Episode 8 of The Crown brought me to something of an epiphany. Despite positivity among many, some of the reviews circulated online of this series have decried it as dull. At times, I get an inkling of it, and I realised why. As much as I enjoy my gossip, this show is, and was never going to be, an expose of the royal family’s affairs.
This is part due to the fact that we know their gossip already, know the main plot points and the developments around it. Not only that, but many of the real life subjects of this show are still alive – to create a plot strand that is too scandalous would amount to libel. As a result, it becomes a character study but little else, with the created fiction never stretching far from what people had already surmised.
For example, we’re never going to see Prince Philip play the field, despite the many theories circulated by tabloids over the years. He may have always stayed faithful, but if The Crown believes otherwise they’re stuck simply implying by having Matt Smith’s character disappearing to his ‘gentleman’s club’. It’s a feature that marks this period drama as remarkably different from other shows, and will mean that it’s likely to bore those in search of new gossip. However, for fans of this kind of drama, The Crown remains very strong.
Anyway, back to the episodes. episode 8 focused on the central family trio of the Queen Mother and her two contrasting daughters. The Queen Mother escapes from the reminders of her grief as a widow and goes on a visit to Scotland, where she stays with friends. (One of those friends looked very familiar and after a bit of research, I discovered she was played by Caroline Goodall, Princess Mia’s mum in the Princess Diaries! This ‘royal connection’ pleased me for some reason). We also get a wonderful scene as they ride dramatically across the Scottish coast – what a treat!
Those wide open spaces were contrasted effectively with the rigid buildings of the palace as Margaret takes charge whilst Elizabeth is touring the Commonwealth. The Queen is very much on edge this episode – worried about the Princess damaging reputations at home, she’s having to contend with an extremely grouchy husband. We also get a reminder of the paparazzi at that time – then a very new concept – as Elizabeth and Philip get filmed in a fraught argument. She starts negotiations to remove the footage – the kinds of negotiations that the Queen and every celebrity will soon have to get used to as part of their routine.
This episode also treats us to a wonderful quote that sums up the drama so far. When criticised by Philip and feeling pressure on all sides from opinionated relatives and politicians, she replies with the statement:
‘I am aware that I’m surrounded by people who feel that they could do the job better. Strong people with powerful characters, more natural leaders perhaps, better suited to leading from the front, making their mark, but for better or worse, the crown has landed on my head, and I say we go.’
The penultimate episode of the series balances the growing marital tensions that we thought had been resolved last episode, along with the Churchill and his seemingly never-ending fight to retain power. If I’m honest, I’m getting more than a little tired of the political storylines by this point, not least because the way Churchill and Eden bicker is incredibly childish, but also because their pathetic power-hungry natures are no different from the politicians we have in charge now. This pettiness is too real to enjoy as part of the drama.
Elizabeth and Philip are on very strained terms, with the deliberate inclusion of Churchill’s happy and devoted relationship with his wife to act as a contrast. In the end, as so often seems to be the case, the Queen puts her cards on the table and simply hopes that her husband will match her dedication. It’s honest and understandable – although there are times when they could both cope better, their position in the world puts their marriage under an intense pressure that most would struggle with.
With its adherence to moderation in the face of living subjects, there are a few that might have been turned off by The Crown by now. However, period drama fans will love the beauty of it, as well as the fantastic writing that brought us speeches such as the one above.