The spotlight was eased on Queen Elizabeth and her husband in episode five, as The Crown turned to focus on Princess Margaret. Still heartbroken, still partying, she’s spending her time in a drunken, miserable haze. One half-hearted marriage proposal falls through but in a positive (?) turn, she finds herself swept up by an assertive fashion photographer. Naturally for the rebel of the family, it does come with its own scandal.
It was a joy to see more of Vanessa Kirby again, as she perfectly manifests Margaret’s rage and wide-eyed agony, as well as her haughty demeanour. An eternal contrast to her older sister, The Crown’s Margaret is jealous of the decision-making that comes with Elizabeth’s role but simultaneously oblivious to the freedom she can enjoy. Princess Margaret’s real-life routine, such as it is, is something that a ruling monarch certainly couldn’t have enjoyed. Nevertheless, Margaret’s life is a tragic one, set on a course of further heartbreak and an unbridled restlessness.
When her future husband Anthony Armstrong-Jones sweeps in, he’s a direct contrast to the man that she’s still grieving. Portrayed by period drama staple Matthew Goode (seen in films such as A Single Man, Belle and The Imitation Game), Anthony is outspoken, expressive and a little bit mean. Peter Townsend, by contrast, was far more repressed – as Peter represented the decade before, Anthony is an early indication of the swinging sixties to come.
On paper and on screen, the photographer certainly seems like a match that would make sense. It’s reflected in the costumes too, as Margaret shows up to his studio in a fashion-forward jacket that is far from the traditional royal outfits. From what we now know however, they were to be an explosive combination, destined to make headlines and in the fantastic last few minutes of episode five, already were. Margaret’s candid photo makes The Times, shocking some royal family members and delighting the fabulously exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The episode is careful to also draw comparison between Margaret’s burgeoning romance and Philip and Elizabeth’s rocky marriage. Still healing from their rough few months, the lack of romance and passion in the marriage becomes even more apparent in the light of Margaret’s open heart. Meanwhile, the prime minister Harold Macmillan is dealing with his own marital troubles with his wife Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire. Unknown to the public, she had been carrying on an affair and her husband is both aware and unable to do anything to stop it.
Prioritising the stories of romantic relationships over political context and wider discussion may be a divisive choice by Peter Morgan. It does risk bridging into ‘soapy’ territory, rather than highbrow drama, as well as attracting criticism of how far its artistic license spreads. That said, it does make it compelling and as someone who loves the odd rich, gossipy story, this is a little indulgence for those inclined.