Did “The Crown” Shortchange Its Heroine?

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Oookay, let’s get into this. We’ve spent the last month recapping the first 10 episodes of The Crown, but there’s one issue I’ve been saving up for a separate post because, well, I think it warranted more than a tacked on graf somewhere else. Since the show premiered last November it has prompted considerable criticism for how much attention it pays to its male characters at the expense of its supposed central figure: the Queen herself. Following an interview the creator, Peter Morgan, gave, in which he said the second installment would delve more heavily into the psyche of Prince Philip, the (fabulous!) FUG girls went so far as to write up a post denouncing the decision as sexist and tone deaf to its core demographic.

They’re not the only ones and, indeed, as early as its premier it attracted criticism from publications like New York Magazine for the same issue. I had a visceral response to this argument when I was first watching, but after deciding to recap the first season a year later, I decided to hold on delving into it to see if my opinion changed. My friends, it has not, and thus I’m overjoyed to offer this up as an endorsement for making snap judgments whenever you can. As quickly as possible, really.

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The Crown S1: The Assassins

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The main plot of The Crown’s ninth episode centers around Winston Churchill in the months leading up to his 80th birthday and eventual resignation from the post of Prime Minister. It’s one of the episodes that has helped garner criticism of the series for focusing more on the men in Queen Elizabeth’s life as opposed to her, but I have to say when I look back on these episodes it is both this episode and the one preceding it, Pride and Joy, which come to mind. I want to save the question of whether the male characters overshadow Elizabeth for another time, but I will say now that when you are faced with the inclusion of Churchill as a character, how could you make him a bit player when he was in fact so incredibly significant to the early years of the Queen’s reign?

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The Crown S1: Pride & Joy

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And the gloves are off, literally and figuratively, for Elizabeth and Margaret. There’s a lot going on this episode – between Elizabeth and Philip, the Queen Mother and her widowhood, Margaret and Peter – but it all comes back to the two sisters, who only share snippets of screen time at the beginning and end of the episode.

George VI used to call them his pride and joy. Elizabeth was his pride, but (a significant ‘but’ that) Margaret was his joy.

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The Crown S1: Scientia Potentia Est

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We begin with a flashback – are you sensing a pattern? It’s 1940 and World War II is in full-swing. The 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth is visiting Eton College for her regular lessons with the Vice Provost in which he teaches her about the constitution. Really, he’s teaching her the monarch’s purview, but as we later see, her “lane” is never contextualized or grounded in a holistic, comprehensive education that prepares her for the nuance or expertise of the issues and politics by which she will be surrounded as queen.

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The Crown S1: Gelignite

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Gelignite, in case you are wondering, is an explosive gel. How does that fit into an episode wholly devoted to the relationship between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend? Well, presumably the gelignite in this case is the insertion of an “inappropriate” romantic relationship within the institution of the monarchy because, historically, those have a way of blowing everything up.

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The Crown S1: Act of God

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Ten months have passed since George VI’s funeral and it’s December 1952. The episode opens as it closes, with Philip in an airplane being taught to fly by Margaret’s secret boyfriend, Peter Townsend. But this episode actually has very little to do with anyone except Elizabeth and Winston Churchill, though they share roughly the same amount of screen time with the other characters. It’s the Great Smog and behind closed doors it’s the first almost battle royale of Elizabeth’s reign.

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The Crown S1: Windsor

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There are two parallel stories told here and they are both about marriage – more specifically, the necessity of the monarch having support in their consort. Naturally, one of those relationships is that of Edward VIII (“David”) and Wallis Simpson, while the other is Elizabeth and Philip. To a lesser extent, this is an episode about the precarious balancing act asked of a monarch in the tug-of-war between duty and personal happiness. The latter is universal, of course, but it’s an entirely different bag when one of the weights pulling on you in Winston Churchill and the entirety of the British government.

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The Crown S1: Hyde Park Corner

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If the first episode set the stage and gave us our characters, it is this week in which the action really begins. Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen Elizabeth and Britain, once more, is shouting, “God save the Queen.”

It is February 1952 and Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, are beginning a four continent tour of the Commonwealth that will mean months of travel – and months of separation from their home, family and children. I didn’t bring this up in my recap of the first episode, but it bears mentioning here: For all that this show underlines the split between Elizabeth as a woman and Elizabeth as a monarch, that attention is focused on her as a wife, not a mother. Charles and Anne are after thoughts, small child actors running around Malta, Buckingham Palace and Clarence House. Elizabeth isn’t worried about leaving them; she is worried about Philip wanting to undergo that lengthy of a tour. It’s too soon to tell in the series whether there is a larger point being made about her parenting, but I have a feeling there is.

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