The elegant and stately season 2 premiere was all about Elizabeth and how she was coping back at home while Philip was away on his royal tour. In fact, Philip barely appeared in the episode. Well, now it’s time to shift the balance. “A Company of Men” is almost entirely about Philip and his royal tour. As you can imagine, there are quite a few scene set on a boat, and the show is about as subtle with its metaphors as Jay-Z having Frank Ocean guest-star on a song called “Oceans.”
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As Britain is still reeling from the humiliating Suez Crisis, Philip is having the time of his life on his royal tour. Surrounded by his vulgar private secretary Mike and some Navy men, he travels to the farthest reaches of the world (Mombasa, Kenya; Ceylon; New Guinea) and plays makeshift Olympic games with the “natives,” to borrow Mike’s condescending word. He’s having so much fun that he’s barely spoken to Elizabeth, who is back home in the less colorful world of Britain. They tried calling once, but the connection was bad. Connection, or lack thereof, is an important part of the episode.
Mike is busy chronicling all of their adventures in letters he sends home to their sleazy Thursday Club. Putting his faith in the club’s secrecy, Mike is very forthcoming about the happenings on the tour. Writes Mike, “What happens on tour stays on tour.” Gross.
What’s interesting is that the episode presents Philip as being relatively on his best behavior. Sure, he gets up to dance when one of the women pulls him from his seat, but it’s Mike who goes home with one of them at the end of the night. However, Philip almost slips up when it comes time for him to head to Australia to open the Olympic Games. During a speech, he notices an attractive reporter in the crowd and tells Mike later on to arrange an interview with her because he believes she’ll be friendly.
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But Philip gets more than he bargained for in the interview. Helen King, the reporter, isn’t interested in any kind of puff piece. She wants to know more about him and starts questioning him about his traumatic childhood; from his exile to his absentee father and mother who was institutionalized to his Nazis sister. Philip wasn’t prepared to answer any of these questions and eventually storms out the room and orders Mike to never let his vanity get the best of him again. The script hopes this emotional outburst, combined with flashbacks to the aforementioned traumatic childhood, will make him more sympathetic, and they do, to an extent — as do the distant shots of Philip sitting alone in cabin, and the simple fact of him being juxtaposed with Mike, who is the worst. Unfortunately, the script undercuts its attempt at fleshing out Philip with a very emo scene in which Philip sorrowfully looks at old pictures of his parents on a stormy night as the ship is rocked and throw by turbulent waters. Like I said, subtle. (Next: A Christmas message)
Philip’s redemption arc of sorts continues when the royal ship receives a distress signal from a shipwrecked mariner from a nearby island. They bring the mariner on board and the surgeons operate on him, saving his life. The Flag Officer simply wants to keep going on their way home, but Philip insists on taking the man back to his home because he understands how awful it is to be away from your family (at this point, Philip is starting to miss his). Eventually, Philip wins out and they return the man to an island near Tonga. Naturally, Mike continues to misbehave there and chronicles it all for the Thursday Club — which will come back to bite him and the royal family in the butt. (Thank god this isn’t happening today, or else you know Mike would be blowing up the Thursday Club’s group chat with constant updates.)
Meanwhile back at home, Mike’s wife Eileen, who has long suspected her husband of infidelity, meets with a lawyer to discuss divorce. Unfortunately, she’s told that she can’t get one unless she has evidence he cheated on her. So, Eileen sets out to find some and reaches out to a cocktail waitress named Lily who works at the club. Lily confirms she “spent time” with Mike, and while she’s not willing to take the stand in court and testify, she does steal one of Mike’s letters for Eileen. Eileen was sure her husband was cheating, but she’s still visibly shaken once her suspicions are confirmed.
Alas, Michael Adeane and Martin catch wind that Eileen is seeking a divorce. They’re worried that Eileen and Mike’s divorce could reflect badly on the royal couple and lead people to wonder if Philip cheated on Elizabeth, so they take steps to improve the couple’s public image. Every year Elizabeth gives a holiday speech on the radio, but this year Adeane decides to have Philip give one, too, since he is so far from home.
As usual, Philip is very frustrated about the task because he’s been given strict instructions on what to talk about. But his speech ends up being somewhat cathartic as he uses it as an opportunity to address his wife and tell her how lonely he is on the royal tour. I was moved by the speech, and so was Elizabeth, who makes changes to her speech in order to let him know that his family is waiting for him at home. Finally, there’s a connection, and it’s fitting that a radio facilitates it. In season 1, Philip insisted on the coronation being televised because he wanted the people of Britain to connect with the process, and now the royal couple is using another form technology to chat with each other.