The moment so many have been waiting for: the introduction of Camilla Shand. Not only that but we are given a true farewell to the Duke of Windsor, and a second strong look at Princess Anne this episode. And because I didn’t make this point in my recap of “Bubbikins,” when a teenage Anne first stepped into the frame, Erin Doherty’s portrayal of the Queen’s daughter may be one of the series’ most on-point performances.
So, let’s get into it. First of all, I’m glad that The Crown covered the Duke of Windsor’s death. The Queen did in fact visit him shortly before his death (about 10 days before), and while we have no idea whether they had a goodbye that so poetically tied up all the loose ends, I didn’t mind this depiction, nor that the show made it clear that Elizabeth has grown into her role and even, at times, enjoys it.
I’m also glad they chose to show Charles’s visit to the Windsors. The parallels between the Duke and Charles, and to a certain extent between Wallis and Camilla, are obvious, so I can’t really fault the show for making hay of them. That said, I think the reality was somewhat trickier. From what I’ve read of Charles’s visit to their home in Paris, he was decidedly weirded out by certain elements like the Duke’s red boxes that made it clear he wasn’t wholly at peace with his decision to abdicate. To me, the big lesson there is that Charles was given a first-hand glimpse of what life looked like outside of the royal fold.
The other big difference between reality and the show is that Charles and Elizabeth visited the Windsors at the same time in May 1972. In fact, Charles met his parents during their state visit to Paris with the specific intent on saying goodbye to the Duke. Charles had been in touch with the Duke hitherto at the behest of Earl Mountbatten, however there is no indication that the two men bonded, much less engaged in a mutual admiration fest about how progressive they were. In fact, the real Charles later noted that he found Wallis to be “hard,” “totally unsympathetic,” and “somewhat superficial.”
So, Camilla. The show skips over Charles and Camilla meeting, which is just as well considering there’s some discrepancy over where and how that went down. What is true is that Charles began dating her during an “off” period in her early, tumultuous relationship with Andrew Parker-Bowles, and that at the same time, Andrew started dating Princess Anne. Oddly enough, one of the least believable elements of the story is one of the few purely accurate ones.
But alongside this plot, we are also given a better sense of how Charles looks at his position as Prince of Wales and future king. In addition to his letters to the Duke of Windsor, we also hear him discuss the waiting game of his role with Camilla during a dinner date in Buckingham Palace that I thought was well done. We hear him say that while he doesn’t will his mother’s death, he is looking forward to taking the throne, and that the position is inherently strange – that he is simultaneously useless and indispensable. This mirrors a lot of the language the real Charles used around this time to discuss his role, and it’s very in keeping with reality to show the Prince as a “deep thinker” to the point of neuroticism.
The episode closes with Elizabeth having gotten her hands on Charles’s letters to the Duke. He’s written how much he admires his great-uncle, and how he intends to continue his legacy for “individuality and imagination” when he ascends the throne. Even more, he has no intention of allowing himself to be denied what the Duke was denied – the woman he loves. Elizabeth doesn’t speak during this scene, so what we’re meant to take away from this is open for debate. My sense was less that she was concerned about Camilla becoming the new Wallis, and more annoyed and wounded that Charles was – without mentioning her – critiquing her own reign. That he, waiting in the wings, thought he could do it better, and therefore was looking towards a point in time after her death.
More to the point, I think it’s interesting that the show is drawing such a hard line between Elizabeth and Charles. This level of animosity feels extreme to me. I think the real Queen has been baffled, irritated, and impatient with the PoW over the years, but I don’t think she’s ever viewed him as an existential threat the way the Elizabeth on our screens does. Frankly, I think the Queen is too rational and logical to do so. But as we discussed with the sixth episode, if the show insists on going this route, then it needs to do a better job of showing why.
Anyway, two other important milestones also happened this episode: Edward Heath is the new Prime Minister and Martin Charteris is finally the Queen’s senior private secretary. And with that, we are officially in the 1970s.