We gave it an A-
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It finally happened: King George VI passed away. We knew this was coming, obviously, but it was still emotional and upsetting — both Jared Harris and the show did such a great job of creating an endearing portrait of the man. “Hyde Park Corner” leans into the inevitability of George’s death and peppers some great moments for the character throughout before the tragic event, which occurs midway through the episode.
At this point, the Conservative party is growing concerned about Churchill’s ability to lead the country because of his age. So, Anthony Eden, Churchill’s protégé and deputy, pays King George a visit to ask him if he would speak to Churchill as a friend (or as Albert, which was George’s name before he ascended to the throne) and suggest he step down for the good of the country and party. However, King George VI declines and delivers a great explanation for why.
“I no longer am Albert Windsor. That person was murdered by his older brother when he abdicated,” King George VI says to Anthony, refusing to interfere in the business. Even though, the King is basically a figurehead, he still has some power, but here, he’s choosing to exercise power by doing nothing, which is rather clever. The cherry on top of all of this is that this conversation occurs while they’re hunting and King George makes Anthony walk back to the estate.
However, the moment that truly made me feel for George came shortly after this scene when he and Margaret, who is playing piano, are singing together. It’s a lighthearted and touching moment that has a certain level of gravitas because of that feeling that the end is near. That night, George lounges in a chair and watches a news report about Elizabeth’s arrival in Nairobi for the Commonwealth tour. A look comes across his face like he has accepted his impending death, and he dies in his sleep that night.
And, even in this tragic moment, the show is interested in the small details of how the news of George’s death is received. We see how Queen Mary is informed. We see how the BBC is waiting for Churchill’s go ahead to break the news. We see how every national outlet starts reporting on his death. Some may find the detail unnecessary, but I loved it because it creates such a vivid image of how exceptional this family is.
The episode perfectly captures how news of his death spreads throughout the country and juxtaposes it with Elizabeth and Philip, who are having a grand old time in Nairobi and have no idea that they’re about to receive tragic news. Even though they’re technically on a mission for the crown, the trip feels like the last time they will enjoy their duty. Elizabeth’s face lights up with awe at all of the animals she sees while there and eagerly films everything with the camera her father gave her. And, she and Philip seem incredibly happy to be spending this time together. In fact, the trip provides the show with a good opportunity to allude to the goofy Philip that we’re all used to these days. When they first arrive in Nairobi, Philip calls the King’s crown a hat, which is incredibly cringe-worthy, but a great moment that makes it clear that Philip can be kind of a goofball.
The Crown is not only interested in the interior lives of the royal family, but also in how the people react to them. Even though Kenya is under the thumb of the British empire at this time, its people are ecstatic when Philip and Elizabeth arrive and mourn when they learn of King George VI’s death — which isn’t unlike what would happen when royals visited the colonies. My mother grew up in Guyana, a former British colony, and she remembers when Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1969 (the visit coincided with the death Enid Blyton, a children’s author). When the Queen visited Guyana, there was a lot of fanfare and children put on performances for her; it was a very big deal. But, is that adulation any different than how we treat the royals now?
Eventually, Philip and Elizabeth’s holiday does come to an end when they hear about the king’s death. The episode builds to this moment slowly, since it takes some time for them to find out. It’s particularly crushing when it finally does happen because Philip conveys the news with only a look.
Elizabeth and Philip’s lives begin to change immediately. Martin, their loyal attendant, asks Elizabeth what she wants to change her name to, but she decides to keep her name. “Let’s not over-complicate matters unnecessarily.” Martin says, “Long live the Queen,” and both of their faces drop as the weight of those words hit them. Then, they find out that they have to lose Martin because Tommy Lascelles is his superior and is in charge of handling the reigning monarch.
When Elizabeth and Philip get back to England, Elizabeth receives a letter from her grandmother that warns her of the importance of the job she is about to assume. The message of the letter is rather on the nose, but Eileen Atkins’ delivery combined with the score elevates it powerfully.
“I have seen three great monarchies brought down from their failure to separate their personal indulgences from duty… While you mourn your father, you must also mourn someone else: Elizabeth Mountbatten, for she has now been replaced by another person, Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeths will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is, the crown must win — must always win,” writes Queen Mary to her granddaughter.
And, the crown already starts winning even before Elizabeth’s official ascension: Philip isn’t allowed to escort her from the plane because “the crown takes precedence”; her mother and sister must walk behind her; Queen Mary must curtsy when she arrives at Sandringham House. Even now, the crown has already started to become isolating, which harkens back to Elizabeth’s conversation with her father in the premiere. Elizabeth standing awkwardly as her grandmother bows before her is a striking moment, especially when compared to the beginning of the episode when she was nervous about addressing the people of Kenya when she got off the plane.
“Hyde Park Corner” was also a standout episode for John Lithgow, whose portrayal of Winston Churchill is remarkable. The Crown and Lithgow’s Churchill is eccentric — he makes a young female aid read him his daily briefings through the bathroom door while he bathes — but also stubborn. There’s a remarkable physical change after the death of King George, and it’s the first time Lithgow looks like himself. It’s like the death has stripped Churchill of his pretenses.
Even though he’s grieving the nation’s lose, Churchill knows this is an important moment for him. If he botches his eulogy, which is being broadcast to the nation, that’s the end of him. The pressure is on and he struggles to write, but then his wife tells him about Anthony’s meeting with a king. And, that’s what re-ignites Churchill’s spirit, and he delivers a poignant and inspiring address. That’s what he needed: an opponent. In the premiere, Anthony joked that Churchill still thought he was the father of the nation and was at war, and then here Churchill tells a young aid that he is monster because that’s what he needed to be to defeat Hitler. Like Hitler, the threat of his protégé trying to usurp his power brings out the best in him again. Pairing Churchill’s eulogy with Elizabeth taking her first steps into her new position is powerful, especially because of the score, which never overpowers the action on screen or Churchill’s words about the future.
- In the wake of finding out about her father’s death, Margaret runs to Peter and kisses him and cries in his arms. Despite Tommy, who knows about Peter’s connection with Margaret, advising him not to stay on staff, Peter takes a job offered by the Queen Mother.
- Proof that this was an expensive show: The giraffes, elephants, and hippos in this amazing episode.
- The song Margaret and George perform together is “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.”
- Another example of how unique the family is: King George is embalmed while he’s still in the bed.
- Comparing becoming king or monarch to death is an interesting and effective metaphor.
- Did this episode need to be an entire hour? No, but it’s okay because Claire Foy, Jared Harris, and Matt Smith gave such gripping performances.
Episode Grade: A-
NEXT: Episode 3, “Windsor”