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.
She’s having a hard time of it, the Queen Mum. She feels at loose ends, left with her grief and absolutely nothing to keep busy with. She decides to escape north to Scotland, a place she has longstanding personal ties with, to soothe her soul with some horseback riding and glorious scenery. And it just so happens the castle next door is for sale, so she buys it, for the rock-bottom price of £100. Why so low? The place is a wreck and the owner frankly tells her it’ll take tens of thousands to make it fully liveable. Which was true: this place was her passion project, but it was also an incredible money pit. But her daughters realised mum needed something to keep herself busy, so they kept out of it and kept the funds coming.
Speaking of the girls: Elizabeth is about to embark on that Commonwealth tour that was unfortunately cut short by her father dying. She winces a bit at the extravagance of it all: the massive wardrobe, etc, but the government is determined to put on a show, so there it is. While she’s away, the plan is for her ceremonial duties to be deputised to her mother, but with Queen Mum off in Scotland, Margaret is offered up as a replacement.
Elizabeth heads off, with Philip in tow, and starts what sounds like a frankly exhausting round of engagements all over the world that put such a strain on her she actually develops a facial tic from smiling so much. And Philip finds himself waving to the crowds in his sleep.
Philip, by the way, is an asshole this entire episode. A MAJOR asshole. He sulks his way through a uniform fitting, complaining about how this is all just window dressing–a new coat of paint on a crappy car, if you will, which seems like kind of an odd thing for someone of his class and time to be saying, to be honest. It’s something people say now a lot, but wasn’t quite so widespread, especially in England, back in the 1950s. And also, Philip? This is your only job. This has always been your only job (except your stint in the navy). Why are you complaining about it now? And would you rather not have this job? End up fleeing for your life with your wife and kids to live a nomadic life on others’ charity, like your parents did? Suck it up and smile. And stop insulting the poor man doing your uniform fitting.
But Philip can’t stop himself, and he just gets sulkier and sulkier and whines and whines until, finally and inexplicably, during some rare downtime in Australia he goes ahead and pushes just about every one of his wife’s buttons simultaneously, until finally even she snaps and starts throwing things at him, screaming for him to get out, and then chases him out of the house.
And right into the yard, where there are newsreel guys already set up and filming. Everyone sort of blinks at each other in shock for a bit, then Elizabeth and Philip go back inside, where she suits up in her purse, hat, and gloves and goes back out to offer up whatever these guys want, if they just won’t show the footage they just got. Their response? Take the footage out of the camera and hand it right over. Is it any wonder why these people are baffled by modern-day press intrusions?
Meanwhile, back home, Margaret’s decided to have some fun with being a pretend queen. She asks Martin if she can make some changes to her first speech and he’s like, ‘No, let’s please, please stick to the script.’ But Margaret’s a princess and will do what she likes, so she goes Full Margaret on the speech, adding in all sorts of cheeky jokes, and poor Martin looks like he’s ready to start drinking early.
Things continue thus: Margaret visits a mine and starts voicing her opinion on the plight of miners and, when asked, admits she really misses Peter. Offscreen, she apparently sasses some important people and puts a whole lot of noses out of joint. It gets so bad, Churchill summons the Queen Mum back from Scotland early so she can take over, before it all gets completely out of hand.
And when Elizabeth finally returns, having triumphed even in highly troubled Gibralter (which even Philip was suggesting they avoid), Churchill tattles to her about what her sister’s been up to. So, Elizabeth summons Margaret to Buckingham Palace and meets her in all sorts of state to give her a dressing down and remind her about duty and how The Crown can not have a personality. And Margaret frowns and gets a bit nasty, pointing out that their father called them ‘pride and joy’ and said that Elizabeth was his pride, but Margaret was his joy. Ooof.
He actually said that in their hearing? That’s shitty, George.
The sisters realise they’re both fairly jealous of each other: Elizabeth envies Margaret her freedom, whereas Margaret wishes she had some purpose, as Elizabeth has. Not much either of them can do about this situation, unfortunately, and don’t they know it. They digest that, in the gloom of this massive, opulent room that, despite its size, feels oppressive. Because that’s what this life is: it’s sparkling and expensive but weighs down those who have to live it, until, suddenly, they’re not needed anymore. And when the crown doesn’t need you anymore, you really, really feel it.