It’s crunch time for the royal marriage in The Crown, as word gets out about the Duke of Edinburgh’s private secretary, Mike Parker. Parker’s wife has decided to go ahead and file divorce on the grounds of adultery, leading to a lot of press speculation for the royals by association. When the reasons of the separation gets out there, the rumour mill goes into overdrive as to whether Philip might have been as ‘restless’ as his best friend whilst travelling together.
The Crown is, of course, pure period drama, centred around a historical basis and set in a very specific time. It’s episodes like this that remind you just how much time has changed, and how alien the setting now seems. The idea that an employee’s marriage breakdown can inspire a leap into rumours about the Queen’s husband seems like a stretch too far these days, but it appears that even the mention of the word ‘divorce’ had a very long reach 60 years ago. Our now diluted attention to celebrity as well as a different attitude to divorce does mean that these stretches aren’t made so much. This entire scandal documented in The Crown stands as a signal as to just how far protocols have changed.
Such are the rumours in this episode, that Philip returns to Elizabeth with hat in hand and in disgrace. In the end, their terse conversation glimpsed in episode one brings us to an unprecedented negotiation so that the marriage can survive – by giving the Queen’s consort the title of Prince for the first time. It’s been painful to watch Philip bite back at his unequal marriage, largely because the brunt lands on a woman who is simply working with the power that she’s been given. Unique amongst all other unions in the country of the time, he can’t be the patriarch, or even the equal hand in the family. Now, that discontent would rightly be a feminist issue but back then, it’s easy to feel both uncomfortable and ever-so-slightly understanding about how he reacts to the pressures of that society’s conventions.
That discomfort doesn’t go away for Philip after getting what he wants, either. Sitting in a silent hall on a newly embossed throne, he now looks at the faces of an establishment that has grudgingly bowed to his wishes. He’s the rebel and whether they do actually resent them or it’s all in his own head, he knows that he’ll forever feel like the outsider. Judging by those final scenes, Philip’s restlessness is unlikely to end – this title might just be another winning fight that’s utterly fruitless.
Having been largely centred on Philip and Elizabeth, we haven’t seen much of the rest of the cast so far in The Crown. Fortunately, Claire Foy and Matt Smith are more than up to the job. Foy, in particular, continues to use her uncanny skill of portraying so much with so little visible movement, capturing the rigid sense of duty that deftly separates Elizabeth’s public and private faces.
Writer Peter Morgan also provides his characters with lines so rich, they’re almost overdone. In a discussion with Philip over what royal life means for Elizabeth, Mike Parker points out that when it comes to their son Charles, ‘having a child who, through no fault of his own, represents your own death can’t be easy’. It’s a fascinating concept in the centre of monarchy, and one so rare in life that that it’s difficult to get your head around. The Crown is great at these moments, always using the odd opportunities to remind us of the nature of the establishment itself. After all, the series isn’t called ‘The Queen and Her Husband’ for a reason.
As the motif of shaving in this episode represented the choice to cast off the past, so we must now see whether the events of the last episodes can be truly left behind. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth may have some rebuilding to do, but for those of us familiar with historical events, their own personal dark period is likely to start fading. I say that now – who knows what Peter Morgan has discovered or speculated? I guess we’ll find out.