We lay our scene in fair Thuringian Forest, Germany, in 1945, where a German private named Loesch is showing some U.S. troops to a burial spot. The men dig up a box full of letters, papers, and rolls of film. We later learn Loesch had hidden these during Hitler’s demise and is now giving them up in exchange for freedom in a country of his choice and a generous pension to last the rest of his lifetime.
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Continuing in the aftermath of the Second World War, word reaches the British government via a translator that these documents contain some seriously damning information. Winston Churchill (yay, John Lithgow’s back!) takes the information to the palace immediately. Along with King George, we learn that these are the Marburg files — though, unless you’re a history buff, we still don’t know what they contain. We do know it’s bad though, as the royals are all flustered and believe the papers can never see the light of day, as they’ll bring shame upon the family. What could this report contain? Let’s find out.
In the present day, Elizabeth and her mother are watching American evangelist Reverend Billy Graham on television. Elizabeth is quite taken by him. The Queen Mum thinks he’s a zealot on account of the fact that he’s shouting, and “only zealots shout.”
Over in Paris, it’s the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. Kind Edward before he abdicated, a.k.a. David) and Wallis Simpsons’ dog Trooper’s birthday, and they’ve gathered friends at their home to sing to him. Yes, you read that correctly. Ah, but David is bored by his life of fraternizing with “people of no consequence,” trying on outfits for a costume party, and general frivolity. He decides he needs to return to London to seek employment — and possibly forgiveness for abdicating, if he can wing it. Wallis is pretty fed up with David’s tiresome, delusional ways, but he’s adamant he has friends back home who will help his cause.
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So the DoW writes to ask Elizabeth for permission to enter the country. Elizabeth, who is more interested in organizing an opportunity to meet with Reverend Graham, allows it. On arrival in the U.K., David wastes no time in sitting down to dinner with a group of sycophantic friends who are happy to help him violate the agreements made after his abdication and have started campaigning for his employment. They suggest things like a military title, a position within the board of trade (he likes that less; he think it’s “grubby”), or diplomatic service, like an unofficial ambassador. Basically, it seems David wants a title but no real hard work. He writes a bunch of ugly letters about everyone he encounters to his beloved Wallis, but he thinks all is well and heads to bed hopeful. (Next: The contents of the Marburg files)
Meanwhile, down at the Captured German War Documents Publication Unit at Whaddon Hall, Buckinghamshire (try saying that three times quickly), the Marburg report has been unearthed by a bunch of zealous historians who believe they have a duty to publish the truth, no exceptions. Their boss tells them his hands are tied, but one American member of the team points out that he has access to the U.S. duplicate files. There’s nothing to stop the American government publishing the files if the Brits won’t.
The historian boss, Mr. Wheeler-Bennett, comes to see Prime Minister MacMillan, who then brings the issue to the queen. He tells her the government is left with no choice but to publish the material her father tried to suppress. And now we (along with Elizabeth) go over to Michael for a quick overview of the Marburg files:
Shortly after the war ended, some American troops arrested a German soldier as he was retreating from central Germany. He turned out to be the assistant to Hitler’s personal translator. When his office was being evacuated, Dr. Schmidt (Hitler’s translator) asked his assistant Von Loesch to dispose of all of his top secret archived papers. Loesch burned most of them but secretly kept the most valuable material, hoping to negotiate his freedom and escape trial. Within that valuable material was a file pertaining to Anglo-German relations between Nazi high command and His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor. The royal family did everything in their power to contain the files, unaware a copy had been sent to the Americans, who are now insisting the volume be published.
Elizabeth reads the files while the Duke of Windsor goes to meet with the foreign secretary to seek employment. So when he comes to his niece to ask for the needed green light, she’s all, “You had the greatest chance to serve this country, and you gave it up,” then drops the bomb about knowing what he got up to during the war. He looks so indignant; I don’t know how Elizabeth restrains from hitting him in the face. Instead, she informs him that the papers detail his relations with Nazi high command, and one telegram even states that he was considering publicly going against the government and pledging his support for peace with Germany. In return for his support, the Nazi government would gave him in a house to live out the war in safety in Spain while his countrymen gave their lives. David tries to appease her, saying that there was no indication of the monster Hitler would become and peace was all that mattered to him. He then asks her to make peace with him today and tells her he doesn’t believe the public will believe these lies against him anyway. (Next: The Duke Of Windsor gets his comeuppance)
Unsure how to proceed, Elizabeth turns to her Bible for guidance and then asks Philip his opinion on forgiveness. She thinks it’s time the DoW is forgiven, but Philip is not on board. He advises her to talk to Tommy Lascelles, so off she trots to Tommy’s house, arriving in time to interrupt him playing with his toy soldiers — no, really — and asks if letting the Duke of Windsor back into public life would be a mistake. He believes that she should be in FULL possession of the facts before she decides. And oh, boy, does he have a lot of facts to share. Here are the highlights:
On becoming king, the DoW surrounded himself with renowned Nazis. He shared classified Allied documents with the Duchess of Windsor, who was believed to be sharing a bed with the German ambassador at the time. It got so bad that the government had to stop putting secret and sensitive papers in his red box. Then came the abdication and the promise to retire from public life. Of course, he didn’t do that. Instead, he visited Hitler in Germany. On that trip, they hatched a plan to reinstate the DoW as King of England and give German forces free reign across Europe — even going as far to bring in German troops to quell a colonial rebellion, if necessary. He also visited S.S. training schools and early versions of concentration camps. Oh, and there’s more! When a German aircraft crashed in Belgium carrying Hitler’s entire military plan for the invasion of France, the duke wasted no time in letting his Nazi friends know that Allied forces had recovered priceless information, thereby giving Germany time to change its plans. In less than a month, Paris fell to the Germans. He also told the German government that British resolve in the face of the German aerial bombardment was weakening and that continued bombing would soon make Britain ready for peace. CONTINUED BOMBING.
Poor Elizabeth is royally shaken but sits the DoW down to tell him she’s unable to grant permission for his employment — it’s one of those moments when our admiration for the queen is at its peak. Of course, he’s wretched to her and calls “her lot” inhumane. And here we go: Elizabeth lets him have it. She tells him that the truth about him “makes a mockery of even the central tenets of Christianity” and there is no possibility of her forgiving him. Here’s the mic-drop quote: “The question is: How on earth can you forgive yourself?” And with that, she rings her bell and he is gone. Forever.
The historians are given the go-ahead to publish as the DoW is exiled and Elizabeth seeks counsel from Reverend Graham on what to do when you can’t forgive someone but still want to be a good Christian. He says no one is beneath forgiveness, but the solution is to ask for forgiveness oneself and pray for those that one cannot forgive. Lovely!
After a spot of praying in the palace chapel, Elizabeth is in bed when Philip comes in tipsy after a night of celebrating his wife’s steely attitude (“the heroic way you kicked that wretched fool out”) with the Queen Mother and Tommy. He awards her a gold star from Jesus for ousting Satan, and one from him too.
In Paris, David goes back to his card games with people of no consequence. He picks up a joker and puts down a king. We end on real-life photos of the DoW standing right next to Hitler. It’s chilling.