You know what a biopic about Queen Elizabeth totally needs? An episode that’s almost entirely about Winston Churchill getting his portrait painted.
Elizabeth’s whole story here was relegated to the minutae of racehorse breeding and more Prince Philip being a douchebag fratboy asshole while we spent ages with Churchill, watching him give painting advice to a professional artist (dilletante-splaining?), and then throw a tantrum when he doesn’t like how the painting turns out. Because–OMG!–it actually portrays what he really looks like.
Heavens, people. You have ONE job to do! Why is Elizabeth the only one who really seems to get it?
It’s sister vs sister again. And it’s duty vs family, Philip vs. being a likable human being, and the Queen Mum vs ennui.
We start off with the three women King George left behind, preparing to unveil a statue of him. QM realises she can’t bring herself to do it, because the grief is still too raw for her, so she turns to her daughters. Margaret immediately offers her services, because she likes public speaking, while Elizabeth hates it, and anyway, she was their dad’s favourite. This is clearly a sore spot with Elizabeth, who pulls rank, reminds everyone who the head of the family is, and gives the speech. Her mother barely holds it together, and as soon as it’s over, she rushes into her car for a good cry.
You guys, Elizabeth is kind of awesome here.
It turns out, her loving but perhaps not-so-smart parents didn’t think the future Queen of England needed to know anything beyond table manners, French, and the constitution. As a consequence, Elizabeth was never given anything like a basic education: she knows nothing of maths, literature, science, philosophy–and that’s starting to become a problem. She’s dealing with statesmen, and finding herself embarrassingly in the dark about just about everything. It’s time she did something about that, so after getting cross with mummy, who’s all, ‘Why would a girl need to know maths?’ (the Queen Mum was pretty poorly educated herself and didn’t value education at all. She was very much a woman of her class and time.) Elizabeth hires a tutor.
Previously on The Crown: Elizabeth ascended the throne and started negotiating some tricky waters, both personally and politically. Meanwhile, her sister, Margaret, started secretly seeing Peter Townsend, a divorced man.
We’ve seen Elizabeth the Daughter and Elizabeth the Wife struggling with her role, and now we get Elizabeth the Sister. Because it’s time for Margaret’s life to get a little crappy.
Poor Margaret. She’s so happy for most of this episode! She’s deliriously in love with Peter, and totally looking forward to this trip to Rhodesia she’s bringing him along on. She’s young! She’s pretty! She’s a princess! She has a handsome war hero devoted to her! Who wouldn’t be happy, under those circumstances?
Previously on The Crown: Elizabeth came to the throne, and the changes that came with it made her husband feel very emasculated.
It’s time to get this queen crowned! But first! Complications and religion!
We head back to 1937 to watch a really sweet moment between father and daughter. George wants to practice for his coronation and asks little Elizabeth to pretend to be the Archbishop. During their practice, he explains that the anointing part of the ceremony is the most sacred part, the bit where the monarch becomes something holy and divine. Elizabeth clearly soaks up the lesson. And, when she practices wearing the crown, she’s got her own children there with her. Traditions.
Previously on The Crown: Elizabeth came to the throne and almost immediately found herself browbeaten and bullied by, well, everyone.
It’s a fine, clear day, but trouble’s a-brewing. At the Meteorological Society, some disturbing results are being uncovered and, in a bid to cover various asses, a report is sent to the PM’s office. There’s an anti-cyclone forming, which is bad, because a similar weather event in the US some years before trapped toxic fumes from a nearby factory close to the ground, poisoning a lot of people. And London’s power stations have a LOT of toxic fumes to trap.
Previously on The Crown: Elizabeth’s father, George VI, died quite a bit earlier than anyone was expecting, thrusting her onto the throne.
The shadows of the abdication and the patriarchy loom loooong over this episode, everyone.
We start off in December 1936. While Edward (with Wallis hanging over him) goes over his final speech, Elizabeth and Margaret play in their surprisingly leafy garden. Winter weather patterns don’t have any effect on royal gardens, people. Mary sweeps into her eldest son’s study to beg him, one last time, not to make this speech, to stop being such an attention whore and just go away, already. But Edward is determined, because he’s nothing if not a selfish douchebag with little concern for anyone’s feelings but his own. And he wants everyone to know all about his feelings.
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: The Bellamys hired a housemaid, Sarah, who turned out to be something of a sociopath and compulsive liar. She had a flirtation with James, and then decided she was too good for servant-ing.
It’s autumn 1908. The Bellamys and Hudson are off to Scotland, leaving the house in the hands of Elizabeth and James. I can’t see how that would be a bad plan at all!
Elizabeth’s doing some charity work in an East End soup kitchen, and James tags along because he’s bored. While there, they run into none other than Sarah, the most repulsive character in this show’s history. In fact, she might be the most repulsive non-villain character I’ve ever come across on a television show, ever. She faints dramatically as soon as she sees James, then spins one of her elaborate lies about looking for a friend and blah, blah, blah. Clearly the past four years have not treated her well, and Elizabeth–who has no experience with this little nutter and therefore doesn’t know what she’s in for–takes her back to Eton Place and basically tells the servants there to figure out what to do with her.
Previously on The Crown: Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip, who leans towards dickishness now and then, but his heart seems to be mostly in the right place. Unbeknownst to her, her father, King George VI, has been given a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Ready for shit to get real, folks?
Elizabeth and Philip embark on their Commonwealth tour, landing in Nairobi first. At last, my complaint about the royals seeming altogether too nice and too adored gets answered, because the speech she gives is some jaw-droppingly condescending imperialist bullshit. It’s all about how, not so long ago, Nairobi was an undeveloped backwater with nothing but nomadic tribes roaming around on it. But thank God the white people showed up! Now there are cities and civilisation and those nomads know how real humans should live, right? Mind you, at least half of this crowd (and probably a great deal more) is made up of those very nomadic tribes she’s slagging off.
Netflix has really pushed the boat out with this one. Everyone buzzed about that massive budget, and I will say: it was well spent. This is beautiful to look at, and it boasts a really top-notch cast. Even the one-liners are people you recognise. And that top-notch cast gives some wonderful performances. I’m going to particularly call out Jared Harris as George VI. He may not have George’s handsomeness, but he does convey his quick temper, brought on by endless frustration and stress, his tender side, and the naked fear of a suffering man who clearly wants his misery to end, but knows that having it over with also means saddling his fairly young daughter with serious responsibilities she may not be ready for. And he’s trying to hide all that because he’s a king, and a father, and he doesn’t want to alarm anyone. Can’t alarm anyone. This is a country and a family still trying to dig its way out of a devastating war, after all.