Netflix The Crown, Season 2: Episodes 4 – 6 continues with the realities of great expectations hitting home hard for Princess Margaret, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and Britain’s abdicated King Edward – David, Duke of Windsor and his American divorcee wife Wallis Simpson.
Claire Foy is stunning as Queen Elizabeth, a woman raised to be aware of her responsibilities in public office, who we see mature greatly during this season that hosts so many landmark historical events.
We finally meet up and coming art photographer Antony Armstrong Jones (Matthew Goode), who arrives at a wedding Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is attending with a friend Billie Wallace (Tom Durant Pritchard) at her side, to record the great event for friends.
Australian actor Vanessa Kirby is superb as the Queen’s sister Margaret, the ‘spare’ heir to the throne. She is wondering if life will ever live up to her own ‘great expectations’. Episode 4 ‘Beryl’ charts her personal journey towards and an exploration of marriage, leading up to next meeting with Antony Armstrong Jones and their developing relationship.
Don’t Read Any More if You Don’t Want Spoilers.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Phillip (Matt Smith) are in bed together when she proposes they hold a 10th wedding anniversary party to celebrate them ‘hitting their stride’ as a married couple.
Margaret phones her sister the same night to tell her she may be getting married having received a proposal from an old friend while she was in a drunken stupor. Elizabeth generously offers for her to announce it at her celebration… if she wishes and is serious.
A Russian satellite is now circling the earth and Britain’s Prime Minister Harold McMillan (Anton Lesser) preaches at the Queen about getting her help in ensuring Britain following the disastrous Suez intervention, is able to get back into bed with the Americans to counter the ‘threat’ their conquering space might mean. She cautions him about ‘listening’ an important aspect of any ‘marriage’ if they are to succeed.
Society Photographer Cecil Beaton (Mark Tandy) arrives at the Palace to take Margaret’s birthday portrait… he wants to capture the ‘fairy princess’ ideal which she represents to the ‘ordinary’ woman, not the reality and with the Queen Mother on his side, Margaret is more or less outnumbered.
On the night of announcing her engagement to Billie Wallace (Tom Durant Pritchard) disaster strikes for Margaret when he sends a message he is unable to come to the party to make the announcement. Going to his house to see why, she discovers him in bed drunk, having been shot in the leg in a duel defending some other woman’s honour, so she ends it there and then.
The Queen is to tour a car factory where she is required to give a speech, written as always by Michael Adeane (Will Keen) the Private Secretary. His assistant Martin Charteris (Harry Hadden-Paton) questions the language used in referring to the ‘workers’, realizing the speech will be seen as inflammatory by others.
His advice however is rejected. When the Queen delivers the speech, everyone at the factory including the press is appalled.
Some time later The Queen is at Balmoral stag hunting, always a controversial past time of royalty, when she is advised there is a constitutional crisis erupting. It appears one of the Peers of the realm Lord Altrincham (John Heffernan) in reacting to her speech. He has criticised the much-loved young Queen in a small periodical he publishes. Picked up by mainstream press, it’s not long before the story is being read up and down the countryside.
Summoned to the Palace to see the assistant Secretary to the Queen, Lotd Altrincham is more than surprised when he finds The Queen herself waiting for him, asking up front if her voice, one of the instruments of her reign he criticized, is not too much of a pain in the neck for him to hear.
We now live in a time where people like me can say what we think, he boldly tells her, sure of his own worth as he faces her down coolly. She reminds him if he means they are living in an age of equality then she would be able to retaliate, but because of her position she cannot.
He’s surprised even more when she goes on to ask him what it is in his view she needs to change. He tells her he has a list of six things he believes would make an enormous difference to how she is perceived by others.
He assures her he is a loyal peer of the realm who favours the monarchy but realises she is surrounded by people in the palace who are notorious snobs in the public eye and that if there is to be any change then they must be ordered by her directly. What should we stop she asks –and he eagerly tells her.
Putting an end to the debutante’s ball where only children of Lords and Ladies are presented, which represents inequity. He also wants her to allow divorced people to move more freely in royal circles. It’s unkind, discriminatory and quite possibly unlawful they are excluded.
He wants her to get rid of old courtiers who preserve traditions through thick and thin instead of embracing change. He wants her to ‘lower her own drawbridge and to let people get to know you’ more… become more accessible he advises. Televise your Christmas message so it reaches into everyone in the Commonwealth’s homes.
He wants her to also spend more time meeting and talking with working people in Britain. He waits in the corridor for her to consult her Assistant Private Secretary who then meets with him. In the end, all of Lord Altrincham’s proposed changes were implemented and the Palace conceded he did as much as anyone in the 20th century to help the monarchy. Her Xmas message has been televised ever since.
On the other hand, members of the monarchy did not always help the cause of Britain as we are about to find out. The Queen and Queen Mother are watching the Reverend Billy Graham (Paul Sparks) an American Evangelist on television. He’s preaching to the British people who are seen to be crying.
The Queen Mother is horrified. British people didn’t weep during WWII why should they weep for words spoken by a former American door to door salesman.
Over in France the former King Edward and his wife Wallis are having a birthday for their dog… they live an idle life without substance, full of shooting, champagne, card playing and costume parties. He’s disgruntled, a life of pleasure for him has its limits and he’s reached them, missing his life of service.
Wallis regards him as delusional because he wants to go to London and talk about what he can do. He has asked for permission to enter the country and the Queen acquiesces, for he is to stay with a friend in the country side.
In Flashback, we see a small group of Americans taking a German prisoner in 1945 into a forest to find a tin box that has been buried. When opened later at Marburg castle, it reveals a box full of films.
In London Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) takes them to the King George VI and they have them stamped ‘never for publication;. They agree the papers would never be revealed because they would bring such shame upon the royal family and people would be likely never to forgive us… King George VI observes.
At Whaddon Hall in the present day where the Captured German War Documents Publication Unit is working hard so many years after the war, one of the women workers comes upon the original box. It contains a file with the transcript text of what are named the Marburg files.
She reads them and takes them to her boss and together with her historian colleagues, insist the documents must be published. If the English government won’t they will have the American government publish their copy. The timing couldn’t be worse for Edward because it happens as he arrives in Britain to stay with old friends whom he is hoping will assist and support him in getting a government job.
The Queen is busy receiving and greeting warmly the Rev Billy Graham. She asks him the question ‘what is a Christian’. ‘A person in whom Christ dwells’ he quickly answers. She has an extensive conversation with him… about her role as head of the church… for it’s the values of Christian living that define her purpose in life.
Principal Historian; Head of the Publication Unit Mr John Wheeler-Bennett (Tristan Sturrock) now arrives at Dowling Street to see the PM on the matter of great urgency. He’s bought with him the sensitive government file on the same day the Duke of Windsor is having his meeting with old friends in his quest of purpose. He calls them the Brains Trust… a roving ambassador is one good idea for a role for him that he likes. it is now a time of waiting. He writes one of his poisonous missives home to his wife about life in London.
Prime Minister Harold McMillan comes to see The Queen…. He tells her they will be publishing material Winston Churchill and her father tried to surpress… the Marburg files. The Queen Mother is sent for… she knows about the file … Michael Adeane (Will Keen) tells the Queen the story about how they were ordered to be burned by Hitler, but one of his soldiers disobeyed his orders, burying some of the most sensitive files in the nearby wood in case it helped him later.
The Americans have a copy and the Queen and her mother now read them and are dismayed that they reveal how Edward colluded with the Nazi’s against his own country. At this precise moment the Duke of Windsor is at the Foreign Office where he is given three options for service but has to wait for The Queen to ratify his new position now agreed to by the Foreign Office.
When he arrives in her sitting room he tells her he’s come about a job; one of three Ambassador to France, a special liaison to the Board of Trade or a High Commissioner, promoting Britain around the world.
But you did have a chance to serve this country… you gave it up she reminds her Uncle David. In light of what I have recently learned about your communications and your intimate relationship with Nazi High Command during the War it causes problems. She says she will think on it.
She asks Phillip’s view of her being a Christian and ‘forgiving’ her Uncle David… but Phillip is very much against giving him any leeway… he advises her to visit Tommie Lascelles, formerly Edward’s private secretary when he was King.
Lascelles is suprised when she turns up unannounced. He cautions the Queen it would be a mistake to allow the Duke back into private life. He adds to the papers a further sordid untold tale of how Wallis Simpson was mistress to Herr Ribbentrop and had access to her husband’s sensitive British files.
A plan had been hatched by the German High Command with her Uncle David’s consent, to reinstate him as King of England, usurping her father. She learns he also gave Germany information about the allied plans for invasion, causing the occupation of France by betraying his own countrymen.
She summons hims back… and tells him originally she had been keen to help him for her family affection for him personally had spoken in his favour. On balance however, I think not. I find myself unable to grant you entry to Great Britain ever again. She tells him about the papers. There is no question of my forgiving you. The question is ‘how can you forgive yourself’ she asks as dismisses him forever.
The Queen speaks to Reverend Graham again asking his views on forgiveness. No one is beneath forgiveness he tells her … the solution is in asking for forgiveness for oneself and praying for those you cannot forgive he advises.
Phillip arrives in her bedchamber that night as she is saying her prayers. He wants to praise her for protecting her country and her family by successfully kicking out of society the one man they believe still is and always was a parasite.
The papers are cleared for publication by the British government, which means when they learn the facts of the popular former King’s betrayal her subjects will be sure to stand behind Elizabeth II and The Crown in solidarity, as they did with her father.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018