'A piece of fluff' rocks the royals as the Queen weathers her first scandal
PREVIOUS: Episode 5, “Smoke and Mirrors”
Gelignite is a highly explosive substance comprised of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose. Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend’s love affair certainly served as a powder keg of scandal only weeks after Elizabeth’s coronation.
The secretly happy couple watches the Queen greet the crowds at her first Royal Derby while they cozy-up and revel in being in love. Margaret phones Elizabeth asking her and Phillip for dinner with Peter. Afraid of all the listening operators, Margaret refuses to even offer her sister a clue as to the occasion and piques Elizabeth’s interest.
After a day drinking with his “lunch club,” Phillip glosses over some of the more questionable portions of his afternoon, instead telling Elizabeth he was listening to a photojournalist detail political unrest across the world. Yeah, that lasted for about a minute before the slideshow got a whole lot more promiscuous. Elizabeth plays dumb when Phillip starts wondering what this formal dinner could possibly be about.
Margaret is on edge as dinner gets underway and shoos all the servants from the room before finally telling her sister she and Peter wish to get married. Margaret tells Elizabeth, “It can’t be a terrible shock to you,” and asks her sovereign for her permission to marry. Margaret is 23 and therefore cannot marry without royal permission until 25, which soon becomes important.
Elizabeth tells Margaret she’ll have to sort out the logistics as Peter was previously married and is now divorced, but kindly says, “as your sister I’m never going to oppose it.” Margaret is immediately and rather adorably thrilled running over to kiss her sister and the happy princess is soon partying in celebration.
After the congratulations are out of the way, Phillip lets his elitist show when he learns his wife had an idea about what was going on between Margaret and Peter. Phillip thinks Peter is “desperately dull,” but Elizabeth understands the attractiveness of a handsome war hero and family friend. Hey, let bygones be bygones.
Apparently all it took was “a piece of fluff” to bring Margaret and Peter’s happy union crashing down and soon news of the impending scandal reaches the ears of the Queen Mother. Tommy, Elizabeth’s bore of a private secretary basically tattled on Margaret to her mother, instead of telling the woman he serves: the Queen.
NEXT: Elizabeth tries to solve Margaret’s problem – spoiler alert: it doesn’t work
Right before the story breaks, Elizabeth is on the phone again with Margaret suggesting she get married in Scotland out of the jurisdiction of the Church of England. While the sisters are on the phone, Margaret warns that their mother is heading in Elizabeth’s direction to express her disapproval over the marriage.
“Mummy, this is a surprise.” I’m glad to see the Queen has a sense of humor about all this because it’s about to get messy fast. The Queen Mother warns the newly crowned Queen not to mistake her novelty popularity for stable favor from the masses. Essentially the Queen Mother (and Tommy) think Elizabeth should make Margaret and Peter wait two years to get married until Margaret is 25. That way, the couple can circumvent needing the sovereign’s approval as dictated by the Royal Marriage Act of 1772.
According to the plan, Margaret and Tommy would spend their two-year waiting period in separate countries in order to try to downplay the whole thing. That doesn’t work as the affair makes front-page news in the press and now Liz has to tell Margaret.
“Why would you dangle Scotland under my nose?” a tearful Margaret asks Elizabeth, who is in yet another sticky situation where what she wants to do and what she has to do are not aligning.
Peter and Margaret meet up away from prying eyes in a gorgeously shot scene. (Where can I get Margaret’s riding outfit?) Peter reveals that after some negotiating over locale, he’s accepted a post in Brussels, where he’ll serve out the waiting period. First, he’ll accompany the Queen to Northern Ireland and then get a day or two more with Margaret before shipping off. They kiss one more time, and it’s all rather tragically romantic.
Apparently, Peter is now quite the stud because when the royal entourage lands in Northern Ireland, the girls lose their minds. The press pays little attention to the Queen and keeps commenting on Peter’s position as “staff.” It does not help that Peter seems to enjoy the limelight, often posing a little too long for the cameras and Liz takes notice.
NEXT: Elizabeth shuts Peter out and Margaret throws a fit
With his confidence through the roof, Peter starts calling Elizabeth “Lilibet” (her nickname), and at this point even I thought Peter needed to dial it back. I’m not sure calling your future sister-in-law, much less the Queen of England her childhood pet name days after announcing your engagement is quite the way to maintain the support of essentially your only royal ally.
Elizabeth gives Tommy the okay to do whatever he sees fit with Peter. Ouch.
After landing back in England, Tommy immediately sits Peter down and informs him he will pack and be on a plane to Brussels – in three hours. Peter fights to get his 48 hours with Margaret when she returns from Rhodesia, but is denied with a sarcastic “bon voyage” from Tommy.
Margaret receives word of Peter’s immediate departure and promptly looses it, screaming at staff to get her sister on the phone. We’re treated to the sequence from the top of the episode as operators track down the Queen. She’s finally found at Sandringham House and Margaret lets Elizabeth have it. “You’ve been against us from the beginning because you can’t bear to be eclipsed,” Margaret says without giving Elizabeth a second to explain. “You fail to protect me. I will fail to protect you in return. You reap what you sow, sister.”
A line has definitely been drawn. I’ll be curious to see how Margaret’s lack of support affects their private and public relationship. I would not go so far as to say enemies, but let’s go with not-fans. Wallis Simpson and the former king are loving the turn of events.
The episode wraps with the nearly nonexistent Phillip taking off to a “perfectly innocent” house party. Doubtful, very doubtful. Storm clouds are brewing on the marriage front.