So, here we are. The episode that has garnered so very many headlines in the last couple of weeks – the arrival of John and Jackie Kennedy at Buckingham Palace. Once again, however, we are playing it fast and loose with the timeline. Ostensibly a year has passed since the last episode and we are in June 1961 when the Queen and Prince Philip actually hosted the first couple, however by the end it’s November 1963 and the Royal Family is watching the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination.
I’m assuming we are meant to watch this episode in a vacuum, knowing that the events of the final two installments this season are happening in the background.
Regardless, let’s jump in. For context it is perhaps helpful to reference the rundown of what we actually know of the couple’s visit, which can be found here. With that in mind, the overall accuracy of the episode is relatively solid. The Kennedys were riding high from a tour of Europe that included their famous trip to Paris. The Queen, apparently, was feeling insecure about being photographed next to Jackie. And there was a tour of the Palace, however it wasn’t just Jackie and Elizabeth.
Post-dinner, rude comments that Jackie made about Buckinghamp Palace and the Queen did reach Elizabeth, however the two did apparently find some common ground between then and Kennedy’s assassination two-and-a-half years later.
What felt off, frankly, was the introduction of the first couple to Philip and Elizabeth. Jack’s father had been the U.S. Ambassador to Britain between 1938 and 1940 and, as such, he would have been exposed to the concept of how to address titles properly. Jackie, too, had spent enough time in Europe and prided herself on being able to seamlessly mingle with the best of them. It may be a true depiction, but it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it.
As for the conversation that Elizabeth and Jackie had as they walked through the Palace, I’m having trouble with that one. The themes on which they bonded may very well been the common ground the two women found, but I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the First Lady of the United States baring her soul to the Queen upon first meeting.
Similarly, at the private audience Elizabeth gives Jackie at Windsor in 1962, I’m having an even harder time picturing the latter opening up about drug use and how she wasn’t quite “with it” when she said those rude remarks. We know now that drugs were doled out to the Kennedys during their time in the White House and it frankly felt more like wanting to shoehorn another equally famous couple into the series as a point of comparison or source of drama. The only part I truly blanched at, though, was the depiction of JFK physically abusing Jackie in a jealous rage for all the attention she received – I’m not an expert on the Kennedys, but if this is part of their story I definitely missed something somewhere.
That said, Elizabeth’s response to Jackie’s remarks, when recounted to her, was picture perfect – “We must have her again sometime” is my new favorite way to ice someone out. And, too, Claire Foy’s acting as she listens to a quote – some of which is fiction – that essentially hurls every insecurity Elizabeth has her in her face should bring her all the awards. All of them.
So, from that we turn to Ghana. According to the show, Elizabeth is eager to prove Jackie wrong and show off her own diplomatic skills. She is dead set on going to Ghana despite the misgivings of Macmillan and her government. But go she does and it’s a smashing success as she dances with Kwame Nkrumah. Now, let’s talk about what actually happened. Below is footage of the real Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in 1961:
The trip caused considerable hesitation within Westminster, but in the end Macmillan and his cabinet recommended that the Queen go to follow up on a trip that had been planned for 1959 but delayed by her pregnancy with Prince Andrew. Her response captures her logic quite nicely:
“I am not a film star. I am the head of the Commonwealth—and I am paid to face any risks that may be involved. Nor do I say this lightly. Do not forget that I have three children.”
By other accounts, she was impatient with the hand wringing believing that she would look “silly” if she didn’t go only to have the Russians be warmly welcomed later on. She danced, as shown, she charmed the press and she didn’t bat an eyelid when riding through in an open car with Nkrumah. Nor did she play her hand too much, withholding smiles and making it clear that she was doing her duty, albeit fearlessly.
The show did an excellent job of capturing the appearance of Elizabeth’s arrival, but it should also be mentioned bombs had been set off just five days before she landed, throwing security up in the air. And in preparation of the trip, the below was reported in TIME Magazine back in 1961:
Assured that the Queen would finally make the visit originally scheduled for 1959, but canceled because of the imminent birth of Prince Andrew, Ghana prettied up and cleaned up. People driving into Accra who could not prove that they had been vaccinated were summarily jabbed with a smallpox injection. To reduce the threat of pickpocketing, the police rounded up all ex-convicts on parole, threw them into the cooler for the duration of the visit. Mothers were urged not to let their children run naked in the streets.
Outraged and embarrassed by the bombs, Osagyefo (the Redeemer) threw a number of his opponents into jail. Work crews feverishly tried to repair Nkrumah’s bomb-blasted bronze statue in front of Parliament House. Supporters symbolically bandaged the statue’s shattered feet, covered it with white powder, and threw a calico scarf over its right shoulder—Ghana’s traditional symbol of victory. Others slaughtered a goat at the base of the statue to cleanse it of evil spirits.
The day of the Queen’s arrival, cops kept back the crowds by charging enthusiastically with night sticks and by driving their motorcycles directly at them. On the airport tarmac sat 100 tribal chiefs surrounded by flunkies who held giant velvet umbrellas over them. Each chief was accompanied by a “linguist” (chiefs never speak directly to anyone save the linguists, who pass on the message) and by a small boy, who functions as the soul of the chief. (In the past, the boys were killed when the chief died.)
It is a little disingenuous, in my opinion, to assert the Queen carried out her duty in Ghana – and carried it out well – because Jackie Kennedy had hurt her feelings a few months before.
And one very minor note, but we are shown a fleeting glimpse of Margaret in the stables, now theoretically married and settled. If we are following reality, she would have been in the middle of her first pregnancy and it’s slightly strange the show just skipped right over that. I could have done with less of the Kennedys and more of Margaret and Tony’s first year of married life.