Elizabeth and Philip's marriage is on the rocks, and Britain's conflict with Egypt comes to a head
Season 1 of The Crown ended with a very lonely portrait of Queen Elizabeth — literally and figuratively. Philip, still bitter about his upcoming trip abroad, brusquely walked away from his wife, leaving her standing alone as she had her portrait taken. That final image perfectly summed up that season, capturing the strain the crown placed on this marriage.
Alas, Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage is in an even rockier position when season 2 begins, which is unfortunate for the characters, but fortunate for us because it makes for great drama. The new season opens with a flashforward to 1957. Elizabeth and Philip are aboard the royal yacht, which is docked in Lisbon and surrounded by paparazzi, and are barely speaking to each other as rumors about their marriage continue to swirl. It seems as though Philip’s tour of the Commonwealth hasn’t helped squash said rumors, and now they’re both more miserable than ever. Because divorce isn’t an option, Elizabeth tries speaking openly to a very distant Philip about their problems and asks what it will take to make him happy in this marriage. But we don’t hear his answer. Nevertheless, this was a strong opening scene, and I loved the use of silence. Their sentences were curt, and the tense and weighty silences, along with the camera’s distance from them, told you everything you needed to know about the current state of their marriage.
From there, the episode jumps back five months to seemingly happier times. Philip seems happier about his impending world tour than he was in the season 1 finale. Moreover, we actually see the royal couple show each other some affection, which, and forgive me if I’ve forgotten, we haven’t see much of in quite some time. But things can’t stay this way. Elizabeth tries surprising Philip with a gift, a video camera, which she hides in his briefcase. Unfortunately, while placing the gift in the briefcase, she discovers a photo of a ballerina. Given her husband’s restlessness and the fact that he’s been spending so much time with the Thursday Social Club, Elizabeth immediately assumes he’s having an affair, and this casts a pall over Philip’s final days in the country, as she grows colder and more distant from her husband. As always, Claire Foy turns in an amazingly restrained performance; her face rarely betrays how upset Elizabeth must be feeling about this discovery.
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Once Philip leaves, Elizabeth finds herself alone once again, so she turns to her sister for company. Given what happened in season 1, you can imagine that doesn’t go well. Margaret, whose drinking has increased tenfold, is still very salty and shows up to brunch drunk (bitter drunk Margaret is my FAVORITE Margaret). Obviously, Margaret is sardonically amused upon learning of Elizabeth and Philip’s marital problems, and she even adds fuel to the fire by mentioning that Philip’s private secretary Mike has a bad reputation. Apparently, he spends time a lot of time with a guy who arranges gentlemen’s weekends with actresses and ballerinas. (Next: Another crisis)
This episode paints a very unpleasant picture of Mike, whose marriage contrasts somewhat with Philip and Elizabeth’s. While Elizabeth hopes Philip’s royal tour will be good for him, Mike’s wife Eileen isn’t happy that her husband is leaving her and the two children for five months, missing birthdays and an anniversary in the process. Unfortunately, Mike drops the ball and doesn’t even call his children to wish them a happy birthday while he’s gone. Elizabeth hasn’t heard from Philip since he’s been gone either.
But Elizabeth’s marriage isn’t the only thing that’s in crisis. Following up on one of the dangling threads of season 1, the Suez Crisis arrives in the premiere. Egyptian President Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal, which sends Britain into a tizzy. Prime Minister Anthony Eden decides the best course of action is to regain control of the canal through military action because it would not only help ensure Britain’s standing in the world but also help him step out of Winston Churchill’s shadow. The only obstacle is that Britain and France don’t have the support of the U.S. or the U.N., both of which are crucial. Dickie Mountbatten catches word of Eden’s plan and decides to warn Elizabeth about it.
Shortly after this, Israel invades Egypt, which raises Elizabeth’s suspicions; Israel wouldn’t wage war on its own since it’s worried about damaging its standing in the world. Elizabeth brings it up with Eden, who admits that it’s part of a plan that the British, French, and Israeli governments came up with: Israel was to attack Egypt on its own, giving the Anglo-French alliance a reason to invade Egypt. Why is Eden so eager to invade without U.N. support? Well, because he’s convinced that Nasser is a fascist just like Mussolini and Hitler and wants to take them out. He asks if he has Elizabeth’s support, and she says yes. But, to be fair, what would have happened if she had said no? As we’re often reminded on this show, the crown has symbolic power and is such a burden, but it has little power when it comes to matters like this.
As the episode ends, an upset Elizabeth returns from the ballet, which she attended in order to get a look at the woman she thinks is Philip’s mistress, and closes the door to Philip’s room, effectively cutting him off. Sure, there may be a sitzkrieg situation at home, but there’s open conflict abroad as the British begin the air raids on Egypt.