This is proving an odd summer for the British Royal Family. Per tradition, members of the family pack it in for the month of August, engagements slow (in some cases to a screeching halt), and holidays are taken by not only the royals, but their staffs and the reporters who cover them. The risk with this schedule is that when there is news it has a way of dominating attention because there’s nothing else going on with which to distract. Such is the case this week, so let’s get into it.
Before the premier of The Crown’s second season, I addressed some of the controversy caused by its first, primarily criticism that the show didn’t focus enough on Queen Elizabeth, but rather went off on tangents on the men in her life. And while it’s true that Season One spent a lot of time covering Prince Philip, George VI, Winston Churchill and Edward VIII, I also argued that the split in screen time was mostly logical and Elizabeth was still well-covered.
I stand by that when it comes to the first season, but I’m feeling a little less charitable about Season Two.
This was a strange episode, but one whose point, I think, was captured in its final moments. Philip and Elizabeth face off at Balmoral for yet another Come to Jesus, only this time a little older, a little wiser and by far more tired. It’s a parallel, presumably, to the opening scene of the series, one whose ending we finally saw in the third episode, during which the two strike a deal for how to stay married – elevate Philip’s rank and, apparently, give him control of the children.
This episode was easily the series’ most heartbreaking – and also quite possibly its best. Elizabeth was all but a nonentity in it, save one rather tense scene, but Charles springs forth for the first time as a central character, albeit not one who reflects on his parents well. As we have done for the last few recaps, we’ll capture the gist of what happened and then delve into how much of this is accurate. Spoiler alert: this episode and the next one have garnered some of the series’ most significant criticism for its depictions of moments involving Philip.
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.
A lot happens this episode, which is good news after two episodes that mostly deviate from our main characters. An engagement, a wedding, two pregnancies, a baby and one Palace house party with rock n’ roll and a conga line. Fantastic. I am going to offer a slight fact-check to the episode, which does play it a bit fast and loose with timelines, while addressing a few of the issues the episode puts forth.
One issue some had with The Crown’s depiction of Edward VIII in the first season was that it attempted to hold his love affair with Wallis Simpson up against Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend as a direct parallel. In doing so, the political concerns that many in Edward VIII’s government had about him were ignored and by that, of course, I mean his known affection for Germany and seeming tolerance for Nazis.
Normally I like to recap these episodes by focusing on the actual show as opposed to fact-checking, but in this case I’m going to deviate. This covers such a specific moment in time that I think it’s worth drawing out what was going on, particularly as the episode ends with a short epilogue on Lord Altrincham.
As depicted, in August 1957 a piece called, “The Monarch Today,” ran in a small publication, the National and English Review, which was written by Altrincham and criticized not only the Queen but the courtiers surrounding her. Altrincham already had a reputation for near heresy thanks to his position on women in the Anglican Church and his lobbying against the House of Lords, which he claimed was full of members unfit to serve. His opinion was given more attention than it perhaps normally would have thanks to his own background, which included an education at Eton and Oxford, a title and service as an officer in the Grenadier Guards.
We’ve spent the first three episodes focused almost exclusively on Elizabeth and Philip (with a little dash of the Suez Crisis), but now we turn to Margaret – a shift imparted to us by the score of “Princess” in the opening scene and Matthew Goode riding in on a motorbike. Fair enough. We’re at a country wedding that Margaret is attending sourly while the photographer, Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones, is snapping pictures of random hands and shoes. Look, if my wedding photographer pulled that crap, I’d probably end up quite annoyed.
I think we can safely say Charles and Anne are getting a hell of a lot more screen time this season than they did the last. Heaven help us, but Elizabeth has been shown actually interacting with her children on multiple occasions. Shocking. But before we we get to that, let’s start at the beginning.
There’s nothing quite like a divorce scandal, is there? This time, of course, it is Mike and Eileen Parker, and the latter’s inability to live one more day in her sham of a marriage is enough of a threat to the House of Windsor to compel Tommy Lascelles out of retirement. Frankly, I was glad to see him because no one else quite captures the incredible snobbery and pained realism that defines the very Palace hounds Philip hates.