The Crown recap: Season 1, Episode 8
PREVIOUS: Episode 7, “Scientia Potentia Est”
While we are often reminded that the central conflict of the first season of The Crown is between Elizabeth the woman and Elizabeth the Queen, the eighth episode focuses on another pair of women in opposition: Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret.
That opposition begins with the teaser, wherein the Queen Mother tells her daughters that she can’t bear to give a speech at the unveiling of her late husband’s statue. Margaret, still resenting her sister for having sent Peter Townsend away without saying goodbye, argues that she, as her father’s favorite, deserves to deliver the address; Elizabeth dismisses her sister’s insult, however, with the reminder that she is the head of the family, and says she will speak at the ceremony. When she goes low, you go high, Your Majesty.
After that sad scene, Winston Churchill watches another, in the form of newsreel footage of anti-British riots in Gibraltar. The Queen and her husband are about to embark on a tour of the empire, and many of their advisers think that Elizabeth isn’t ready for a diplomatic endeavor of such scale, in such a fraught political environment. But Churchill’s not having it: “What is it you would have the Queen do? Stay at home in the wake of minor incidents prosecuted by insurgent rabble?” he says, as only he can. “What kind of a signal would that send?”
So it’s decided: The Queen is going abroad, and she’ll need a whole new wardrobe to do it in. Cut to Elizabeth, checking out the 100 dresses, 36 hats, and 50 pairs of shoes she’ll take on her travels — and that’s not to mention the sprigs of wildflowers, indigenous to each country she’ll visit, with which she will accessorize. Even modest Elizabeth can’t argue with an actual government directive to look her best. Who is she to say no to that?
Philip is decidedly less pleased with his wardrobe, which he makes clear at his “costume fitting,” where he complains about being recruited to give a shiny, smiling face to a dying empire. “Nobody wants to face it or deal with it, so they send us out on the Commonwealth roadshow,” he says bitterly. “If the costumes are grand enough, if the tiaras sparkle enough, if the titles are preposterous enough, the mythology incomprehensible enough, then we’ll still be fine.”
These back-to-back scenes, with their twin fixations of style and empire, make the heart flutter as they raise the hopeful question: Did Peter Morgan write this to be The Fashion Episode we’ve all been desperately waiting for, to make it the spoonful of sugar to help us swallow The Colonialism Episode we all suspect needs to happen eventually?
Alas, there are a few lovely dresses and a lot of international travel, but no; the greater drama of “Pride & Joy” is more local, and less outwardly visible. The stage is set for some sisterly competition of royal proportions when the Queen Mother tells Tommy (Tommy’s back!) that she would rather not be Elizabeth’s deputy while the Queen travels, and would prefer for Margaret to fill the role instead.
NEXT: The Queen’s on candid camera
Elizabeth doesn’t like her sister’s deputation, but her mother admonishes her that she needs to be more generous with Margaret, and give her “a chance to shine; she needs to shine, that one.” Elizabeth is becoming a better monarch every day, but especially shiny she is not, and her mother’s reproach reminds the Queen that she is not the charismatic sister, just the older one.
The tension ramps up as Margaret practices bestowing an accolade, one of the queenly duties she’ll be assuming in her sister’s absence, with Elizabeth standing in as the recipient. Turns out, she needed the practice: “That’s a little firm. And it’s the flat edge, remember?” Elizabeth says in a quietly hilarious moment. Margaret lets her have it — and not just with the sword. “I’ll try not to upstage you,” she says, then qualifies, “I can’t promise I won’t bring my own character to it…that’s the advantage of having a character to bring.”
The Queen, miraculously, remains poised throughout Margaret’s taunts, and next time we see her, she’s boarding the aircraft to embark on her tour and doesn’t appear to be a steaming pile of sisterly rage. Churchill bids her bon voyage with a chilling pep talk: “Never let them see the real Elizabeth Windsor,” he tells her, invoking the series’ grand theme of her dual existence once again. “Let them look at you, but let them see only the eternal.” So… no pressure.
One might think that the sisters’ anger toward each other would wane with all those miles between them, but as Philip reminded us when he took charge of Elizabeth’s coronation, the monarchy makes for great TV. As Margaret watches from home, her determination to outshine Elizabeth only intensifies when she sees her sister deliver a perfectly majestic performance in her diplomatic duties. For her first engagement as the Queen’s deputy, she rewrites a speech — though it had been “carefully calibrated to avoid giving offense,” as Martin tells her — to capture her personality, filling it with winking jokes and shout-outs to various attendees.
The newspapers love it, and the green-eyed monster is revived within Elizabeth when she reads about her sister the “dazzling host” while in Australia. She and Philip have been overscheduled and are exhausted, but she refuses to drop one single engagement from their calendar. “What is it you’re trying to prove? What is it you want to hear him say?” Philip says, referring to her father. “’Now, finally, I love you more than I love Margaret’?”
That’s where the Queen finally breaks. She shrieks at her husband, throwing a vase and a badminton racquet at him and chasing him outside the house they’re staying in — where they find a camera crew catching the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the Queen Mother is visiting friends in Scotland, where she is enjoying being away from it all and can finally confide in someone about the loss of her husband, her daughters, and her old life. When her friends tell her of a nearby castle that is becoming vacant, she looks into it for herself. The current owner, a somewhat eccentric Scotsman, knows her face but can’t place her, and she doesn’t let him know who she is. The pleasure she takes in being only herself, and no longer the Queen Mother, is evident, and plays as the inverse to the loss of self her daughter feels in becoming Queen.
Elizabeth walks out to speak to the journalists who captured her marital squabble. “What would you like me to do for your newsreel?” she asks, offering what she can in exchange for their silence. In a moment of true mercy from the press, which has been so hard on Elizabeth’s family, the cameraman takes the roll of film out of the camera and gives it to her as a gift.
NEXT: Would you rather be pride or joy?
Back in London, the papers might have been delighted with the public Princess Margaret, but the P.M. is not. Churchill reprimands her, drawing parallels between Margaret’s “individuality” with that of her uncle, whose insistence on doing things his own way nearly ruined the family. “You can’t seriously be comparing this to the abdication,” the Princess scoffs, in an exchange almost identical to the one between Elizabeth and Tommy in the previous episode, in which he told her that her appointment of Martin as her private secretary, despite his junior status, was the kind of small break with tradition that eventually led to bigger, more disastrous ones.
Elizabeth accepted Tommy’s advice, but Churchill doesn’t give Margaret a chance. He simply calls the Queen Mother back from Scotland and has her take over for her daughter until the end of Elizabeth’s trip. She and Philip return victorious, the tour deemed “an unqualified triumph” by the P.M.; Margaret, however, is not thrilled by the Queen’s success.
In one last scene together, the sisters leave things even worse than they had been before. Elizabeth rebukes her sister for her attention-seeking behavior, but Margaret just responds with more insults. They will never agree on what the Queen ought to be, so their argument shifts to their own resentments of each other. Margaret envies her sister’s place in the spotlight, which Elizabeth finds oppressive; Elizabeth is jealous of her sister’s freedom, which Margaret would certainly argue she does not have.
Finally, Margaret plays her ace — that she was their father’s favorite. The sisters remember that he used to say, “Elizabeth is my pride, but Margaret is my joy.” But which of those is greater?
- The episode ends with the Queen Mother back on the Scottish coast, happily looking out over the cliffs. So it looks like we might be seeing less of her.
- Royal world tour problems: Elizabeth is self-conscious about her resting bitch face, and Philip woke up in the middle of the night to discover he had been waving to adoring crowds in his sleep.
- Disappointing as it was that this wasn’t the fashion episode those early scenes hinted at, there were some sartorial victories: Elizabeth’s many floral tour dresses, especially the white dress with the big red roses, were lovely, but Margaret stole the spotlight once again with the beaded strapless gown she wore to deliver her rewritten speech in. She shines, indeed.
- When Martin lectures Margaret about the speech being carefully composed so as not to offend anyone, there was a glimmer of hope, for a brief moment, that this lesson might give her a newfound sympathy for her sister’s difficult position, and perhaps make her realize that Elizabeth’s apparent lack of personality is due to her own character being smothered under the weight of the crown. But, uh, that didn’t happen.
- It turns out that everyone was nervous about Gibraltar for nothing, but there was a lot of buildup to that particular stop on the trip with little payoff. It would have been nice to have a more pointed confirmation that those fears were unfounded.
- When Churchill speaks to Elizabeth on the plane before she and Philip leave for their tour, he mentions that the last time they tried to take this trip, it was cut short by her father’s death, and in a small moment toward the end of their trip, Elizabeth makes the note that she would like to refer to Malta as “the island of my happy memories” in a speech. The reminders of Margaret and Philip’s past happiness together only highlighted the tension that exists between them now.
- Before she was relieved of her duties as the Queen’s deputy, Margaret called Peter and encouraged him to sneak back to England to see her in action as she filled in for her sister. That can’t be good.
- Who else wants to go to a party hosted by Margaret?
Episode grade: A-
NEXT: Episode 9, “Assassins”