TV Review: The Crown: Gloriana

The Crown

S1, E10: ‘Gloriana’

In which Elizabeth should really ask for her money back from Eton.

Grade: C-

Well, that happened, I suppose. A disappointing finale to a mostly strong season has Elizabeth failing as a sister, her new Prime Minister failing as a diplomat, and Philip failing at adulthood. At least young Charles caught a fish on his umpteenth try. That’s something, I suppose.

“You are sisters above all else, and must never let one another down.”

The main story of the episode brings the Margaret/Townsend situation to a head. Margaret has waited the requisite two years until her twenty-fifth birthday and is still keen on Townsend. Elizabeth calls him back to the UK, and is happy…right until Michael Adeane murmurs that there is ‘another hurdle’. You see, there are two parts of the Royal marriages Act: Margaret doesn’t need Elizabeth’s permission anymore, but there is still the matter of Church and Cabinet. When Elizabeth asks why she wasn’t told, Adeane parrots Lascelles’ line ‘It’s always been there in black and white, ma’am.’ Which…yes. Yes, it has. And one of the supposedly greatest Constitutional scholars in the land might have been expected to know that. Dammit, Elizabeth, you had one job.

Elizabeth tries to find a way out of the situation, but – while a himself-divorced Eden is sympathetic – the Church is way less malleable. And in general, by the way, Elizabeth’s negotiation in this episode consists of this:

Church/Philip/Margaret/whoever: This is our position.

Elizabeth: Are you really sure?

Church/Philip/Margaret/whoever: Yes.

Elizabeth: Oh. Okay, then.

It is immensely frustrating. Elizabeth already looks dumb with the Royal Marriages thing, and this episode has her looking weak as well. She spends the whole episode wringing her hands about her duty as a sister versus her duty as Queen. Various people (Philip, Lascelles, Elizabeth herself) tell her, each other, or us that her problem is that she is a sister and a Queen. We get it. We got it the last time you devoted an episode to that dilemma too.

“Everybody wants you happy, stable and fulfilled. They wish I’d just disappear.”

Ugh, Philip. Nothing better exemplifies the lack of craft of this and the previous episode than what has happened to Philip. Philip’s petulance and entitlement are huge parts of his character, but so is an elusive charm and accurate political insight. All that’s gone in this episode, leaving only a whiny tool complaining that nobody loves him. He is told sharply by his mother-in-law that well, yes, actually, the family has noticed that he is not keeping her daughter happy, and guess what, she has a job to do, so suck it up. Just as you think he might be a little chastened, you discover that he is going to do as he’s told (open the Commonwealth games in Australia), but he is going to make an intolerable grievance out of it. Whatever, man.

“I will always be half-King. My tragedy is: I have no kingdom. You have, and you must protect it.”

Thankfully, we get a look-in from the always-welcome Alex Jennings as David, giving Elizabeth good – and thankfully on-screen – advice about the situation. In one of the best exchanges of the show so far, he outlines Elizabeth’s problem: Elizabeth is the Queen. It will always define her, and she can’t lose that part of herself now. What she can lose is her throne. And she may not like being the Queen of Great Britain, but it is no life being a Queen with no subjects.

It’s a typically dark, typically perceptive bit of dialogue, and it singlehandedly saves this episode from a D-grade or worse. Whether or not you are convinced by the monarchy (I’m not), at this point it doesn’t matter. Elizabeth was raised to be a certain thing, and without it, she doesn’t know what else she is. She forbids Margaret’s marriage, and Vanessa Kirby does a wonderful job showing Margaret’s hope turn to consternation and rage at the betrayal.

Going forward, however, the show has rather cut off its own central conflict: between Elizabeth Windsor and Elizabeth Regina. Elizabeth has chosen Regina, because otherwise who is she? But then it’ll be difficult to sell me Elizabeth Windsor putting up much of a fight at all in subsequent episodes. Presumably then the next few seasons are going to be less about Elizabeth versus Elizabeth, and far more about Elizabeth versus Cabinet, Elizabeth versus Diana (obviously), Elizabeth versus Paparazzi and Elizabeth versus the Changing Institutions of the Country. All of which are interesting, but I confess I wish Elizabeth versus Elizabeth had been more of a fair fight.

Historical notes

The show has essentially amputated bits of the Margaret/Townsend story to force it into the ‘Sister Versus Queen’ narrative. Let’s make a list:

  • Elizabeth and Eden actually worked out a plan whereby Margaret could marry Townsend and keep her allowances and place in the Royal Family, although giving up her place in the succession. Eden explicitly stated that the Queen ‘would not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness.’
  • However, Margaret herself elected not to go through with the marriage. This is because of her strong Christian principles – which Townsend alludes to, but which the show chooses to elide. I guess they wanted an ‘Elizabeth vs Margaret’ story, but in point of fact this was always a ‘Margaret vs Margaret’ story.
  • The letter Townsend reads out in the episode renouncing Margaret is actually a paraphrase of Margaret’s own letter renouncing Townsend. Weirdly, the show chooses to have Townsend thank the Royal Family for their support. Margaret’s own letter pointedly only called out Townsend for thanks. You’d think the show would have seized on that.

Odds and sods

  • Oh yeah, Philip thinks Charles is ‘a girl’ because he can’t fish or something. Cookie randomly shows up to cluck over what a terrible father Philip is. Shut up, Cookie.
  • Margaret sniffles that Townsend grounds her – that without him, she’s ‘lost’. She is? All we’ve seen is some G-rated carousing – and that, by the way, was when Townsend was still in the country. I get that the show is setting up Princess Margaret’s famous later Bohemianism, but if it’s trying to sell me on heartbreak causing it, it’s not doing enough.
  • The show seems to suggest that the Suez crisis was caused by over-polite British and touchy foreigners. Ugh.
  • Press photographers race after Margaret and Townsend, veering dangerously close to get a shot. Remind you of anything?

 

For more of my posts about The Crown, see here.

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