After four episodes of world traveling and scrutiny over the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s marriage, we return to London and now turn to…more talk about marriage. But along with it, we get an excellent dose of Princess Margaret, who gets the bulk of this episode’s arc and crosses paths with a handsome photographer who (spoiler that’s not a spoiler because history!) will soon enter the palace’s inner orbit.
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But before Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) can strike up their romance, we’re given ample evidence of the younger princess’ continued unhappiness, as she sulks and drinks through an acquaintance’s wedding (where Tony was the photographer, coincidentally) and defeatedly accepts a marriage proposal from Billy Wallace because, as he puts it, they’re friends and her family would accept him. Sure enough, when she calls her sister with the news, she gives the union her blessing and offers to let Margaret announce the news at Elizabeth and Philip’s 10th anniversary party.
This episode has marriages all over the place. Elizabeth and Philip reflect on what it means to be married a decade, Prime Minister Macmillian discusses the “special relationship” between U.S. and Britain as a marriage with its own sorts of ups and downs, and his own marriage is shown to have issues too — namely that his wife has been having a decades-long affair that he is aware of. She agrees to stop, but he later overhears her telling her lover that she can’t bear to be with her husband anymore and only wants him. Ouch.
Suitable impending engagement aside, Margaret still longs to break away from the monarchy’s stuffy traditions, including the stuffy birthday portraits taken by the same photographer year after year. It’s all very posh, with elegant gowns and flowers everywhere — the sort of look her mother and the photographer, Cecil Beaton, say the public wants to see from the monarchy. (Cecil makes a hilariously out-of-touch plea, asking Margaret to imagine a scullery maid who sees this portrait in a newspaper and it gives her an escape from her hard life. Do it for Cinderella, your highness!)
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And, of course, the engagement to Billy doesn’t go far at all — before they can even announce it, she gets word he’s been injured and can’t make it. She goes over to his house, and he explains that, well, word of their impending nuptials made other women take notice of him and it all went to his head. He openly admits to having a fling with an actress and says that a friend got wind of the indiscretions and challenged him to a duel, shooting him in the leg. (In Billy’s telling, he went in bravely, but flashbacks show the truth: dragged there drunkenly, crying and without shoes.) Watching Margaret’s face crumple into shock, disgust, and disappointment is heartbreaking, as is watching her have to fight back tears at her sister’s anniversary party. Afterwards, she totally melts down, stumbling drunk around her room while listening to Ella Fitzgerald. (Recap continues on page 2)
It’s enough that when her lady-in-waiting invites her to a dinner party, one that will be filled with “normal” people, Margaret jumps at the chance — so long as none of them breed horses, own land, or know her mother. (Pretty good list of requirements, right?) At the party, she feels out of place because she doesn’t know anyone, and it’s there that she meets Tony, who gives her intel on everyone else in the room and shows her some of the photographs he’s taken. Intrigued by him, she asks if he’ll take her picture and he agrees, with the condition that she comes to his studio and does everything he says during the session. Later, she tells Elizabeth that she likes him, in part because he seems to have contempt for the royals and what they represent.
At his studio, Tony makes efforts to unsettle her before he begins taking her picture — leaving her alone in front of the camera while he throws things around upstairs to make noise. When he returns and begins photographing her, he says he can’t find her essence because she doesn’t know who she really is. When he mentions Peter Townsend, however, he gets the real emotion he was looking for and gets the shot. When they develop it together in the dark room, she tells him her initial guess about his sexuality was wrong, and at the end of the night he takes her home on his motorbike. Even if you don’t have a working knowledge of the British monarchy, you can tell these two are gonna get together.
Her night is a stark contrast to Elizabeth and Philip’s, as we see them stoically removing all the medals and trappings they had to wear to a state function and then going to sleep in separate beds. The photograph of Margaret hits the papers the next day — a stunning shot in which she appears to be naked. It’s a real photo, but the timeline is slightly off: The real-life one was taken in 1967, after she and Armstrong-Jones were already married. Historical accuracy aside, it’s definitely giving her sister and the rest of the palace a jolt.