Picking up from the slight mid-season lull, episodes 6 and 7 of The Crown succeed with excellent character studies and the exciting prospect of Queen Elizabeth learning how to be in charge around a crowd of manipulators and flatterers.
The focus for episode 6, titled “Gelignite”, was Princess Margaret and the culmination of her affair with royal equerry Captain Peter Townsend. It’s a treat, not least for the fact that we get our first dramatic (solo) gallop on horseback, courtesy of the Princess. Horsey fans may be slightly disappointed that we haven’t yet seen the monarch herself on a pony yet, not least because of her lifetime status as a devoted equestrian, but it’s a great shot nonetheless.
It was in this episode that the budget, production design and costumes really began to shine, possibly in part due to the director Julian Jarrod, whose CV includes other popular period drama films Becoming Jane and A Royal Night Out. In fact, it was in the moment then we witness a full vintage passenger plane take off from a runway that the insane budget that Netflix has funnelled into this series became more apparent than ever.
The rest of the episode is similarly stunning and we get a full shot of Elizabeth in that distinctive dress seen in a lot of promotional material. It’s gorgeous – the kind of stunning Grace Kelly-realness that could match the red carpets of 1950s Hollywood.
The symbolic use of colour in the costumes, used carefully so far, really became even more apparent as the episode focused further on the contrast between the dutiful Elizabeth and the restless Margaret. The Queen is placed in dark, subdued colours that mimic the weight of her responsibility, whilst the princess is dressed in light, detailed fabrics that represent her romantic, dreamy outlook.
The eventual outcome of Margaret’s love affair is a tough one to witness, with The Crown‘s portrayal reflecting the common perception of the Princess as a tragic figure disappointed by others. The object of her affections comes across in a less positive light – in fact, as knowledge of the affair grows, Peter Townsend seems to revel in the attention and his manipulative air casts a new light on his original intentions.
Episode 7, ‘Scientia Potentia Est’ is slightly slower, as it shifts focus to the politicians. Both Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden are unable to perform their work due to ill health, but desperate to keep their position, they both conceal this from the Queen. Bossed around by her private secretary and already pushed into hurting her sister, Elizabeth cracks when word of the deception reaches her.
As previous reviews have mentioned, The Crown has been very effective in keeping the dutiful, restrained Elizabeth as the quietest in the scene. However, there’s definitely some delight in watching her take charge of her education, recognise her own worth and put the condescending politicians in their place. Claire Foy, who has always delivered fantastic performances in her many roles for the BBC, really portrays her transformation beautifully as a woman owning her hard-won conviction.
The last scene with Churchill in this episode is particularly strong, with John Lithgow portraying Churchill as both a scolded child and ashamed man. He physically shrinks, clinging to the walking stick as if it’s all he has left. You’d almost feel sorry for him if he hadn’t spent most of the season so far making the young Queen feel about two inches tall.
After quite an intense hour, the episode ends with a spark of humour and the reappearance of Matt Smith’s rogueish Prince Philip. Only three more episodes to go – I’m already excited to see where the focus lies in the next few.