In the acclaimed television series Netflix The Crown as the story of a young Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) (b.1926-) and her consort Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith) evolves, many of the initial difficult decisions are now behind them.
Phillip converted from Greek Orthodox to the Anglican religion, renouncing his allegiance to the Greek Crown to marry the woman who had stolen his heart. Prince Charles and Princess Anne have been born while they lived at Clarence House.
Where they will live into the future and what name the family will embrace are also decisions that have been made. They have moved out of Clarence House into Buckingham Palace with their two young children, where the government perceives the dynasty attached to the House of Windsor will be more easily able to be secured.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want any spoilers.
In Episode 4 we soon realize the mantle of change the young Queen has taken on, for that of bringing the ‘lost generation’ born just before and over the period of War and their parents into the post war modern age, will be a challenge to say the least.
However with her quiet manner, kind heart and underestimated steely resolve, most of them still don’t know it yet but HM Queen Elizabeth II having enjoyed the influence of her late father George VI (Jared Harris), is definitely the right girl for the job.
She and her consort Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh also both agree on what modern monarchy should be all about.
Phillip has decided he is going to learn how to fly with Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), who was George VI’s equerry, teaching him.
Having been appointed the most senior member of the RAAF in the country, embarrassingly for Phillip he can’t fly and understandably, he wants to conquer the skies and Elizabeth importantly agrees.
Peter Townsend flew in the Battle of Britain and they start their lesson by flying stunts that today just wouldn’t be on an agenda for someone’s first time out.
Luckily the Prince is a natural.
Townsend turns off the engine and they float silently in space… WOW, Phillip is captivated. As they come back down to earth, he learns how to perform a ‘death stick landing’
“Same time next week Sir” Peter Townsend asks… “… how about tomorrow” Phillip replies, totally exhilarated by the experience of floating free on the wind.
Up on the rooftops of London the Meteorological Office are taking measurements, which are to say the least alarming for the young woman taking them. She checks them twice before hurrying to report her findings.
Send a weather warning to the PM please, their leader notes, ‘to Downing Street we need to cover our tracks in case … and the letter leaves. What can it say?
Queen Mary is ill and the Doctor is wanting to let some fresh air into the gloomy room at Marlborough House where she’s confined to bed. She won’t let him open the window because they are rehearsing her funeral outside and understandably, she doesn’t want to hear it.
The letter for the government arrives at Downing Street and is opened immediately. Puzzingly the receiver pockets it…. and heads for the pub, where he meets someone from the Labor Party.
He asks, ‘Does the name Denora mean anything to you?’ He soon discovers it refers to a historic wall of smog in 1948 that killed and sickened people in Pennsylvania in America.
It seems such a catastrophe is about to repeated in London as a huge pea souper fog, caused by excessively burning coal fires.
He is virtually sitting on information that may cause panic, which happens the next morning when a filthy pea souper descends on London 5 – 9 December, 1952. By the time it is over some 3,500 – 4000 people will die – some statistics from that time put it as high as 12,000 people. (Later The Clean Air Act of 1956 would be enacted to avoid a repeat of the 1952 crisis).
The Downing St employee wants to use the information however to his advantage amnd he goes to the Labor office to speak to the leader Mr Attlee (Simon Chandler) giving him the information the night before the fog descends.
Attlee however decides he wants to see how the ‘old fool’ meaning Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) responds before he does anything at all.
Once the ‘fog’ has arrived in London uproar begins, especially in parliament where the Labor opposition observes ‘… this is not a government… it is a collection of hesitant frightened old men unable to suit a tyrannical even older one’.
The problem is the PM Winston Churchill’s attitude. He’s from the old school who believe that fog comes from nature and, that you just have to grin and bear it. It was a 1950’s thing. He puts it down to an ‘Act of God!’
As it begins to create both distress and dismay on the streets and in the hospitals, where people are arriving in droves unable to breathe or having been knocked down in the poor visibility, panic begins to set in.
The legendary fogs of the London 1950’s are something my sister’s who were living and working there at the time, used to literally write home about.
Too hazardous to drive, the Queen says she will walk to see her grandmother at Marlborough House accompanied by her aids with lanterns walking behind her.
You could say her journey was a ‘security’ nightmare! It’s important though, because she wants to talk to Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins) about constitutional matters.
She needs to clarify points in a letter the former Queen her grandmother sent her when her father died, where she talks about God as the true source of her divination; the ideal she has inherited.
Monarchy Queen Mary tells her, is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards; an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives; monarchy is a calling from God.
That’s why you are crowned in an Abbey not in a government building, you are anointed, not appointed. It’s an archbishop that puts the crown on your head, not a minister or public servant, which means you are answerable to God in your duty, not the public.
My husband would argue Church and State should be separated in an equitable modern society, that the church has priests not Kings who are servants Elizabeth replies.
Queen Mary reminds her they are talking about the Church of England, not the monarchy of Greece or any other country in Europe. For her England is very different.
Walking to work becomes a hazard… for Venetia Scott (Kate Phillips), Winston Churchill’s favourite member of staff.
She has been reading all about when he was young, all energy, hope, passion and fire in his autobiography, saying that he was a remarkable young man and he is exceedingly flattered.
Day Two and the fog is now causing widespread disruption… flares …trains stopped and the PM facing increasing criticism re failing to deal with the crisis.
Winston Churchill arrives for his weekly talk with the Queen and starts with matters of Egypt and he’s not happy when she interrupts to ask him about inner city power stations…!
Getting even crosser, he says ‘he’ll send a barometric report in her box tomorrow’ and comments that the fog will pass, before getting on with his news.
She tells him her husband is learning to fly and has her permission. He nearly has apoplexy… going purple in the face, he reminds her that it should be cabinet who decides whether the Duke can learn to fly Maam, not you or him, he tells her.
Day Three December 8… the fog is worse if that is possible and Winston is urged to make a statement to the public but still declines.
Venetia Scott his employee’s neighbour is ill and can’t breathe and so she takes her to work at Downing Street with her.
This way she can get her into a fog free zone, and drop her at a city hospital nearby.
She is completely overwhelmed by the scale of the event with the hospital in complete chaos without enough staff or medications and she promises a Dr she will get help.
He thinks she is delusional as she leaves to ask Winston first hand.
Winston is still quite distracted and fobs off his morning cabinet meeting’s protestations about the fog. He tells them he has something far more important to discuss; it’s about the Duke learning to fly, and they are astonished by his priorities.
The Labor government gets ready to put a ‘no confidence’ in the PM motion on paper to the parliament brought on by the state of the fog – the government now hears rumours of their intentions.
Lord Mountabatten (Greg Wise) arrives to see The Queen advising her that ‘I received from Lord Salisbury private information the PM is not dealing with a crisis’. As sovereign he informs her, she can demand effective leadership and that her government wants her to summon Churchill and insist he step down.
‘As Queen you have the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and appoint a new Prime Minister if incapacity can be proved’ he says. ‘They want it to be bloodless and need your help and influence.’
We are in an unfolding crisis and all the PM wanted to discuss this morning was your husband’s new hobby, flying and she’s horrified too.
The Queen summons Tommy Lascelles her Head of Household to discuss it with him and asks for advice about the responsibilities of Head of State. What should I do in the national interest?
The lovely Venetia Scott leaving the hospital in a hurry gets run over by a bus on her way to see Winston to get help. When he hears he makes the house wait while he goes to the hospital to see her.
He is horrified by the chaos he finds and the fact that she is dead, such a waste of a young life and it makes him both confused and angry.
The Queen summons him and he’s told while he is at the hospital and suddenly he’s suspicious and pulls himself together.
He tells his secretary to bring papers to the hospital where he hastily writes a speech… calling a Press Conference, saying I have witnessed scenes …not since the blitz… and where there is heroism there is hope.
He pledges to make available money to increase staff, new equipment and medicines and announces an inquiry into air pollution. A seasoned campaigner he defeats his enemies yet again.
As the Queen waits to see him back at the palace the sun suddenly comes out – is it an act of God?
It certainly seems as if she may have been outmanouvred and so cleverly, she changes direction too. Winston realizing her dilemma admires her ability to embrace the mantle of change so quickly.
He reminds her that to be impartial is not natural… but Madame you are not allowed a point of view he tells her.
‘That’s all fine for the sovereign’ she comments, ‘but where does it leave me?’
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016