I thought while I was watching this episode it would end up my least favorite from the season, but the last scene between Earl Mountbatten and Princess Alice helped salvage it…and there’s another one later on that I ended up liking more. Still, this episode is the first true dud for me, because it once again distorts what actually happened to serve a purpose that I’m not really needed serving.
The year is presumably 1967 since it includes Harold Wilson’s announcement that the pound has been devalued, once again making the prior episode’s timeline strange. (Shouldn’t this have come first? Is there any real reason why it didn’t? Or why not have Princess Alice’s return tied to this episode?) Anyway, I digress.
There are two plots unfolding, which only merge at the end. The first is that the Queen leaves England for an extended trip to France and the United States to visit horse farms with “Porchie,” a character we were introduced to in the first season as the man who Elizabeth would have married had she not already fallen for Philip. The two gallivant around on their horse-breeding fact-finding mission, while Elizabeth confesses that she thinks this – horse breeding and racing – is what she was actually meant to do. Instead of reigning. Even more, these rare moments of peace and solitude give her a glimpse of what could have been. It’s the closest we come to Elizabeth having an existential crisis – those are usually more Philip’s domain.
While Elizabeth is gone, Earl Mountbatten is ousted from his position in the government because he didn’t implement the budget cuts Harold Wilson promised. Thus he is prime for picking by Cecil King, a newspaper magnate, and others who want to oust the Labour Party from power by pointing out the country is quickly losing its luster. The two plot a coup of which Wilson becomes aware, so he calls Elizabeth and threatens her that his laissez-faire attitude towards the Royal Family can come to a screeching halt any time, and that his support thus far has helped cover up the public’s increasing suspicion of the monarchy’s utility.
So, Elizabeth leaves her idyll behind to return to work. She summons in Earl Mountbatten and gives him a thorough dressing down that playing politics is neither her nor their function – in fact, by not doing so, they are preserving democracy itself. She suggests that if he is so bored by retirement then he should go visit his sister, Princess Alice.
He does so, and I want to get into that scene, but before I do, let’s fact-check the above. Did this happen? No, absolutely not. Elizabeth has made several horse-focused trips abroad over the years, however to the best of my knowledge, she and “Porchie” have always been accompanied by either Porchie’s wife or Philip himself. Second, Earl Mountbatten retired from his post in 1965, well before any of this coup drama went down. Third, the coup itself is rumored to have taken place in 1968 and Mountbatten may well have been involved, but this particular timing and the mechanics depicted are fiction.
So 80% of this episode was a bit of a dud in my book, but I adored the final scene between Mountbatten and Alice. I loved the allusion to the Battenberg line and Alice questioning whether either of them could truly consider themselves Briths, with Mountbatten insisting that he – at least – could since he had devoted his life in service to the country. As a reminder, the Battenberg line and the Mountbatten line are one and the same for purposes since Mountbatten is the anglicized version of the name. It came about in 1917 when George V anglicized the entire Royal Family during World War I, at which point the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the House of Windsor – drama touched upon early in the show’s first season.
In 1917, Mountbatten and Alice’s parents became the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven, while their mother, Victoria, was in fact a Hessian princess, born in Darmstadt as the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria’s third child, Princess Alice (our Alice’s namesake). Thus, the surname Mountbatten. However, our Princess Alice was already married and living in Greece by that point, so her name has always remained styled “Princess Alice of Battenberg,” or her married version, “Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark.”
This question of at what point can the House of Windsor consider itself British is one I find very interesting, particularly taken alongside the persistent claim that they are still mostly German. It’s an issue I’ve touched upon before, but I do think this episode will prompt me to write a full post on specifically that issue.
Anyway, the inclusion of that conversation – and the changing of the guards as these two elder royals make clear they still think of the Queen (a solid matriarch to us today) as a “little girl” – was very well done, and this episode’s saving grace.