I’m not sure what I expected from the Season 3 finale. I knew it would cover the dissolution of Princess Margaret’s marriage, but given that the penultimate episode covered events in 1972/1973, I had no idea how they were going to cram four to five years into one episode. Well, they did, but only by once again mashing up a lot of events and ignoring others.
I’m genuinely shocked that The Crown decided to skip the kidnapping attempt made against Princess Anne in 1974. Even though it will now be wildly out of order, I’m hoping that they figure out a way to include it in the fourth season and give us more Anne/Erin Doherty, because she’s excellent.
As for what this episode did include, we have the 1974 return of Harold Wilson, the 1976 resignation of the same Wilson, and the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977. The meat of the episode is, of course, centered around the Snowdons. But at the same time…it’s not. I thought the second season did a really strong job of making Tony a compelling character with a nuanced backstory. The third season didn’t build on that. This episode, like “Margaretology,” isn’t about a marriage, it’s about a woman in an unhappy marriage. With the exception of one or two brief scenes in which we see Tony with his mistress (and later, second wife) Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, this is Margaret’s show and everyone else is just a prop.
This episode also didn’t make too much noise about the fact that Margaret is getting a divorce. And maybe that’s because it’s where we’ll pick up in the fourth season, but with the exception of the final scene in which Margaret notes that it’ll be the first divorce within the Royal Family since Henry VIII divorced Anne of Cleves in 1540 (debatable, but okay), the episode is focused more on what brought Margaret to that point.
Apparently not abuse, though the marriage is depicted as having devolved into that courtesy of flashbacks as Elizabeth gingerly walks across her sister’s bedroom floor, strewn with broken glass and debris. Margaret instead says that she and Tony are comfortable living separate lives, and that “war” is their “love.” Disturbing, and typical language from within an abusive relationship, but it’s not what ejects the Princess from her marriage.
Being ignored is. She’s upset not by Tony’s infidelity, but by the fact that he’s taken a mistress he appears to have fallen in love with. Indeed, the show makes the case that Margaret never stopped loving Tony. That even her own lover – Roddy Llewellyn – was just a younger version of him. Even so, when photographs are published of her cavorting with him in public and Tony gives her an ultimatum about running after Roddy in their final confrontation, she chooses Roddy. Tellingly, she chooses happiness, because everything else aside, Margaret does seem to be in a much better place by the middle of the episode than she is in the beginning (i.e. very drunk).
My favorite scene – perhaps of the season – was Margaret’s birthday luncheon. The entire family has gathered, save Tony, who is off with Lucy. Margaret is heartbroken (and drunk). She won’t play along with everyone’s merry refusal to acknowledge what’s wrong in her household, and instead point-blank addresses Tony’s cheating and then demands that her sister support her by refusing him royal favors. Elizabeth and the Queen Mother then begin chirping about how much they like Tony, ignoring Margaret’s very real pain, and slipping right back into small talk. Margaret storms out of the room, and the family returns to eating, with Elizabeth calmly saying that her sister will sort herself out.
I 100% believe that’s how the majority of the family, led by the Queen on the example of the Queen Mother, handles “scenes.” And I 100% believe certain members are nearly driven mad by it. Margaret was one. Diana would be another. And per the show, Elizabeth’s heartlessness (by which I mean the character, not the actual Queen) is on display once more. Particularly when you consider that she knows well what her sister was up against with Tony, and her own concerns about him prior to their marriage.
As for the accuracy of it all, the gist is more or less correct. I wrote a post on the entirety of their marriage back in 2017 that can be seen here. This episode, obviously, makes several years’ worth of incidents appear back-to-back. In reality, Margaret met Roddy in 1973, the photos of them were published in 1976, and their separation was announced later that year – not concurrent with the jubilee in 1977. Their divorce wouldn’t be finalized until 1978, so (as mentioned above) likely fodder for next season.
One thing I found rather humorous is that Margaret finding that mean note from Tony is based on actual (slightly unfathomable) behavior, but the most famous example is him saying that she looked like a “Jewish manicurist.” They couldn’t use that line because they had Matthew Goode say it as Tony last season when talking to the Frys (a storyline – including Mrs. Fry’s pregnancy – that was completely dropped).
There is some debate over the suicide attempt – or “cry for help,” per the episode title – shown. At one point in 1976 Margaret did take too many sleeping pills and staff had difficulty waking her. “Friends” have later denied that it was a suicide attempt, so much as a very depressed woman trying hard to sleep, but…they would deny it even if it was true, so it remains open for debate. I have a feeling the show may make a parallel here between Margaret and Diana’s experience, so it was important for them to show. Or perhaps they just liked the drama.
Once again, all of the pain in Margaret’s life is related back to her sister. The episode opens and closes with Elizabeth coming to her sister’s bedside, and in the end, she accepts that Margaret has to leave her marriage – no matter the fallout – for her own good. In theory it’s a moment of sisterly generosity, but I actually thought Margaret was the more generous one in this moment, telling her sister that she’s the only queen, and the only one capable of keeping the monarchy alive and directing all of its supporting players.
It underlines something that will no doubt be made clear in the show, and is very much true in real life: Margaret in many ways was Elizabeth’s one true peer. Her sister, yes, but also a person close to her in age who understood the monarchy’s function, could speak truth to power, and for all the trouble she caused, was a support system in a very lonely job. William and Harry, take note.
I’m going to write up a post on the season as a whole for tomorrow, but in the meantime, Vanessa Kirby was a hard act to follow, and Helena Bonham-Carter did a fantastic job.