The overall theme of this episode was the conflict between love and duty, as seen through the lens of three relationships: Elizabeth and Philip’s, Edward and Wallis’, and Margaret and Peter Townsend’s. The take-away seems to be that duty should win out, given that the main proponents of love, Edward and Wallis, are portrayed as incredibly selfish and petty, although the inclusion of Margaret and Peter seems intended to lend a little balance to the equation.
The episode opens with a flashback to Edward’s abdication, establishing his love of Wallis and his hostile relationship with his family members. We see the abdication almost as something he does TO his family, with the shots of child Elizabeth playing, and Edward’s mother, Mary of Teck, bitterly berating him. We then return to the present (of the show), where the family is busy preparing for King George’s funeral and Elizabeth is floundering slightly in her new role as uncrowned Queen. Edward quickly reveals himself to be unsympathetic through his bitchy letters to his wife Wallis, which reveal that his primary motive for attending his brother’s funeral is to secure his paycheck from the Royal Family. Elizabeth has her first meetings with Churchill, in which he instructs her about royal protocol and she attempts and fails to achieve concessions on Philip’s behalf.
There is more focus on Elizabeth this episode, but we still don’t have much insight into her thoughts and feelings. In this episode the only things she fights for are things Philip wants – to keep Philip’s family name and to keep living in Clarence house. She is intimidated by Churchill and manipulated by Churchill and Edward, who ally against her. Towards the end of the episode, Elizabeth and Edward sit down together for a meal and it was HIGHLY STRESSFUL VIEWING. Elizabeth seems alternately to be coolly raking her uncle over the coals, for example confronting him about his nickname for her, and at others horribly vulnerable, such as when she asks him to apologise for ruining her chance at a normal life. Equally I wondered whether we were supposed to interpret her overt vulnerability as her own attempt to manipulate Edward? Regardless, Edward uses the opportunity to convince Elizabeth to drop the Clarence House and Mountbatten name arguments.
Philip’s deeply uncool response to this is to lash out at Elizabeth, telling her that she’s taken his job, house, and name from him, and pouting: ‘I thought we were in this together.’ Philip’s phone call to Lord Mountbatten, who I guess is some kind of relative, at the opening of the episode made me cringe because it gives the impression that although he accuses Elizabeth of not being on his team, he is not necessarily prioritising being on HER team. The bulk of the episode seems to be trying to build some sympathy for Philip’s position, reminding us that the rest of the Royal Family refer to him as ‘the foundling’ and his sister died tragically in a plane crash and so on, but I feel less sympathy for him than I did in previous episodes. Honestly, I think the show is still coming across more as ‘The Philip’ than ‘The Crown’ or ‘The Elizabeth’.
Despite the big focus on Edward this episode, I have very little to say about him. He is clearly a self-serving jerk, but he is very well acted by Alex Jennings, who brings emotional complexity to the character.
I have to say that Margaret and Peter have so far failed to make an impression as characters – all we really know about them is that one is the Queen’s sister, the other works for the Royal Family, and they are having a fairly blatant affair. I think the lack of time spent developing their personalities, histories, hopes and fears outside of the affair makes them difficult to root for or care about.
The duty/love issue that frames the episode is interesting. I found that on the issues of moving out of Clarence House and giving up the Mountbatten surname I ended up convinced that although it was understandably not fun for the royals, it was the dutiful and correct thing to do. I feel like the Royal family is so steeped in symbolism that there isn’t space for them to be NORMAL HUMANS. They seem locked into a situation where there are two realities: one, they obviously are still just human beings, and two, they obviously are not ALLOWED to be human beings. I don’t know if they can extricate themselves from the symbolism and expectations of the post without, as Edward did, completely ABANDONING SHIP and basically being exiled.
What did you think of this episode?