Charles struggles at Philip's old school
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Hello, it’s Sara V, here, taking over for the final stretch. (True story: A category on Jeopardy last week was prime ministers during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and I nailed it. Thank you, The Crown!). Anyway, let’s dig in: Were you thinking: Gee, the queen is fascinating to follow as a character and ruler but what I really would like is an episode just about the male members of the house? Well, then, you are in luck because this episode takes a long hard look at the inner workings of young Prince Charles and his father Philip — both as an adult and as a child. (I’m convinced — convinced — that this episode is some serious foreshadowing to three seasons from now when The Crown tackles the Diana years and her death. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

We begin with seeing that our young prince is struggling at school. Kids don’t seem to like him. The queen is told that other boys that age can be cruel. (Um, that age?) Charles is…different. He’s shy and sensitive and delicate. She’s advised that Eton is the right place to send him to school and you can see she’s relieved. She tells Charles — who is equally psyched — that he’ll be within sight of the castle and can come up the hill and sleep in his bed. They just need his father to sign off. Oh yeah, about that…

Charles writes to his uncle Dickie about how happy and relieved he is. Dick writes back — with a really sweet tone we’ve not really seen before — about how lucky Charles is. He takes Charles shopping and there’s a Pretty Woman-like montage straight out of Kingsman. The posh clothes make Charles stand just a little bit taller. He almost beams.

Philip comes bounding up the palace steps in good, long, athletic strides, a trophy cup in his hand. He and Elizabeth banter cutely about rich people sports and she tries to casually slide in the news that Charles is going to Eton. Over my dead body, Philip more or less says, in the kind of way that makes it clear there is no wiggle room. He later breaks the news to his son that his former school, Gordonstoun, is what made him the man he is today. (If Elizabeth sniffed somewhere off camera, we did not hear it.) He tells Charles that the palace life he’s in is not the real world and Charles must say goodbye to those nice clothes in exchange for some drab jumpers instead.

We have our first flashback to a young Philip — handsome, tall, pouty — and you can tell just by looking at him that this is a very different kind of kid than the one he will one day have. He’s in Germany — we can tell by all the Nazis standing around him — and he complains that he doesn’t want to go, doesn’t want to leave his beloved sister. His favorite sister. The best sister ever. (Got it? He loves this sister.) She’s going to fly him to school even though she hates flying so much she wears black in case it turns into her funeral. Inside the plane they hit some air and she freaks out — a lot of people are screaming in German which, I can tell you, is never ever calming — and Philip holds her hand. Turns out the reason he’s being sent to Scotland is because his father thought he should be educated by a genius, like Dr. Hahn. Of course Dr. Hahn is a Jew so couldn’t stay in German for obvious reasons. (Ugh.) As usual, the rich have very interesting logic when it comes to right and wrong and individual choices.

Philip flies Charles to school himself, quietly carrying on a tradition he doesn’t verbalize. Dr. Hahn is still there and is happy to see him. Philip is beaming as he booms out a cheery halllooo to the boys, and takes a deep, satisfied breath that the school is still so gray and cold. He tells Hahn he doesn’t want his son “mollycoddled” in some luxury hotel. (Mmmm, luxury hotel.) The boys have given Charles his father’s old bed by the window.

Back in England, Elizabeth watches the news covering Charles’s arrival and about how the school is famed for some TriWizard-like tournament. On the first night Charles discovers the bed by the window is actually the worst as he gets rained on all night and snapped at by the boys when he tries to stay dry.

We flash back to a morning when young Philip didn’t want to get out of that same bed. He complains about the cold and coughs in the damp Scottish air and runs in mud and, gotta say, I’m with the boys here — this looks real unfun. However, Philip’s stubborn streak is an impressive thing to behold. Even though he’s freezing, he shows those boys he can take whatever is dished out and stands under the ice cold shower with a look on his face like, How you like them royal apples? Charles may not have inherited this streak.

Yet Philip continues to resist the ways of the school, brooding by the window and refusing to do assigned tasks as he deems it beneath him as manual labor. Seems like we know who the real mollycoddled namby-pamby was, no? The other lads tease him, using some fun sharp barbs about his sisters being Nazis and the like. Philip fights one of them and gets tossed out the window. He arrives in Hahn’s office with a bloodied lip and a dark expression. Hahn, who seems like a good dude, tells Philip to think of this place as a haven away from the madness (good on him for not being like, Well your family DOES like Nazis and tossed me out of my own dang country). He tells Philip the world needs saviors.

Philip calls his sister and she’s sweet and tells him she’s expecting a baby and that he can come and spend the Christmas break with her. She then has to go back because the Nazis are partying. (Next: Charles and Philip each struggle)

Back with Charles: He runs the same mucky cold course his father once did, but it seems to be going less well for him. Uncle Dickie has come to visit! Hooray! Dickie sees (and hears) how rough things are going at this school and tells Charles he can confide in him. Of course, this information goes right back to Elizabeth, who has made a decision: She’s pulling Charles out of there. She says that he’s the future king of the country and Philip just about loses it. He basically threatens the state of their whole marriage if she proceeds: “Honor your word and keep your husband.” Yeow.

Hahn comes to visit Charles and to talk about this big upcoming tournament. Turns out, Philip will be the one handing out the trophy this year, which is just the kind of extra pressure every super sensitive kiddo needs. Hahn gently tells Charles that perhaps the young prince should not compete, it is a very tough competition. But Charles, with a soul-weary sigh, says that he thinks his father wants him to do it.

Flash back to broody teenage Philip. He and the boy who punched him have extra wall-building time, and on the phone to his beloved sister he tells her he won’t be able to come home. She tells him that she agrees with the school and will instead be flying to London for a wedding. DUN DUN DUN.

And man, this plane crash story is so brutal I really don’t want to recap it. Let’s just say it’s awful, with an extra special layer of horror in that Cecile gives birth during the crash (and take a moment to imagine going through labor while your plane is crashing) and so a newborn is found in the wreckage as well. Dr. Hahn tries to walk Philip through the horror but there’s really no way, and he runs out of the room. He can’t stop imagining the crash and he leaves school still in his pajamas and jumps in a boat. When Dr. Hahn and the boys go looking for him, Dr. Hahn calls out that the school will now be his family.

We get to see a really nicely done montage of the funeral in German set to Mozart’s requiem. The Nazis sure know their pageantry, I guess, and here’s where we get to the foreshadowing thing: We watch Philip walk solemnly behind the coffins of his family past the crowds and the cameras. Surely this will come up in The Crown season 17 or whenever when William and Harry must walk behind their own mother’s casket? But anyway, poor Philip. His dad blames him for his sister’s death and also lays it on pretty thick that she was his favorite child.

Philip returns to the school. He’s grieving and raw and gets up in the middle of the night to tackle the wall on his own. Dr. Hahn watches thoughtfully. The young boys are moved, and want to help but Hahn tells them to wait until Philip asks them to. Finally Philip dramatically walks in and asks for help. The boys all rush to help complete the gate. Okay, so it’s understandable why Philip feels so strongly about this school — it really did save him and it really was there for him during the absolute worst moments of his life. Why he didn’t just talk to his wife about this, who knows? His love for his son makes him want Charles to experience something similar, but of course Charles is a different stripe of animal. What father and son haven’t struggled with this lesson?

It’s the day of the tournament and, yeah, this is going to go pretty terribly. Charles is not up to it and the private detective who trails him seems to be the only one who really knows. Philip arrives and is all pumped. The other boys start to return and Philip greets them but keeps looking at the door, waiting for Charles. There’s a young, blond chap who Philip recognizes as being the same kind of dude as himself (imagine if that’s the son he had), and yet there’s still no Charles. Where is he? Crying behind a pillar.

The detective leads Charles in to the hall, and Philip’s eyes narrow just a little, and he hits the word “courage” in his speech just a little too hard. Charles shrinks into the warm embrace of the stranger paid to look after him. He gives his father a profound look of suffering.

Maybe Philip feels badly? He flies Charles back home and gives a little pep talk about being proud of him and of Charles showing great determination and etc., etc. Charles isn’t listening though because he’s about to you-know-what in his pants because the plane is doing that air-hitting thing that feels like crashing. Philip brushes it off and is actually trying to talk to his boy about his sister and flying and how the school toughened him up and it was a gift. Charles is all: What? Can’t hear you through my silent screams. Philip barks at him not to be so bloody weak, and Charles crawls further back into the plane to cry.

Elizabeth watches as they return. She sees Philip pick up their daughter and swing her about heartily, as Charles smiles shyly at the house staff who came out to greet him. She shuts the door.

We get a handy little epitaph to this episode: Prince Charles remained at Gordonstoun for a further five years. He later described it as ‘a prison sentence’ and ‘absolute hell.’ When it came to his own time as a father…Charles sent his sons to Eton College.


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