery.

Brown puts it like this:

“Diana’s friends cooperated [with the Morton book] because they believed that she faced a selection—explode or implode. They were right, sadly. There’s a vitality of survival in Diana’s reckless act that eclipses its folly. Her mad courage blasted the Palace out of its frozen presumptions and institutionalized lying. She told the reality as she saw it. Her own lies of exaggeration were still not as great as theirs of withholding.”

By the top of season 5’s second episode, Morton’s book is out on the planet, making its namesake her headlines and its creator his money. Chris’ Colthurst is rarely seen or heard from again—a shame, given what we find out about his continued involvement in Diana’s life behind the scenes. Brown writes that he remained one in every of her confidants until late 1995, when her self-destructiveness in relationships finally damaged theirs. “She exiled everyone related to helping her produce the Morton book,” Brown wrote, adding:

“So rattled was she by the controversy, she now denied her participation even to herself… James Colthurst survived till late 1995, finally chucking up the sponge after a row with Diana about William, who had enrolled at Eton in September. He told Diana she was showing up at the varsity an excessive amount of and embarrassing her thirteen-year-old son, a tricky thing for a mother to listen to. ‘Unless a mother was a widow, it wasn’t done for them to go up without fathers or as an alternative of fathers,’ Colthurst told me. ‘I used to be at Eton myself, and I told her she shouldn’t be going up there as much as thrice every week. She got very offended with me and hung up. After which I believed that’s it, that’s enough. I had been swamped with calls for 3 years and it was an excessive amount of.’”

Colthurst, who continues to be living in Berkshire, England, today, later revealed he and Diana had smoothed over their difficulties by the point she died. He wrote a column for the Telegraph in 2021 that exposed his last conversation together with her was over the phone, “not long before her death.” He continued:

“What stays with me is her almost infectious laugh, coupled together with her serious desire to assist others. She set a high bar for her sons, who’ve each inherited her natural way with others. Each have her sensitivity and caring. But also they are gutsy and hard and share their mother’s passion for using their roles to do good on the planet.”

Morgan’s Diana, the Diana of The Crown, is nearly continually framed in isolation—whether literal, figurative, or self-imposed. In season 5, it’s easy to feel sorry for her; it’s harder, perhaps, to grasp her.

There’s some necessity to this degree of distance. The true Diana was similarly quick to isolate herself. And Morgan’s job as showrunner and author shouldn’t be to rally for the late princess’s vindication, nor to wash over her more unsavory sides. But denying a longer-lasting lens to the relative few who knew her away from the cameras, like James Colthurst or Lady Sarah Ferguson, protection officer Ken Wharfe, and even Dr. Hasnat Khan, feels disappointing. Even when it’s only a byproduct of the cutting room floor’s demands.

Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion. 

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