THE return of The Crown to Netflix and BBC’s investigation into Martin Bashir’s 1995 Princess Diana interview has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on the royal family. Despite many caveats, The Crown, with a heavyweight cast that includes Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter and Gillian Anderson makes compulsive viewing.

The problem, however, is the challenge of sieving fact from fiction. The first three series were something of a history lesson. Time has taken the heat out of events such as the abdication crisis of 1936, the Second World War, Aberfan and the premierships of Macmillan, Wilson and Heath. The current series is a different kettle of very live fish. The central characters and events are much more familiar and consequently, more relevant in influencing perceptions of the role and relevance of the present-day monarchy.

Recent episodes have depicted Princess Diana’s introduction to the royal family and the Thatchers’ first visit to Balmoral. There was more than a passing resemblance to the Addams Family, only more grotesque. For the first time in my life I felt sorry for Mrs Thatcher. While the events themselves may be largely fictitious, there’s a lingering suspicion that the overall artistic impression is only too accurate.

Princess Diana’s responses to Martin Bashir provided insights into, yes, the oddness of the royals. Private Eye journalist Craig Brown’s mischievous biography of Princess Margaret, Ma’am Darling, paints a picture of a totally dysfunctional extended family.

Whether we like to admit it or not, British social, political and economic life are still distorted by outdated concepts of class. We have a UK cabinet drawn largely from the public schools and Oxbridge. In the age of food banks, the prime minister complains he is underpaid. Many MPs believed their expenses were an entitlement not a scandal. Much of that sense of privilege and entitlement flows from the very top, the monarchy.

There is no doubting the real and widespread regard for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Even ardent republicans admit to a sneaking respect for their sense of duty, service and endurance. They have represented stability and continuity for much of our lives but, regrettably, the day cannot be far off when we have to move on. It’s unlikely their heirs will be viewed as kindly.

In the run up to the 2014 independence referendum, many were surprised by the proposal to retain the monarch as head of state. Possibly, it was a justifiable short-term political expedient. Should there be another referendum, the rationale of aligning a modern and egalitarian Scotland with privilege and entitlement is sure to be questioned much more closely.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.