Each time there is massive generational changed, the British monarchy, an ever ageing institution needs to remain vital, alive and in touch with the people, while showing a lead in matters of morality and integrity,
It falls to someone to bring it into a new age of modernity and in The Netflix TV Series The Crown, we learn how well that has been achieved by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history.
The Crown, Series 1 covers the first decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s story when as the young Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) (b.1926-) she marries Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith), has two children, loses her father George VI (Jared Harris) and inherits the British Crown, all in a very short period of time.
To say she displayed stamina would be an understatement. Keeping her equilibrium while ensuring her marriage survives as her husband adjusts to walking behind her.
Princess Elizabeth is on a vast learning curve to discover the finer details and considered duties of constitutional monarchy in England, a role she had not been trained to embrace as a child only since her father had to take over from his brother who abdicated.
Wearing The Crown of England is more difficult than it seems.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
In Episode 2 we are at the point when Elizabeth and Phillip have arrived in Kenya where after official duties, they are to have time off before a planned punishing tour of Britain’s Commonwealth countries on her father’s behalf.
They are also to enjoy a short stay at the isolated but fabled game reserve of Treetops in Kenya, where accommodation on stilts overlooks the animal action. As they arrive a rampaging elephant impedes their progress with Phillip bravely standing his ground, getting him to back off so that their guide can get Elizabeth to safety.
Later from their rooftop eyrie they watch the animals coming down to the river at dusk to drink and bathe… giraffe, elephant and hippopotamus all together, and it is very exciting.
Back at Buckingham House in London, Princess Margaret and the man she loves Group Captain Peter Townsend are caught together by Sir Anthony Eden, as the Foreign Secretary arrives to talk to the King’s equerry.
He wants an audience with the King about the old war horse Winston Churchill, whom the party wants to step down and ‘retire. George refuses to help because he won’t interfere in government matters, and instead cautions patience as Winston’s contribution to winning the war was immeasurable.
Margaret is driving her father King George hunting on the families Sandringham House estate. That night, they sing a duet together… bewitched, bothered and bewildered and afterwards, he retires on a happy, high note.
The next morning when his valet goes to wake His Majesty, he finds he has died quietly in his sleep during the night and he races to tell Queen Mary first…then King George’s wife Queen Elizabeth, now re-titled Queen Mother.
Margaret slowly realises something is wrong because the staff are in disarray and crying when she emerges from her room as the royal standard is lowered on the flagpole.
Not believing, she goes to her father’s room to see for herself, finding men already embalming her father’s body and it is Group Captain Peter Townsend who comforts her.
Back in London officials arrive to tell the Prime Minister. They are trying to find out where Princess Elizabeth actually is to let her know she is now the Queen before she hears it on the wire, as The Prime Minister has had to clear the BBC to broadcast the news.
Her car has broken down on the way back to the British Embassy residence from Treetops and she offers advice about how to fix it, after all she was a mechanic during the war she tells the unpractical men surrounding her. She sits down to write a letter to her father about going back to Malta with her husband, when they get home from their tour. With her father looking so well before they left, she has discussed her idea with Phillip, who is uplifted and pleased at the thought.
She finishes the letter just as Phillip, having discovered the King’s death first from the courier, arrives to tell her the awful news. Standing on the lawn surrounding the house he stares at her standing in the doorway and she knows instinctively something is wrong.
He attempts to comfort her with all the staff watching on as reporters arrive en masse to take her photo in the aftermath; her mourning will have to be public.
The Head houseboy kisses her feet…before she leaves and Phillip nods goodbye to two little boys he has befriended in the household. They have made friends while they have been there living there in a sort of idyll.
All the local people line the route to pay their respect as her car drives her to the airport, the tour cancelled as back to England she goes.
Clementine tells Winston she has found out about Antony’s visit to the King just before he died. They want you to fail she tells him… he has to give the eulogy for the King he called friend.
Flying home Elizabeth tells Phillip she can’t sleep… I am sorry she says to him, I thought we would have longer. “What will happen when we land” she asks him, neither know except she will need a black dress before she can disembark from the plane.
Elizabeth now finds she has two personas that will be frequently in a contest with other as only one can win and that must be The Crown she is told, while Phillip is also told he cannot ever escort her anymore. Now he walks behind.
Winston speaks to the nation while the Queen is on her way to Sandringham to see her father. She breaks down momentarily before she looks at him. “After a happy day he fell asleep…. as we all may hope to do”, she’s told. Her mother and sister come to kiss her… it’s the birth of a new Elizabethan age. God Save the Queen
In Episode 3 we descend to 1936 when Elizabeth and Margaret were little girls and King Edward VIII is set to abdicate with his mother Queen Mary coming to beseech him to change his mind. She wants him to go quietly and not make a spectacle of himself on the radio.
Elizabeth and Margaret are brought in by their parents to hear their Uncle broadcasting his now famous speech. Then its back to the present.
Edward, now known only as the Duke of Windsor, says he is coming to his brother’s funeral in London… and they all know from the Queen down to every member of staff in the royal household and government, his visit will cause many problems.
Nothing happens in isolation and what we do today always has ramifications of some kind tomorrow. Thoughtful and caring, an angel to his mother, his wife and his children… George VI for his mother had been the perfect son, Edward is told after he arrives to see his grandmother Queen Mary, who also tells him not to mention ‘that woman’s name’.
Meanwhile Elizabeth II is opening her first red box remembering what her father told her, to turn the papers upside down to look at the one’s they don’t want her to see first.
Phillip meanwhile is busy putting the finishing touches to sorting out arrangements for them to remain living as a family at Clarence House, not Buckingham Palace as they would wish and Elizabeth she has agreed to tell Mr Churchill.
Be firm the Duke tells, her as she goes to meet the old-war horse who has arrived for his new Queen’s first weekly meeting with her British Prime Minister. He’s upset and she invites him to sit down…I have ordered tea she says, but the denies both. To sit in her presence would be for him, totally inappropriate and so it begins.
Edward is having an appointment with the Queen Mother, the Queen and Margaret and asks them to be united in grief on equal terms. He also ask to spend time with them all and while Elizabeth is gracious and invites him to lunch the Queen Mother is enraged. She and Margaret leave because basically, they won’t forgive him ever.
That night Edward writes to Wallis about what a bunch of cold monsters they all are. He says he wants to drain their coffers to his benefit and we are left in no doubt that he will do anything to achieve his goal.
Prince August of Hanover comes to tell the Queen Mother about being at a dinner with Lord Mountbatten, where everyone was asked to drink a toast to the new royal house, which will be known as Mountbatten not Windsor.
You were drinking champagne the day after my son’s funeral she asks, horrified not only at the lack of restraint, but also the lack of respect.
We know it will not end there, and by a circuitous route of gossip will eventually arrive on the new, young inexperienced Queen’s doorstep.
When Edward arrives to speak to Shirley Temple, he and Wallis’s pet name for the Queen, she serves him lunch. Don’t you miss England she asks him… but as he explains, the English and his relatives don’t accept the woman he loves, so he’s happy not to be there.
She thinks she is being tough with him but is basically underestimating the fact that he is there for a purpose, and will not easily give up what he wants.
You never apologised to me she says to him and he’s a bit taken aback. You don’t think I deserve or would have preferred to grow up away from the scrutiny and suitability… she asks him, and enjoy a life as a wife and mother, like an ordinary English country woman would.
So he apologises to her and when she asks for his advice, which is also unexpected. You would take my advice he asks, manipulating her beautifully getting her right where he wants her?
I know deep down that you care very deeply… she says, and he faines being bowled over. However undeterred and seeking to get what he wants, he says he would like to talk about two issues with her; the family name and where she lives.
Phillip arrives home and asks her would it be alright with her if he takes flying lessons. She agrees straightaway, not wanting to deal with that issue now when she has others to discuss. He now knows instinctively something is wrong.
So she tells him, that they would rather we didn’t keep the name Mountbatten she tells him, but it is Cabinet, whom she blames. And, the name shall be styled the house and family of Windsor.
We also have to give up Clarence House, we must move to Buckingham Palace it is where the Monarch is to be. He’s very angry, confused and disbelieving observing to her It is advice, we don’t have to act on it.
That’s not the case he learns, when it comes from the government she tells him, we do. Confused, upset, angry … they have taken everything from me, I thought we were in it together he says, not wanting ‘together’ to mean sacrifice, which is what the war that’s just been fought was all about.
Different times, difficult decisions.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016