The Diplomat: Is the Netflix Show Inspired by Real Life?

Image Credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix

Created by Debora Cahn, Netflix’s ‘The Diplomat’ is a political thriller series that follows the story of Kate Wyler. Experienced in handling crises of international importance, Kate is set to go to Afghanistan for her next assignment. However, she is reassigned to London after a British ship is attacked, and the country becomes suspicious of and hostile toward Iran.

As the ambassador of the US, her job is to mitigate the crisis that could severely impact the nation and the world. The show gives us a peek into a diplomat’s life and the challenges they have to face while keeping peace in the world. It references real-life conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war, which might make you wonder if the series is based on true events. Let’s find out! SPOILERS AHEAD

The Diplomat is a Fictional Story

No, ‘The Diplomat’ is not based on a true story. It is driven by an original story by Debora Cahn, known for working on political shows like ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Homeland,’ who combines the political and espionage elements of these shows to create the riveting plot of thriller series. The idea for the show came to her while working as a writer and producer on ‘Homeland.’ For the espionage series starring Claire Danes, many experts in different fields were consulted, including ambassadors.

Image Credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix

Talking about the same to Vanity Fair, Cahn said, “They’re quiet and unassuming. Like, this woman who looks like my Aunt Ruthie—she was in the middle of a crisis involving nuclear waste and a truck driving off an icy Siberian road and bombs dropping. Nobody knows what these people do. It’s such front-lines-y kind of activity, and nobody ever knows about it.”

The writer noted that the people employed in the Foreign Service are “the first in the and last out of every disaster in the world, and nobody knows who they are or what they do.” She wanted to bring that tension and the responsibility of making instant decisions that could change the world. Besides professional life, Cahn was also interested in exploring the idea of couples working in the same field. Calling them “tandem couples,” she was intrigued by the idea of two people who are married but also have a rivalry bubbling between them due to the nature of their jobs.

“You’re in a situation where the person you love most is also somebody you’re competing with all the time,” Cahn noted. This is where Kate and Hal come in. Their love-hate relationship, which is rife with banters, became something that the audience could relate to. “It’s my way in to connecting with what it means to be somebody in that kind of life. It’s much easier to connect as an audience with a circumstance—and it’s more fun, and it’s as real as can be,” the writer said.

While ‘The Diplomat’ is almost entirely fictional, the writers looked towards real-life events to generate the primary conflict in the story. The show begins with a British warship being attacked in the Persian Gulf, and all evidence points toward Iran. This escalates the tension between the two countries, leading to other complications in international politics. This premise is probably an exaggeration of a real-life conflict that Britain and Iran almost got into in 2019.

A statement released by the Ministry of Defence revealed that “three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz.” This forced HMS Montrose “to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away.” The authorities were “concerned by this action” and urged “the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”

Reportedly, Iran rejected the claims calling them “of no value” and being “made for creating tension.” Meanwhile, British ships were put on an alert. Fortunately, things didn’t get any worse. Talking about such things, which must happen more often than the public hears about them, Cahn said, “The world might end on Tuesday because of a decision that they do or don’t make.”

Apart from highlighting the gravity of the job, Cahn also focused on the everydayness of such people who might handle sensitive stuff all the time, “but that doesn’t mean they remember the name of the person they’re talking to, and that doesn’t mean that they didn’t forget to take the tag off of their pants.” Considering all this, we can say that ‘The Diplomat’ is fictional, but it draws upon real-life events and figures to create a compelling portrait of the life of an ambassador.

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