Beards! Boats! Implied bad behaviour! The Crown takes us abroad in episode two of season two, as we follow Philip on his tour into Australasia. Elizabeth is back home, watching the television anxiously, and she’s probably got good reason. The Duke of Edinburgh goes through the wringer in this episode, but it might just give him just the lesson he needed.
For the first half hour, Philip is all swagger as he settles back into life on a Royal Navy ship. He’s flanked by his private secretary and wingman, Mike Parker, whose wife at home is currently moving towards divorce proceedings. Mike, it seems, has been unfaithful when out at raucous parties with his boss and the exhausted Eileen Parker is collecting all the obvious evidence that the playboy has left in his wake. The problem becomes consequential when his association implies that Philip might not have been faithful either.
At the palace, Elizabeth worries, wondering if her fears about her marriage are true and if time apart might exacerbate the situation further. Philip certainly isn’t acting entirely innocently, catching the eye of an attractive journalist and allowing her an interview with the aim of flirting up a storm.
That all turns around on him when she brings up his strange, traumatic childhood. It’s the stuff of high drama itself, featuring Nazis, asylums and family tragedy, and made even more affecting when you’re reminded that it’s all actually true to life. What is less true is probably this interview, but in a fascinating character study, writer Peter Morgan imagines Prince Philip’s reaction would be if he were confronted with painful memories. They’re brought to life through brief flashbacks, as Philip’s face contorts from a charming easiness to a dark expression of pain and fury. It’s suddenly a little easier to understand this difficult man through the visible trauma that we can now see.
That interview scene was not just important for the character however, but as a greater indicator of the changing role of the media. In season one, Elizabeth managed to convince a camera crew to destroy a reel that accidentally captured an argument in her marriage. Out of respect, they did. This time, the journalist in the interview is far more critical of the royal family, willing to get personal and not content to stand down out of deference. It’s a huge marker of what was to come for the royals, particularly in the eventual escalation of tabloid intrusion.
The drama lightens slightly when Philip brings an abrupt end to the interview, pronouncing that there will be no more journalists and that everyone on the ship must now partake in a beard competition. True royal rebellion!
Despite the promise of facial hair and a lad’s holiday, the memories of his difficult childhood and the reminder of the stability now waiting for him back in London do appear to take their toll. He delivers a Christmas speech (something I never knew happened – you learn something new every episode!) and in it, speaks quietly of focusing on what truly matters in life. His intense, heartfelt speech takes Elizabeth aback when listening and in turn, she alters her speech to follow with a reminder that he’s always got a home to come back to. It’s a perfect moment and beautifully written, whilst not necessarily changing anything of historical record. Peter Morgan’s ability to expand on what little he has and make it authentic really is what makes this show special. That, and Claire Foy, of course.
Despite that moment, the episode finished with a dark turn on the ship’s deck. Philip, still moved by Elizabeth’s response in her speech, turns with dread to Mike Parker, saying that he now feels ‘a little sick’. As man of the navy, I don’t think he’s referring to sea-sickness. Sounds like guilt to me.
As we’ve seen in episode one, there’s a fraught discussion still to come for the couple. As the next episode is entitled ‘Lisbon’, the setting of that introductory scene, I think we might get a little reveal sooner rather than later. Or The Crown might continue to just drop very heavy hints forever – we’ll see!