A lot happens this episode, which is good news after two episodes that mostly deviate from our main characters. An engagement, a wedding, two pregnancies, a baby and one Palace house party with rock n’ roll and a conga line. Fantastic. I am going to offer a slight fact-check to the episode, which does play it a bit fast and loose with timelines, while addressing a few of the issues the episode puts forth.
Per the episode, Margaret receives a letter in August 1959 from Peter Townsend telling her that he has fallen in love with his 19-year-old secretary and is planning to marry her. Margaret, then in the throes of a relationship with Tony Armstrong-Jones, decides to push the marriage issue with him, despite knowing that he’s against it. Tony, driven by resentment towards his mother and your standard feelings of inadequacy, proposes. His personal life, however, is a bit complicated because it means he needs to wrap up not only a relationship with a model (Jacqui Chan), but with a married couple, Jeremy and Camilla Fry. The last bit becomes even more difficult when Camilla tells Tony she’s pregnant and she’s “99 percent” certain it’s his.
Margaret, meanwhile, is dead set on announcing her engagement before Peter’s. She goes to Elizabeth, belligerently per usual, and demands that the Palace put out a statement as soon as possible. Elizabeth complies, but then has to double back because she’s pregnant and protocol dictates that all family announcements be postponed until the monarch’s child is born. I’m with Margaret on this one – given what happened with Peter, the rules should have been set aside. Nevertheless, everyone waits until Elizabeth and Philip’s third child, Andrew, is born.
When Elizabeth attempts to caution Margaret on Tony, after having been told the full extent of his personal life, Margaret goes ballistic. She is angry with her sister, heartbroken over Peter and eager to get out of her mother’s house. The wedding goes forward and the two are married with all due pomp and circumstance at Westminster Abbey.
The most poignant moment, to me, was after the proposal when Margaret and Tony are discussing wedding plans (sprawled on the floor of his studio, naturally) and they both land on the Abbey for the venue for essentially the same reason. Both want to eclipse a relative, both are trying to win something, neither is entering the union clear-headed. And then again, I have to give props to the depiction of Margaret on screen, as well as this particular relationship – whether every small detail happened as it did or not, they’ve shown a very complicated, passionate, dysfunctional dynamic that we are all nevertheless rooting for despite knowing it will fail. Not bad for two episodes’ work.
So, what really happened? Well, first of all, Margaret learned about Peter’s engagement in October and not August of 1959. She was at Balmoral at the time, as was Tony. And that last part is key because while there is heavy emphasis on what Tony has shown her of his non-royal life, there hasn’t been any depiction of Margaret incorporating him into hers. Spending time with the RF in the middle of their holiday at Balmoral is about as in the thick of it as you can get, and frankly I would love to watch that on television.
Margaret and Tony were engaged by Christmas that year, not hours/days after finding out about Peter. Their engagement announcement, thus, was only postponed by about two or three months. Elizabeth’s pregnancy would have been well into its second or third trimester and the need for a delay wouldn’t have come as a surprise to Margaret. Andrew was born on February 19 and a week later, Margaret’s marriage was announced with a wedding scheduled for May.
Another small thing is Tony’s title – he wasn’t bestowed an earldom upon his marriage, but rather when he and Margaret were expecting their first child. He had been offered one and turned it down, however once another heir to the throne was thrown into the mix it was considered sensible. His relationship with his title, at least, was less of a diabolical need to get his mother’s attention.
And then there is Camilla Fry’s baby. This is, God help us all, not a piece of fiction. Camilla gave birth to a daughter in May 1960, the same month Tony and Margaret were married. Paternity tests conducted decades later confirmed that the child, Polly, was Tony’s and not her presumed father’s, Jeremy Fry. It wouldn’t be until 2004 that the news became public and while Tony first denied the claim, he would eventually acknowledge it as true in 2008.
Finally, let’s talk for a moment about Tony’s character here, because while Matthew Goode is obviously quite charming, he’s also displaying a cad, albeit of a tortured variety (aren’t they all?). Yes, his personal life was…complicated. And yes, his mother was pretty much terrible. But I don’t necessarily think he entered that marriage with that mercenary of a mindset. It’s also worth noting that it was he who wanted children shortly after the wedding, hence the birth of their child in November 1961, which is not depicted on the show.