S1, E8: ‘Pride& Joy’
In which Elizabeth loses her damn mind, and I guess we have to care about the Queen Mum now?
The Crown finally turns its lens on to the women of the Royal Family. Unfortunately, it may be too little, too late. An otherwise intriguing and very quotable meditation on roles and perceptions is lost amid persistent questions of ‘But where is this coming from?’
“I am the head of the family.”
We kick things off with a quick sketch of two of the major themes of the episode: what Elizabeth’s accession may mean for her sister and mother, and The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry. George’s statue is being unveiled, and Cookie doesn’t feel up to delivering a speech. Elizabeth and Margaret get into an immediate pissing match about who gets to speak instead. And just as you’re muttering ‘Elektra complex’ to yourself, Margaret literally says she ought to do it because Daddy loved her best. (The show isn’t subtle, but at least it doesn’t pretend to be). And – er – what? We haven’t gotten any hint from their previous interactions that they were both vying for Daddy’s attention. I buy that their relationship has rapidly soured, but this particular angle is new.
Anyway, Margaret runs to Mummy – as head of the ‘Femily’ – to resolve the issue, and Elizabeth officiously reminds everyone that, actually, she is Head of the Femily, and she will be delivering the speech, thankyouverymuch. Which she does, with all the flair and elan of your least-favourite Civics lecturer. But this declaration of rank sets into motion the plots for both Margaret and the Queen Mother. Let’s take the Queen Mum first.
“Loss has followed loss.”
Cookie is finding the strain of life after George too much to bear, and heads off to the Scottish coast. Where she breaks down tearfully to her guests about the ways in which George’s passing have left her bereft: the loss of not only a husband, but a home in Buckingham Palace, and an anchoring set of duties with which she could busy herself. Specifically, she suggests that George, while a terrific husband and father, ‘needed a lot of help’. Is she referring to his stammer? To actual policy and rule? And how much of this is true, and how much of it is Cookie’s nostalgia?
Her little breakdown also has two plaints that a less sympathetic listener (e.g. me) would probably regard as at least a little bit her own fault. When she says that the Crown has passed to a young woman totally unprepared for it: well, didn’t you say that you and George raised Elizabeth as you saw fit? And when she complains that all her duties are being taken from her just when they ought to be giving her more to do, it’s hard to forget that the episode opens with Cookie saying that one speech is too much for her, and furthermore that she is in Scotland now while Elizabeth herself is on a Commonwealth tour. During which Cookie ought to be staying in London and taking on ceremonial duties in the Queen’s absence.
But in general I give the show this much credit: I’m sure Cookie’s self-deception is part of the point. Her larger problem is that her daughters are growing up – with her eldest in particular swathed in impressive though largely ceremonial power – and she isn’t sure of her role or her place anymore. Which is all well and good, except that we have seen no evidence of any of this before. No tussle for power (however symbolic), no real sign of the Queen Mum’s reluctance to relinquish her duties or her responsibilities. Nothing. We’ve spent episode after episode checking in on Churchill’s death-grip on power. We spent one third of an episode over whether Philip would kneel to Elizabeth. Couldn’t we have worked in some references to the elder Elizabeth having difficulty with being the Queen Mother rather than the Queen? I get that we have one whole entire female protagonist, and passing the Bechdel Test too often might give people ideas, but something?
“I’ll try not to upstage you.”
Since Cookie has fled to Scotland, where she will be pouting over not having enough to do (……. Sure.), Margaret will be filling in for Elizabeth instead. There is a fantastically campy (in a good way) scene where Elizabeth coaches Margaret on how to knight people, with Elizabeth kneeling and Margaret throwing barbs at her with the sharp end of the sword perilously close to all sorts of important veins. Margaret needles Elizabeth about her guilty conscience, but the thrust (ahem) of the conversation is about how much better Margaret will be at Elizabeth’s job than she is. And there is no denying that in that moment the comparison is quite painful between prim, diminutive, pearl-clad Elizabeth, and tall, glamorous Margaret silhouetted perfectly in front of a window, sword point down like she’s about to star in Kill Bill via Mad Men. Elizabeth bites out that “too much character. An excess of character” is a bad thing, but she is clearly smarting as she heads into the Commonwealth Tour.
“If the costumes are grand enough, the tiara’s sparkly enough, the mythology incomprehensible enough, the titles preposterous enough, then all must still be fine.”
Ah yes, the Commonwealth Tour. Downing Street is a little nervous about increasingly insistent demands for independence across the territories – especially in Gibraltar. Michael Adeane (her new secretary) doesn’t want to subject Elizabeth to the risk, but Churchill thinks that they shouldn’t patronise her. Of course, his actions are motivated entirely by his newfound respect for Elizabeth and have nothing at all to do with his desire to stare the obstreperous territories into submission. Uh-huh. Sure.
So Elizabeth is sent to stare, appalled at the expense, at one hundred very lovely gowns, with their assorted shoes, bags, hats and flowers native to the countries she is visiting. And Philip is fitted for an entertainingly ludicrous costume with an actual I-shit-you-not tricorne hat. Philip continues to be the only member of the Royal Family to exhibit even a glimmer of perspective about Britain, Empire, the Commonwealth and the role of the Crown. In an infinitely quotable monologue, he nails the desperation and the futility behind the pomp and circumstance of the Commonwealth Tour, and the monarchy’s role in it. Britain is a country that can’t get used to not being an empire (and Brexit suggests that it still isn’t used to the idea). And because the country – and Churchill – can’t let go of former glory, the Royals have to be wheeled out to give the masses the ol’ Razzle Dazzle. It’s not obvious for whose benefit it is, the Commonwealth or John and Jane Bull back home, watching on their new television sets. But Philip is right on the money when he intuits that his wife (and he) are a lick of paint on a broken-down jalopy.
But, of course, for every flash of accurate and progressive insight, Philip has to treat us to a world-class tantrum. He behaves throughout the Tour like a child on a long car-trip, kicking the front seat and whining ‘Are we there yet?’ Every pithy ‘Stay loyal or die’ following a gracefully threatening speech to the natives from Elizabeth is immediately followed by ‘Can we knock off now?’
In his defence, they are on what looks to be a punishing schedule: twenty-three weeks, twenty-one locations, nary a minute to themselves. And while Elizabeth may well be determined to put her best foot forward for Britain and the Crown, she has another reason for her doggedness.
“Now, finally, I love you more than I love Margaret.”
You see, Margaret has been cutting rather a dash while standing in for Elizabeth. She is light, funny and charismatic – everything poor dutiful, plodding Elizabeth is not. And Elizabeth, remember, does not like to be upstaged. Philip – once again saying a true thing in an awful way, like a douchey (literal) Greek chorus – tells her Margaret’s bound to fuck up soon enough. But still, Elizabeth slave-drives herself through a punishing schedule in the unforgiving Antipodean sun, going so far as to have her face injected with paralytics so that she can keep that vague benevolent smile pinned to her face without pain. Philip’s Dickish Greek Chorus-ing reaches its apotheosis as he jibes that Elizabeth is driving and poisoning herself to get Daddy to finally say that he loves her more than Margaret.
And Elizabeth finally snaps, throwing glasses at Philip’s head and chasing him out onto the verandah – right into the press photographers following them. The couple instantly snaps into position, but they’ve been spotted. Elizabeth suits up and asks the photographers what she can do for them…and they silently hand her the incriminating reel. She accepts it with gratitude (while I try to imagine a modern-day paparazzo showing the same courtesy, and nearly dislocate my brain). She’s dodged the bullet this time, but what about next time?
“Elizabeth is my pride, but Margaret is my joy.”
The Tour ends in Gibraltar – where apparently the Royal Couple’s safety cannot be guaranteed, should they choose to go. Philip has been told (and why the hell wasn’t the actual Queen?) and wants to cancel, but Elizabeth wants to go. And – far more effectively than her impressive outburst earlier – she states her commitment to her duty. She knows that she is a halting, un-magnetic figure for something so romantic as a monarch, but she knows what she must do, and she will do it. There is something magnificent, and deeply moving, about this bloody-minded devotion to an idea above oneself, and it almost retroactively sanctifies the degrading imperialist zoo of the Tour. Okay, not that, perhaps. No, actually not. Elizabeth is flagellating herself either to spite her sister, or – worse – in service of a moribund, paternalistic and exploitative institution. Team Dickish Greek Chorus. But there’s still something rather fine about Elizabeth’s commitment to the idea of the institution she embodies.
Because Margaret may care about the institution, but is also rather good at making herself the story. Her initial appearances are lapped up by the papers, but she burbles about her relationship with Townsend and is cheerfully bitchy about her sister. When she makes unguarded remarks about workers’ rights at a colliery, Churchill has had enough and the Queen Mum is hoiked back to clean up her daughter’s mess. In the meantime, Elizabeth has done all her homework kept every single one of her engagements on the Commonwealth tour and has been sent to the top of the class. On her return, Elizabeth receives her gold star from Churchill and not-at-all-gleefully calls in Margaret for a chiding. The show then spells out for us the pain and limbo of not having a role, of being defined exclusively in opposition to someone else. Elizabeth needs Margaret to fuck up. Both Elizabeths. And I fear it’ll happen now.
Franco was prodding an uprising in Gibraltar, and was apparently particularly angered by the claim staked by the Commonwealth Tour.
Odds and sods
- Philip apparently woke with his arm out from under his clothes. He was waving in his sleep.
- “You wear uniforms to battle. This is a costume fitting.”
- “Who d’you think you’d be letting down anyway? A koala?”
- When Margaret says she’s putting her own stamp on something, she is rewarded with “Someone else wanted to do that”. Welcome to Elizabeth’s world, Margaret, where anything in life that’s any fun at all is either illegal, immoral, or led to the Abdication.
- Oh yeah, Cookie is almost-recognised by someone who sells her a castle for £100 (and wanted to give it to her for nothing).
- Why is there an ampersand between ‘Pride’ and ‘Joy’?
For more of my posts on The Crown, see here.