The Crown season 3 binge recap
Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 3 of The Crown.
Episode 1: “Olding”
The Crown wastes no time communicating the change in its main cast. Presented with a new postage stamp that bears her profile — shown, presumably for our benefit, alongside the old one — Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) observes resignedly that there have been “a great many changes” as the camera takes in her face for the first time. “But there we are. Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”
So let’s get on with it, shall we? It’s 1964, and the election for a new prime minister is the cause of some concern for Elizabeth and Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies); Labour candidate Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins), if elected, would fill his cabinet with “rabid anti-monarchists,” Philip promises his wife before sharing the rumor he heard at the club that the politician was once a KGB spy. Elizabeth dismisses it as idle gossip, but tucks it away in the back of her mind.
While one royal couple appears to be getting on well, another is showing signs of trouble: Much to the chagrin of Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), her husband Antony, Earl of Snowdon (Ben Daniels), skips their lunch together to go take pictures of election day.
Elizabeth meets with art historian Sir Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures (Samuel West), whom she will be honoring with a speech at an upcoming exhibition. She asks for some help brushing up on the Early Modern Period. “And what era are we in now, do you suppose — the frighteningly modern?” she asks. “I think that all depends on the result of the general election today,” he replies smoothly, before surprising the queen with the news that he voted conservative. She tests out the Wilson-the-Soviet-spy rumors on Blunt, and his response unsettles her: “I wouldn’t dismiss them so quickly.”
The queen goes for another visit, this time with a former PM. A bedridden Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) watches election coverage with the glee of a sports fan, though he, too, is afraid of Wilson’s chances. “I think we must face the cold wind of socialism blowing through this land once more,” he says, as only he can. Elizabeth is becoming anxious about the prospect of a prime minister she can’t trust, and gets lost in reflections of how much Churchill’s support and guidance meant to her. “Where would Great Britain be without its greatest Briton?” she asks at the end of a speech, tears in her eyes, only to see that her old friend has fallen asleep.
Well, Wilson wins the election, as history told us he would, and the family isn’t thrilled, as the last 15 minutes suggested they wouldn’t be. He comes to Buckingham Palace for a first meeting with the queen, where he apologizes for winning, certain she’d prefer someone posh “as opposed to a ruffian like me.” While he does seem a bit overwhelmed by the splendor of his surroundings, he also isn’t afraid of her; he makes clear that he knows she’s just a person, albeit one in an extraordinary position. In her continued secret investigation of Wilson’s rumored KGB ties, she pointedly remarks about the suddenness of the previous Labour leader’s death, but he says nothing to incriminate himself.
Dining later with a large party, Elizabeth’s paranoia is fed by a joke that the “unremarkable” Wilson would make a good spy, and Margaret continues to feel neglected and ignored and maybe a little bit hated by her husband. And if none of that were bad enough, the evening really is ruined when Elizabeth gets a sad phone call — Churchill is dead.
The family — and the country — mourns, but more bad news is on the way. When MI5 Director-General Martin Furnival Jones (Angus Wright) tells Elizabeth that they’ve learned of a mole at the top of the British establishment, she is at first unsurprised, though of course upset, to receive confirmation of the rumors. She’s most disturbed, however, to find out that the spy is not in Downing Street at all, but Buckingham Palace — surveying the Queen’s pictures.
It’s honestly so convenient that Sir Anthony Blunt was an art historian; can you imagine a device more elegant than his speech about how paintings can deceive, but time always brings out the truth? The deception isn’t over, though — at Jones’ suggestion, the family keeps quiet about Blunt’s treachery, rather than throwing him in jail, to keep up appearances. Even worse, Elizabeth still has to give her speech paying tribute to him at the exhibition of her collection. It’s a tense address, but not the last big moment for the night. Speaking with Wilson, the queen finds that maybe he’s not so bad after all. He’s no art lover, it turns out. “I’m an economist,” he tells her. “I’m best with numbers. You can trust numbers. They’re honest.” It’s music to her ears.
Less harmonious is a meeting between Prince Philip and Blunt. The queen’s husband tries to threaten the traitor into behaving, but gets a wake-up call of his own instead. Remember the Profumo Affair? Blunt certainly does — it turns out that someone “well-connected in the art world” had obtained the compromising portraits of a senior member of the royal family left in Stephen Ward’s apartment after his suicide. Would be a shame for those to get out, wouldn’t it?
So there you have it. The season premiere was obsessed with the power of time — bringing age, bringing loss, bringing truth, bringing more lies — and launched us into an uncertain future. O brave new Crown!
Episode 2: “Margaretology”
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: That’s right! It’s a Margaret episode!
We open in flashback, with Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens) telling a young Elizabeth that since it doesn’t look like her parents will produce a son, she is heir apparent, and her life will soon change in preparation for her to one day assume the throne. That night, she tells her sister that she doesn’t think she’s up to it, to which little Margaret, a diva from day one, replies, “I could. I’d love every minute.” She begs Elizabeth to tell Tommy: “Margaret Rose can do it. Margaret Rose wants to do it. Margaret Rose was born to do it.”
In the present day, Margaret Rose is going to America. Elizabeth meets her sister and brother-in-law at the airport (getting the bigger cheer from the crowd) and thanks Margaret for fitting in so many public engagements on their trip and for flying commercially, both of which Margaret clearly prefers to do anyway. Inside the plane, Tony and Margaret discuss the sisters’ complicated dynamic. Margaret is “a natural number one whose tragedy it is to have been born number two,” her husband says. “[Elizabeth] knows it, too.”
With the Atlantic between her and her sister, Margaret has some room to breathe and claim the spotlight that she’s so long been denied. America loves her. She’s the star of every party, giving cheeky quotes to reporters (“What are you most looking forward to in America?” “Liberty!”), and attracting fans who call themselves “Margaretologists,” as if she were a pop star with a rabid Twitter following. “What we have witnessed in Princess Margaret is a more vibrant, modern, and engaging version of her older sister,” Antony reads aloud from a newspaper to his wife, who’s loving it.
Then there’s Elizabeth, who’s hating it. But she’s got other problems to deal with. Namely, the British economy is in the toilet. Struggling with a deficit of £800 million, they need the Americans to bail them out. Trouble is, President Johnson (Clancy Brown) has no interest in keeping up the special relationship, especially since PM Wilson didn’t support him over Vietnam. Or, as he expresses it, “You can’t screw a man in the ass and then expect him to buy you flowers.”
Margaret’s moment of fun starts to take a turn, too, when her star-trip antics begin to annoy Antony. She has little empathy for him feeling overlooked when she’s spent a lifetime feeling that way, but promises that once they get to New York for him to promote his book of photographs, she’ll take a backseat and let him shine.
In an effort to win over the Americans, Wilson asks Elizabeth to flatter the president with royal attention — as long as any olive branch offered is bigger and better than anything they ever did for JFK, from whose shadow LBJ can’t seem to break free. A prime invitation to a weekend of shooting at Balmoral is, curiously, ignored. Johnson has no taste for “small talk with fancy people,” or “rules which would involve research and learning and cutting my nails.” Most of all, he knows he would commit some kind of faux pas without even realizing it, and the reports would embarrass him and compare him to his polished predecessor. The raging insecurity on this guy!
When Johnson is admonished for being rude to the monarchy — politicians are one thing, but you don’t just ignore an invitation from the queen — the White House comes up with a new plan: Why not have this sparkling royal sister, already in the U.S., over for dinner?
Neither Wilson nor Elizabeth loves the idea, but they have little choice — if they fail to win over the Americans to the British cause, they will be forced to devalue the pound. Margaret initially refuses to go since she had promised to go to New York, so Elizabeth is forced to issue a command that the undiplomatic princess accept this mission of high-stakes diplomacy, adding that “I would urge you, for once, to play things by the book.”
Margaret doesn’t follow her sister’s advice — and thank god. The inelegant president and bawdy princess turn out to be kindred spirits, of sorts, each of them doomed to eternal second-fiddledom. The raucous party they have together begins with some indiscreet conversation tearing down JFK before leading into dancing, singing, drinking games, and a limerick contest. Margaret wins with the composition: “There was a young lady from Dallas / Who used a dynamite stick as a phallus. / They found her vagina in North Carolina / And her a–hole in Buckingham Palace.”
After that, how can the president not agree — “thoroughly, enthusiastically, unreservedly,” as Wilson happily reports — to bail out the Brits? The queen is glad, obviously, but also seething with resentment. It only worked out “because Margaret was all the things I’d specifically begged her not to be,” she laments to Philip. “All the things I could never be. Instinctive, spontaneous, dazzling.” He sweetly tells his wife that she is dazzling, in her way, but also that “I would pick dependability every day of the week.” After the near-constant tension between them over the first two seasons, it’s so refreshing to see this pair so present and supportive of each other.
Margaret comes home a hero, and Elizabeth offers her some kind of honor in recognition of her success. The princess wants none of it, however; what would really interest her is just to share some royal responsibilities more often. Elizabeth is taken aback but agrees to think on it, and almost comes around — she is overwhelmed, after all, and poor Margaret is so profoundly, existentially bored. Philip, however, breaks down to his wife why it could never work. Tommy Lascelles, of all people, once drunkenly told him a theory about the family. “There have always been the dazzling Windsors and the dull ones,” Philip explains, listing all the good monarchs that led up to his wife and describing the lot of them as hopelessly boring. “But alongside that dull, dutiful, reliable, heroic strain runs another. The dazzling, the brilliant, the individualistic — and the dangerous.”
Margaret can’t take over any queenly duties. That’s been clear since they were children. In flashback once again, Lascelles tells her that her request to take Elizabeth’s place is “unthinkable,” explaining, “we all have a role to play. Princess Elizabeth’s will be center stage and yours, ma’am, will be from the wings.” For a dazzler like Margaret, that’s nothing less than a death sentence.
Episode 3: “Aberfan”
It’s hard to watch the first 10 minutes of “Aberfan,” about the disastrous accident that occurred in the Welsh coal-mining town of the same name in October 1966. On a rainy afternoon, people greet each other on the street; a teacher reminds his students to rehearse “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” which they’ll be singing in a school assembly the next morning. We see a few of the children go to their respective homes, dutifully practicing the sweet tune as they spend the evening with their families.
The next morning brings unthinkable tragedy. Parents kiss the singing children goodbye, some of them running late, and they all start to get rowdy while the teacher takes attendance — just like any other Friday. Meanwhile, a group of miners is alarmed to discover a spoil tip is unstable. They run to the office to send a safety team up there, but they’re too late. They watch in horror from below as the entire mountain slope collapses onto the edge of the town itself. The school is consumed.
Wilson is at a ribbon-cutting at a hypermarket — which he appreciates, tellingly, because it is “democratic” — when he finds out. He exits hastily, and we go from his sleek car to a shot of the people of Aberfan, digging through the wreckage, sobbing as they find their children’s belongings, then to Elizabeth’s gilded office in Buckingham Palace. Martin Charteris (Charles Edwards) brings her the hideous news, having drafted a statement of condolence for her, and asks if she’d like to visit the site of the accident, like Wilson. Elizabeth and Michael Adeane (David Rintoul) are both bewildered by the very suggestion, but the queen is unnerved after Martin leaves.
En route to Aberfan, Wilson’s secretary Marcia Williams briefs him on what happened, explaining that the heavy rainfall had mixed with the coal waste to create the sinkhole, and that there was far too much coal in the tip, which was also far higher than guidelines allow. Wilson is appalled to learn that the head of the Coal Board isn’t taking the tragedy as seriously as he ought to, and presciently observes that “this could turn nasty very quickly,” reminding his staffers that “everything is political.”
Once in Aberfan, Wilson delivers a press conference promising “the highest-level independently inquiry,” but refusing to add anything to his statement. Independent voices in the crowd, which he can’t see with the spotlight on his face, tell him that “we’ve been telling everyone for years those tips were dangerous,” and that “it was a disaster waiting to happen, and no one listened.”
In his room that night, Wilson takes off his dusty dress shoes, visibly shaken. Visiting Buckingham Palace the next day, he tries to convince Elizabeth to visit the scene herself. Afraid to “paralyze” the situation, however, and get in the way of emergency services, she says she won’t. The PM can’t agree with her, thinking she ought to offer comfort to the devastated community. “Children have died,” he reminds her, but she is offended by the notion of performing sympathy. “I didn’t say put on a show,” Wilson counters. “I said comfort people.”
Upon hearing the news, Antony races off to Aberfan. Heartbroken by what he sees, he calls Margaret the following night, asking her to kiss their children as they sleep. When Margaret repeats Antony’s stories to her sister over breakfast, the queen slowly begins to grasp the magnitude of the tragedy, but doesn’t make arrangements to visit.
At another press conference in Aberfan, the crowd takes a Coal Board representative and the Welsh Minister of State to task; they lean heavily on the rainfall excuse, but the townspeople aren’t having it. “’Buried alive by the National Coal Board’ — that’s what I want to see written on my child’s death certificate,” one father cries. Wilson and Marcia watch the press conference on TV, and she tells him that some of his cabinet have asked for him to deflect the blame to the Tories so that their party doesn’t have to pay the political price, sacrificing their still-new power in government. Their argument becomes heated, especially when it comes up again that Wilson was unable to convince the queen to go to Aberfan.
The crown still refuses, but Prince Philip visits on behalf of the family. He stands somber with the crowd of mourners, who sing a hymn as they bury a long row of tiny coffins. That night, he tells his wife of the “extraordinary” experience, the grief and the anger — at the Coal Board and at God. “They didn’t smash things up. They didn’t fight in the streets. They sang,” he says. “It’s the most astonishing thing I’ve ever heard.” And even the macho Duke of Edinburgh admits that he may have wept.
The government had to do something eventually, so they redirect the conversation by alerting newspapers that Elizabeth has been “conspicuously absent” from Aberfan, demonstrating a “scandalous lack of care and interest.” Her team receives a tip that the story will be running. And so she has no choice but to go.
Charteris reminds Elizabeth, after briefing her on her itinerary, that this is not England, but Wales, where “a display of emotion would not just be considered appropriate. It’s expected.” In a red, fur-trimmed coat and matching hat, she visits the ruined school and the church and meets with some of the bereaved, accepting a card and bouquet from “the remaining children of Aberfan.” Go ahead, take a minute to dry your eyes. (She does.)
Back at Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth is ready to give Wilson a piece of her mind. “Churchill would have had the character to do it face to face,” she begins, before calling him out for tipping off the newspapers about her failure to visit Aberfan. He explains that it wasn’t him, and she cools a bit — enough to admit that maybe he had been right to urge her to visit. “They deserved a display of compassion, of empathy from their queen,” she says. “They got nothing.” Yeah, that eye-dab was fake. She confesses to Wilson that she’s never been able to cry, that it makes her feel “deficient.”
As long as we’re sharing secret shames, here’s one from Wilson, the leader of the Labour party: “I have never done a day’s manual work in my life,” he says, after first confirming that none of this leaves the room. “I am an academic, a privileged Oxford don. Not a worker.” He rattles off his refined tastes, admitting that he doesn’t indulge in them publicly in an effort to make himself more approachable. “We can’t be everything to everyone and still be true to ourselves,” he says. “We do what we have to do as leaders.”
After he leaves, Elizabeth listens to the recording of the Aberfan mourners’ hymn that moved her husband so much, and a single tear rolls down her cheek. Maybe she’s got some feeling in her, after all.
Episode 4: “Bubbikins”
In Athens in 1967, we meet an elderly Mother Superior nun working at a convent for which she is in desperate need of funds to keep afloat. On being told the Order must close, she takes a genuine Ceylon sapphire set in diamonds to a pawn shop and tells the pawnbroker to come up with an honest price and she’ll consider selling it to him. Instead of doing that, the broker sends police to the sisterhood, believing this nun is some sort of fraud working for a jewelry gang. Once she explains to the officer she’s not a fake nun, but, rather, a real princess — princess Alice of Greece and Denmark and mother of Queen of England’s husband no less — they soon leave her be.
Speaking of the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip is on tour in the U.S. where he makes a fool of himself during an interview on Meet the Press. When asked about the royal budget, he launches into a self-pity party about the hardships falling on the family now that they’ve been forced to tighten their belts and the challenges of surviving on the existing budget. He suggests they may even have to move into smaller premises (read: palaces) and has the audacity to mention his regret at having to sell a small yacht recently. Heavens! He may even have to give up polo soon! Watching the TV report from a New York hotel, a Northern Irish journalist named John Armstrong delightfully scribbles down the prince’s out-of-touch quotes and calls his editor at the Guardian asking for 600 words on the front page.
Back in the U.K., more and more cabinet ministers are siding against the monarchy, appalled at their expenditure. At their weekly meeting, Prime Minister Wilson expresses his concern to the queen about the cabinet’s response to Prince Philip’s plea of poverty. Prince Philip decides to take things into his own hands and change the public’s opinion with a documentary. Soon, BBC cameras roll into the palace to document the family hard at work in an attempt to demonstrate they are good value for money and are worthy of the taxpayers’ money. The crew trails them as they meet with Olympians, read mail and even watch television together — though it’s horribly staged. Princess Margaret herself makes the point that if it was a normal evening, they’d all be alone in their own palaces and describes it as “new depths of banality” and like some kind of “nightmare Christmas.”
While Philip whines about public perception and encroaching poverty, his mother is living in actual abject poverty and amidst a military coup back in Greece. The foreign office advises the queen to get her out of Greece ASAP but when Elizabeth goes to Philip with this information, he’s against it, believing his mother’s eccentricities would jeopardize the documentary. Luckily, for once, the queen overrules him and they send for Princess Alice’s removal to Buckingham Palace despite the fact that she seems absolutely heartbroken to leave her sisterhood and sobs on the private flight over.
When she arrives at the palace she immediately inquires after her son a.ka. Bubbikins, but is informed he’s indisposed. Left alone in her room, Alice eventually wanders outside to the courtyard to acquire a light for her cigarette and strikes up conversation with the camera crew — which they are hasty to start recording. Noticing from the window, Philip is furious and immediately puts an end to it, still without actually talking to his estranged mother. At least, Princess Anne (the wonderful Erin Doherty, who we meet for the first time in the episode) and Alice bond and Anne endeavors to help her grandmother raise the needed funds for her convent.
A few months later, it’s time for the documentary to be released and John over at the Guardian writes a scathing review, naturally. Here’s an extract: “Even the most ardent monarchist must concede that the strongest piece of armor in the monarchy’s arsenal is its sense of mystery from which derives its air of majesty. The only thing awe-inspiring about this lot is the size of their over-inflated sense of self-entitlement and their ability to practice a line in small talk.” Yes, the reviews were brutal but the ratings were high. Poor old PM Wilson tries to make the Queen feel better about it all, telling her the public doesn’t want the royals to be normal. They want them to be an ideal. Completely turned off by the idea of sharing their life with the public, the Queen tells him mystery and protocol are there to keep them alive.
Of course, Prince Philip has another great idea to combat the negativity! Princess Anne will do an interview with the Manchester Guardian as the subject of an in-depth profile. He thinks it’ll give them a positive endorsement. Indeed, he’s so confident he even requests John Armstrong to conduct it. Luckily, Anne is a little savvier than her father and performs a switcheroo that puts her poor old grandmother Alice under the microscope/phone instead. John and Alice sit down and she candidly shares all the years of terrible treatment she received throughout her childhood when, after being born deaf, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to an asylum. The article goes on to detail the electric shock therapy used on her to treat hysteria, X-raying of her womb to bring on menopause and other atrocities. The headline reading “The Royal Saint” finally encourages Philip to go and see his mother, realizing it wasn’t her fault, perhaps, that she was often absent in his childhood. He apologizes for his faithlessness. She says she owes him an apology; she couldn’t cope when they were forced to leave Greece. He commends her courage for rising above the barbaric treatment and she tells him to find himself a faith; it’s everything. They go for a walk.
Back in the palace, the Queen bans the documentary from being broadcast abroad and stops the BBC from repeating it too. She watches her husband and mother-in-law walk the grounds from the window.
Episode 5: “Coup”
Oh no, chaps, the pound is in trouble! Indeed, the British trade gap is £107 million (whatever that means, it sounds bad). It’s the worst figure on record! Or, so a news report tells us at the top of episode 5, but the government says the figure is distorted and meaningless. Although later, at the prime minister and the queen’s weekly meeting, he divulges that they’re devaluing the pound. If that sounds bad it’s because it is. It basically means abroad the pound will be worth about 14 percent less, so goods bought from abroad will be more expensive.
Down at the Daily Mirror newspaper offices, we meet Cecil King, the chairman of Mirror group newspapers as he sweeps into the building to edit a headline that isn’t a scathing enough attack on the current Labor administration. He changes it to “Enough is Enough” which by today’s standards doesn’t seem so terrible but the Mirror is a Labor-supporting newspaper so for it to turn against a Labor PM is kind of a big deal. At Downing Street, the cabinet is concerned and decides the best response is to make some cuts and redirect attention elsewhere. They land on kicking Lord Mountbatten (Philip’s uncle, played by the imitable Charles Dance) out of his position as chief of defense. He’s been refusing to make cuts and they believe he belongs to another time so has got to go. Mountbatten is extremely perturbed by the news and at a complete loss as to what to do with his time here on out. Luckily, Cecil King has some ideas and cozies up to Mountbatten at an event, asking him to have lunch at the Bank of England to hear a proposal he and his pals have been working on.
And what a proposal it is! These bankers have come up with a plan to put the country back on track by replacing the prime minister and installing a new emergency government. If that sounds like a coup to you, that’s because it is! Here’s the kicker: They want Mountbatten to be the new prime minister. They’re put out by the fact Wilson wants to strip the Bank of England of its powers because he doesn’t want bankers running the country. Hear, hear! We all know how that goes. Obviously, the bankers are not about that life and are proposing a radical revolution led by bankers, businessmen, and the armed forces. Initially, Mountbatten says it’s unthinkable but by the end of the meeting, he wants 48 hours to think it over.
All of this is allowed to run its course because the queen’s attentions are more closely focused on another type of course: the racecourse. Having spent a day at Royal Ascot with her good old buddy Porchey (played by John Hollingworth this season. Remember him from last season? Philip was always a little jealous of his and Elizabeth’s easy manner.), she’s realized her horses are just not up to scratch anymore. So she and Porchey decide to embark on a trip to France and the U.S. to learn from horse breeders around the world. In her absence, she has deputized some of her responsibilities to her mother. Elizabeth is having a grand old time. She’s spending her days talking reproductive management and herd health and she and Porchey share a sandwich and come to the conclusion they need to change their whole approach to breeding. She asks him to be the royal racing manager. Later over dinner, she admits how having such a lovely time has actually made her very sad, as she’s getting to live the life she always wanted to; a life that would’ve made her happier.
Back in the U.K., Mountbatten invites his new banker buddies over to recount a bunch of failed coups to show them the challenge they’re facing. He explains they would have to secure Parliament, Whitehall, the Ministry of Defense, and the Cabinet office, arrest the prime minister, shut down travel and declare martial war — and they’d need a ton of loyal, unquestioning servicemen too to really pull this off. Just when all the rich folks are looking dejected, he adds that a coup d’état in the U.K. doesn’t stand a chance unless they have the support of the queen; the crown has unique constitutional powers that could make this possible. Mountbatten pompously assumes the queen might be compelled to do it if he asks because they’re second cousins.
While not quite enjoying the steak and fries dinner she’s been served in Kentucky, Elizabeth gets a call from the PM to tell her he has reason to believe there’s a plot against him and the democratically-elected government brewing that’s being led by a senior member of her family. Wilson reminds her that tolerance for royal family hanging by a thread and he’s been controlling the republican feeling in cabinet until now but would be left with no choice but to side with them if this coup was to go any further. The queen is raging and immediately jets back to England where she gives Mountbatten a good telling off. She reminds him he still has a role to play in the family that would be a greater service to the crown than leading unconstitutional coups. That’s him told. Mountbatten goes to see his sister, Princess Alice, which, frankly, what he should’ve been doing with his time from the start. She thinks it’s funny he got a dressing down from the queen. Elsewhere in the palace, Prince Philip comes to see his wife and passionately kisses her probably to remind him they’re married and not to spend too much time with Porchey. Sigh, men.
Episode 6: “Tywysog Cymru”
Let’s meet Prince Charles, the future King of England, shall we?
We start things off with Prince Charles (played by the excellent Josh O’Connor, who has the real deal’s affected accent down to a T), happily studying at Cambridge and preforming in Shakespeare plays with his fellow students. A content royal? One really must intervene. Yup, that’s right, it’s time to disrupt him!
With Charles investiture as Prince of Wales looming, Prime Minister Wilson thinks there’s a golden opportunity to be more inclusive and for the ceremony to feel less like a feudal imposition and more like the confirmation of a true native son of Wales. To help achieve this, he proposes Charles make his investiture speech in Welsh. There’s just one problem: Charles isn’t Welsh, nor does he speak the (rather complicated) language. But he can go and study there and learn how to address the country in their native tongue. There have been some separatist stirrings in Wales, so Charles has his work cut out for him. To Wales!
In the town of Aberystwyth, Wales, a Welsh tutor by the name of Edward “Teddy” Millward (Mark Lewis Jones) is forced into tutoring Charles in the language which wholeheartedly goes against his republican nationalist sensibilities. Indeed, it violates every belief in his body, but, as we’ve seen, the crown always gets what it wants so…on with the lessons! Millward treats Charles like any other student; there’s no special treatment here.
Charles and Millward don’t get off to the best of starts when the young prince unwittingly insults the university by being unfamiliar with its prestigious library and Welsh king, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. There’s one particularly cringe moment, where Charles gets carried away reciting tongue twisters while Millward can barely repress his disdain. Honestly, it’s hard to watch. Millward snaps and asks Charles to show the Welsh some respect before he turns around and never shows up again like the last Prince of Wales and the one before him. It’s the kick up the royal arse Charles needs and he gets himself to the library and buff up on Llywelyn. Millward is impressed enough to invite him over to dinner when Charles lets slip he has no plans. (He’s having trouble making friends with all the anti-Royal feeling.) Millward’s wife isn’t super impressed her husband has just dropped a prince on her for dinner, but when Charles bonds with their son and they both notice his look of longing when they affectionately put their child to bed, their sympathies are evoked. Ultimately, Charles and Millward learn to understand one another — though not fully in Welsh. We can’t blame Charles too much, it is a rather complex language and the pronunciation is intense.
Regardless, it’s time for the investiture ceremony and speech. But first, some improvements. Rather than read the palace-approved script that’s been sent his way, Charles asks Millward to edit the speech to include some of his own thoughts — a conversation at dinner the night before about not being spoken down to or told what you want or need struck a chord with the prince. It’s a massively risky move asking a Welsh nationalist to add to his speech in a language he barely understands, but Charles is right to trust Millward and apart from ruffling the queen’s feathers for going off course (a fact she learns later once it’s all been translated for her), the speech is a resounding success in Wales. The people finally feel somewhat heard as Charles’ speech addresses having his eyes opened to the Welsh perspective, their history to be proud of and states that it’s understandable that the Welsh want to hold onto their heritage. It’s important to respect that, he says, decked out in a crown and ermine fur. Wales has an identity, will, and voice of her won.
Before heading off on a tour of the rest of Wales, Charles drops a book of tongue twisters off as a thank you gift to his teacher. Millward tells him he’s done well and Charles’ emotional reaction suggests recognition for effort and compliments aren’t something he’s used to. Millward asks how the changes went down with the family. Charles thinks he’s got away with it since they don’t speak Welsh but on translation, the queen is mad at Charles and doesn’t come to see him on his return to the palace. So he goes to see her and she tells him the similarity between Wales’ suffering and his was clear. “Nobody likes to be ignored,” she quotes to him. He doesn’t think he’s wrong: He’s not seen or heard in the family. The queen says they all have to live without having a voice, it’s their duty. They can’t declare a position or point of view; they’re not entitled to do as a member of the royal family. The less they do, speak or agree the better. Charles doesn’t think that’s so easy for him because he has a character, mind, and will of his own. He can lead by showing people who he is. He has a voice. Well, no one wants to hear it, his mother, the queen, responds. Damn, so cold. It’s hardest to sympathize with the queen when we see her detached mothering.
Anyway, job (well) done, Charles drives back to Cambridge, looking rather teary during the drive. He gets back to his beloved acting, wearing a costume on stage very similar to that he just wore for real at the investiture and playing King Richard II in Shakespeare’s tragedy. “I live with bread like you,” he recites on stage. “I feel want, taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, How can you say to me, I am a king?” There are layers to the s—, folks.
Episode 7: “Moondust”
We’re truly going above and beyond for episode 7: We’re headed to the moon!
The episode opens on Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins being interviewed in July 1969 ahead of their expedition to the moon. Prince Philip is enthralled watching it all on television. Something less appealing to him is church. When the family goes the next morning, he is so bored with it he tells the queen he won’t be returning anymore. Elizabeth concedes the dean has perhaps become a little obsolete and starts to make enquiries to bring in someone new.
The moment of the rocket’s launch arrives and the family gathers at the palace to watch and have a little party, complete with a cake shaped like the moon. They all cheer as the rocket clears the tower. Philip is once more entranced by the whole thing as an “aviation man” himself, staying up late into the night watching all the footage. He’s also clearly having a midlife crisis. When his duties for the next few days are read to him they seem mundane by comparison.
The new, peppy young dean comes is introduced and comes to asks for the use of one the buildings for on the palace grounds for an academy or conservatoire for spiritual growth. Basically, it’s a place where clergymen having midlife crises can recharge, reflect and raise their game through talking, thinking and reading. Philip thinks you raise your game by action but says they can have the building regardless. Once it’s up and running, Dean Woods asks Philip to come and meet the priests and sit in on a therapy group of sorts. The priests bravely share why they’re there, their feelings of inadequacy and what they’re hoping to achieve. It’s a little all too real for Philip and he rudely insults them all, calling it self-piteous nonsense and telling them they need to get off their backsides and do something. Such tact in that man. He tells them action is what defines us and references the astronauts — a.k.a his new gods.
It’s moon landing time! The kids are roused from their beds and everyone sits around the television sipping champagne as Neil Armstrong makes one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. Philip is very invested and anxious while everyone else chitchats and clinks flutes. After the rest go to bed, he stays up late watching more and even sheds a tear. The next days it’s back to reality, making a speech in the pouring rain at the Wool Textile Delegation in Yorkshire. At cracking point, the prince takes his plane out and then, taking over the controls, flies it super high — almost higher than the plane can take. His poor co-pilot is alarmed, hastening to fasten his seatbelt and for sure not wanting to die because of a princes’ midlife crisis.
Luckily, the queen has something up her sleeve she thinks will cheer her husband up. She’s accepted an invitation for an audience with the astronauts. Philip takes it one step further and asks if he can have a private meeting with them. Airman to airmen. Pilot to pilots. With the meeting set, he spends hours meticulously scribbling down questions for Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins, but once he gets in the room with them, he falters. It’s super awkward. The astronauts all have colds and keep sneezing, somewhat dispelling the God-like impression Philip had of them. Philip takes a long time to ask them pretty much nothing, babbling on about evaluating what one has accomplished in life and feeling like he’s not achieved the things he’d like to as a man. He tells them watching these three “heroes” at work was like watching a dream. Talk about fanboying out, jeez. Philip finally asks about their thoughts while they were out there, fascinated by the perspective it must give a person and the observations of their place in the world they made. The astronauts admit there wasn’t much time for all that reflection; they were more focused on getting the mission done. Philip’s clearly disappointed by their surface-level answers and scraps the rest of his questions. Instead, he allows them to quiz him on the size of the palace which has them all mesmerized. Later, Philip shares his disappointment with the queen, telling her, in reality, they were just three little men with colds who lack flair and imagination.
Recognizing that he needs help, Philip finally goes to Dean Woods and the priest support group and opens up about his depression and midlife crisis. He shares that his mother died recently and she was the one who saw that something was amiss with him, that knew that he had lost his faith. He’s realized that without faith there’s only loneliness and emptiness and admits he ridiculed the men previously but is now full of respect and admiration for what they’re doing there and asks for their help. Tobias Menzies delivers the monologue with such subtle and controlled pain that the scene somewhat harrowing in its realness. As the episode ends, we’re told that Prince Philip and Dean Robin Woods became lifelong friends and that for over 50 years St. George’s House has been a center for the exploration of faith and philosophy.
Episode 8: “Dangling Man”
It’s 1970 in Paris and someone has a bad cough. That someone is none other than Duke of Windsor (played now by Derek Jacobi) — you’ll remember him from the last couple of seasons, causing problems for the royal family and plotting with Hitler. His abdication is the reason Elizabeth wears the crown. The duke is diagnosed with untreatable throat cancer and told to enjoy the time he has left but he’s not about to let a little cancer prevent a planned visit from the Japanese emperor. It’s good for appearances so it must go ahead. The Japanese emperor isn’t impressed by the exiled royal but the papers aren’t aware of any ill feeling and write up the encounter favorably. That’s not the only press the duke has planned, he also has an upcoming, in-depth retrospective interview with the BBC in the works.
Back in England, we meet Camilla Parker-Bowles (who’s Camilla Shand at this point, played by Emerald Fennell) for the first time and Captain Andrew Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan). They appear to have an on-again-off-again relationship with Camilla presently mad at Andrew for taking up with another girl. To give him a taste of his own medicine, she declines his invitation to a ball. Andrew goes alone but soon enough is flirting and later hooking up with Princess Anne. One morning after they’ve spent the night together, Andrew tells Anne they should stop seeing one another because she’ll end up getting hurt — that’s what happens to anyone who gets caught up between him and Camilla. Anne tells him she sees it clearly for what it is and assures him she isn’t going to get hurt.
Time for a spot of polo! Lord Mountbatten and the queen mother watch Prince Charles and Andrew Parker-Bowles get competitive on the field while Camilla cheers on Charles from the sidelines. Later, Charles fills in Mountbatten on his recent trip to Paris to see his great uncle. Charles thinks the duke sees something of himself in the young prince. He also tells Mountbatten he wants to snap Camilla up and later persuades her to have dinner with him. She comes over to the palace (causal first date) for dinner. During supper, Charles rants about his lot in life and his destiny to become king, saying until the queen dies, he cannot be fully alive or be the thing for which he was born. Just then a servant interrupts with a note for Camilla. When she opens it, paper birds pop out in her face. They dissolve in merry laughter and Charles admits all his waffling on about being king one day was part of the prank. Sure you didn’t mean all that, Charles? He later tells his sister the evening was lovely. Anne warns him to make sure it stays the two of them playing with Camilla and Andrew and not the other way round.
Back across the English Channel, the duke’s documentary is underway. In it, he tells everyone he stayed true to himself as king and that any attempt to make even a trifling change was met with disdain by the establishment and his family. He believes they fear the character and freedom of thought which he represents. The duke’s condition is worsening quickly and so the queen (who’s on a trip to France encouraged by the new prime minister, Edward Heath anyway) decides to pay her uncle a visit. Hearing she’s on the way, David insists on getting up and dressed to see her. He even stands to greet her — although it literally almost kills him. She tells him he’s always remained her favorite uncle (the others must be terrible) and he tells her he underestimated her, but the crown always finds its way to the right head. He mentions Charles and that he believes she, the queen, doesn’t think he’s up to ruling. The duke thinks that with the right woman by his side, Charles will make a good king. He tells the queen he and Charles write to one another and that Charles really likes Camilla. He also offers her Charles’ letters to read and after initial hesitation she takes them. On paring, the duke asks her to forgive him for all he did to her. She says his abdication did change her world forever but wants him to know it’s not always a curse and she’s not always angry at him for it. Some days she even considers it a blessing and on occasion, she’s found herself wanting to thank him. But he falls asleep before he can hear the last part. She kisses him goodbye.
As the episode draws to a close, we hear a snippet of Charles’ letters discussing kingship and love and the difficulties that go with both. He recognizes himself in the duke, in his progressiveness, flare, and individuality and wonders what a king the duke would’ve made in a kinder world. Charles believes his great uncle was cruelly denied his right to reign alongside the woman he wanted by his side, but says he, Charles, won’t be denied in the same way. The crown is not static; it’s moving. It’s the changing face of changing times and he will wear it on his own terms and make his uncle proud. The Duke of Windsor dies in France with his wife Wallis Simpson by his side.
Episode 9: “Imbroglio”
We’re getting into the home stretch of The Crown season 3, and that means it’s time to really get into the Charles-and-Camilla of it all. As we’ve already seen this season (and, you know, in real life) these two have a long, complicated history — one that gets only more fraught once Diana comes into the story — and now we’re seeing how this early part of their love story came to an end thanks to a royal love-triangle (if we add Anne in, does that make it a square?) and a lot of meddling relatives.
Charles, who saw so much of himself in his uncle, the Duke of Windsor, understands the lengths his family will go to preserve itself and their ideas of what the crown requires. At the duke’s funeral — for which the abdicated king finally gets to return to his native country — Charles is outwardly grieving where everyone else seems more reserved. And then at the subsequent reception, Wallis thanks Charles for writing to her husband at the end of his life and gives him a gift: a pocket watch/compass she gifted her husband in 1939, with this inscription: “No excuse for going in the wrong direction.” Obviously, this is some pointed advice for Charles about his own love life. But she drills down on it with two pieces of advice for the Prince of Wales about Camilla, who was not at the funeral. First, that he should never turn his back on true love — because despite all the sacrifices and pain, she and the duke never regretted it. The second bit? To watch out for his family.
“They mean well,” Charles assures her. “No, they don’t,” Wallis responds. Look at how the group is framed as Charles leaves, to see Camilla and then for naval training at Dartmouth. He’s on one side of the room, hoping to forge his own path, and everyone else is opposite the future king, staring him down. Can we all say “foreshadowing”?
These tensions between Charles and the rest of the royal fam are mirrored against a coal miners’ strike, and the battle between the mineworkers’ union and the government will soon leave the country with electrical shortages and a lot of dimly-lit shots on an expensive Netflix series. The talks are hostile, in part because Prime Minister Heath seems to think if they just wait it out the miners will eventually back down, but he’s making a big mistake betting on that.
Elizabeth, having read Charles’ letters to his late uncle, understands her son feels very deeply for Camilla. Philip is more dismissive: “You don’t love a girl like Camilla Shand. She’s a bit of fun.” And while Charles is totally smitten, Camilla is still torn between him and Andrew Parker Bowles.
So, the older generation takes matters into their own hands. Lord Mountbatten, asked by Charles to help the family come around to Camilla — because in his mind, she’s the one — instead goes straight to the queen mother, who assembles the Shand and Parker Bowles parents to arrange a marriage while Uncle Dickie gets Charles posted on an eight-month assignment in the Caribbean.
Charles, of course, knows his family is behind it — and when he confronts his mother about it, he brings up the family’s history of blocking marriages to people who aren’t deemed “royal” material — and unlike the Duke of Windsor or Princess Margaret, who bowed to that pressure in their respective ways, he vows he won’t. After he leaves, the queen summons her mother and Lord Mountbatten, who argue that the “system” is too fragile to let in “unpredictable” elements, and when the queen still hesitates they pull a final trump card to convince her…
Can we just pause a moment so I can wish I could be young Princess Anne, driving up to a palace while Bowie blasts on the radio? Yes? Great. With that out of the way, she delivers the final bit of ammo needed to seal her brother’s romantic fate. Charles loves Camilla, yes, but Camilla still has feelings for Andrew Parker Bowles — which Anne knows because of her own bit of “fun” with him. If Charles marries Camilla Shand, Anne says, there will always be three in the marriage — a phrase that parallels what Diana, Princess of Wales once said about her own marriage.
That — whether out of protectiveness for her son or fear of a royal scandal, or perhaps a bit of both — moves the queen to agree things should proceed as planned, and she watches as Lord Mountbatten delivers the crushing news to Charles that he’s losing the woman he loves.
And as Elizabeth delivers a speech marking her 25th wedding anniversary to Prince Philip, we see Camilla and Andrew marry — a union we all know is ill-fated — and Charles is sent off to the Caribbean, with his heartbreak and that pocket watch in tow.
Episode 10: “Cri de Coeur”
A cri de coeur — the title of this season’s finale episode — is defined as “a passionate appeal, complaint, or protest.” In the case of this Margaret-focused installment, it also means a Helena Bonham Carter FYC reel. She’s been great all season, but this one really lets her shine.
The episode is bookended by two visits Queen Elizabeth II makes to her younger sister’s apartments, speaking with Margaret both times while she’s lying in bed. The first time, it’s nearly noon and there’s broken glass on the floor thanks to her and Tony’s latest, erm, “exchange of views.” But despite Tony taking up with the woman Margaret refers to as “The Thing,” she says they’ll never split up, not just because of the royal moratorium on divorce but because this is just how their relationship works. “War is our love,” she says. “A brutal fight to the death is our mating dance.” And according to her, they wouldn’t want it any other way.
Except, maybe she does? At her birthday dinner, Margaret asks her assembled family to take her side against him: no invites to royal events, royal photographs, no access to Crown property. And instead of rallying around her, everyone keeps cheerfully small-talking about Tony. She finally has enough and asks why they all take his side, even now at her birthday party and when her husband is out of the country with another woman, and storms off. Instead of following her or apologizing, everyone just keeps on eating and assumes she’ll be fine. (Family dinners, right?)
But her friend and lady-in-waiting, Lady Anne, offers her a lifeline in the form of an invite to the country, as they’ve invited some guests for the weekend. Margaret accepts, but even on the train there she can’t escape Tony. There’s a “love note” from him in her book (this one says, “You look like a cheap pantomime dame” — she reads more of these out loud later, they’re all brutal and cruel), and we see flashes of just how much fighting is ingrained in their relationship.
So, Margaret gets to relax poolside in a fur coat — a real look — and a young man named Roddy Llewellyn catches her eye. She takes to him immediately and whisks him off to buy some swim trunks in the nearby town where nobody is expecting to see a princess stroll through, not to mention with a much younger man in tow. The country trip, and especially Roddy, brings some much-needed happiness to Margaret as her marriage is crumbling.
But that joy is short-lived. Margaret brought Roddy on a tropical getaway, the paparazzi got photos of it, and the British tabloids are having a field day, splashing it on the front page with headlines like “Lady and the Tramp.” The family reacts exactly how you’d expect them to — even if Margaret traveled a long way to keep things with Roddy private, her mother argues, that doesn’t give her cover. And when Tony’s girlfriend sees this as an opening for him to seek divorce, he demurs, because he says she’s still his wife.
Margaret and Roddy come home to a swarm of reporters and photographers, and their idyllic bubble has clearly burst. In the car, when he tries to take her hand, she places it, gently but firmly, back in his own lap. When they arrive at her apartments, Tony is there and refuses to leave. Roddy offers to go and she tells him she doesn't want him to. They start arguing again, calling each other venomous things and going straight back to their old toxic tricks. Roddy runs out and Margaret goes after him, but he’s gone.
While all this is going on, the queen meets with Wilson, who’s been elected prime minister once again but sadly needs to retire because he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s tough news for both of them, as they’ve grown fond of one another over the years. In a lovely moment, she tells him she’d be honored to dine with him at Downing Street before he steps down – an honor previously only given to Churchill.
After that meeting, she gets worse news: Margaret overdosed on sedatives in the wake of that fight with Tony and Roddy’s departure. The queen mother thinks it was just a cry for attention — that cri de coeur, instead of a coup de grace — but Elizabeth is much more shaken by it. Which brings that second bedside visit to her younger sister, asking if she really meant to take her own life. Margaret isn’t sure, but what she does know is this: Roddy is gone, Tony is back with his girlfriend, and she and him will divorce, which would be the first royal one since Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.
Elizabeth notes that if the announcement is timed right, at least, the news might get lost amongst news of Wilson’s resignation. Whoever comes next, she muses, will be the seventh prime minister of her reign. “The rest of us drop like flies but she goes on and on,” Margaret dryly notes.
But Margaret’s actions have shaken the usually unflappable queen. “Of all the people everywhere, you are the closest and most important to me,” Elizabeth tells her. “And if by doing this, you wanted to let me imagine for one minute what life would be without you, you succeeded. It would be unbearable.” So then, Margaret tells her, they must both carry on.
For Elizabeth, that means celebrating her Silver Jubilee — the 25th anniversary of her ascension to the throne, marked on June 7, 1977. (Side note: Props to The Crown’s costume department for replicating her Jubilee outfit and so many of the season’s other based-on-real-events costumes.) But before celebrating this momentous event with her family and the British people, Elizabeth privately expresses concerns to Margaret, asking what she’s accomplished over the last quarter-century — the country was “still great” when she came to the throne, she says, “and now look.”
But that’s the thing about the monarchy, Margaret says — they paper over the cracks, and if what they do is loud and grand and confident enough, no one will notice that things have fallen apart around them. That’s the point of us, she says, but especially the queen. She’s the one who holds it all together, and she’s got to do it alone. As Margaret points out, and as we see for ourselves when she rides solo to the Jubilee festivities, there is only one queen.