After a nearly two-year gap, here we are again, convened for royal super bowl. For those who missed it, there’s a post from yesterday that level-sets where we left off in The Crown’s Season 2, so let’s get straight into it. It’s still 1964 in this season’s premier, but we are introduced to a new cast of characters who will carry us through the next two seasons. The show acknowledges this via the cold open, which has Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth reviewing new stamps bearing her image, the more updated sitting side-by-side with one featuring Claire Foy.
The meat of this episode’s drama centers around the uncovering of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring of high-up Brits who shared intelligence with the Russians undetected for years. Our royals are shown acknowledging that such men exist within the government, but the great irony is that while they are quick to doubt the integrity of the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, member of the Labour Party, the actual offender isn’t from Downing Street, but Buckingham Palace, in the form of the Queen’s art historian, Sir Anthony Blunt.
When his identity is made clear to Elizabeth she must 1) apologize to Wilson, and 2) deal with Blunt’s proximity to her. Unfortunately, it’s that very proximity that protects him. His longevity would be an embarrassment to the British government and undermine them with the Americans, so instead of facing prosecution, Blunt is instead allowed to ride out his cushy career until his retirement in 1972.
I suppose the point of this plot (besides, you know, covering something that actually happened) is to show the Queen once more doing something she finds distasteful in service to crown and country, but the most interesting moment actually involves Philip. At the end of the episode, Elizabeth is forced to make a speech honoring Blunt’s career for a new exhibition, but during the reception that follows, Philip and Blunt confront one another. Or rather, Philip threatens Blunt, and Blunt returns the volley with such finality that the matter is closed. He says, essentially, that should his position be undermined, he will re-raise the Profumo scandal (covered in last season’s finale) by drawing attention to Philip’s supposed involvement.
Philip offers the party line that he had no such involvement, but Blunt rightfully points out that the optics would be devastating on their own. It makes the point that while Philip is on the straight and narrow by the autumn of 1964, there are some skeletons in his closet. And more importantly, this scene has the show once again strongly insinuating Philip was in fact more deeply involved in that scandal than has ever been acknowledged, while leaving just enough room for doubt. In other words, doubling down on a claim that was a tad controversial last season.
In the background of this, of course, we have Harold Wilson step forward as the new PM. In addition to being bandied about as a possible KGB spy, he’s referred to as a socialist, a Republican (in the English sense of the word), and an outsider to the upper-class, Eton-educated cast of ministers Elizabeth has previously enjoyed. His introduction, coupled with Winston Churchill’s death, marks a decided turning point for the show. Gone are the sensibilities of the 1950s, and here we are very much in the midst of the 1960s, with a rough economy, a faltering relationship with the Americans, and the looming black hole of the Vietnam War.
In other words, while the Cambridge Five drove the plot, the rest of the episode laid out the backdrop for the third season. As such, we are introduced to the new Princess Margaret and Tony Armstrong-Jones (or, the Snowdons, in light of their titles). We don’t linger with them for long, but we are given enough to know that all is not well at Kensington Palace, and that the primary issue is distance between the couple. Literally – Tony is shown speeding off on his motor bike and then coming home only to ignore his wife’s dinner party.
So, there we are. It’s good to be back. I’m still ticking through episodes, but I’ll get a second episode recap up later today.