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.
He gets on the radio, he gives his speech. George, listening, tries very hard to hold it together, even though he’s clearly freaking out on numerous levels. Elizabeth watches him, concerned, and seems to realise just what this means for all of them.
Now we’re in the present, and that same wayward uncle is stepping off a luxury liner, waving to the cheering crowds. He heads to the Palace where he gets the coldest cold shoulder you could possibly imagine from his mother, who doesn’t rise to greet him (hey, he’s not the king anymore!) and lays the guilt on thick by talking about how wonderful, loving, and self-sacrificing Bertie was. The implication, of course, is that Bertie was everything Edward completely failed to be.
No one’s really all that pleased to have Edward around again (except Churchill, and we’ll get to that). Elizabeth the Queen Mother is basically a little cauldron of rapidly boiling rage. She sniffs about the (rather nasty) nicknames Edward has for all the members of the family (Elizabeth’s was ‘Shirley Temple’) and how he tried being king for, like, ten minutes, decided it wasn’t for him and so dumped the responsibility on Bertie and dashed off to be a useless embarrassment, living in luxury and whining about everything, while the unexpected responsibility killed his younger brother (it’s thought that the stress contributed quite a bit to Bertie’s chain smoking, which led to his cancer). Elizabeth’s clearly not a giant fan of her uncle, but she’s trying to play the peacemaker, at least for the duration of this visit. Just like Shirley Temple! But her mother’s out for blood and wants to see Edward and Wallis punished by losing their allowance.
As if Elizabeth didn’t have enough to deal with. She’s being introduced to the Red Boxes, and has her first meeting with Churchill, who schools her in royal audience etiquette (you don’t let me sit down or offer me refreshment! What’s this ‘politeness’ nonsense you’re trying out?). He also totally runs roughshod over her, basically announcing that her coronation will be postponed for more than a year, to give her time to get used to her job. She points out that no male monarch has been subject to such a delay, but doesn’t make any other arguments.
And Philip’s putting pressure on her (because his Uncle Dickie Mountbatten is putting pressure on him) to ensure she and the kids retain his last name and they all stay at Clarence House, instead of moving to Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth’s fine with both those things (and, in reality, was probably relieved not to have to fight over Buckingham Palace, because her mother entrenched herself and was really petulant and slow about moving out. Unreasonably so, apparently.) But, she doesn’t get a chance to broach the subject with Churchill at their first meeting.
Still, Philip reports to Dickie that it’s a done deal, and Dickie, like an idiot, brings it up and actually toasts to the fact the royal family will now be known as the Mountbattens at an embarrassingly fancy post-shoot dinner. One of the guests, Prince Ernst of Hanover, scurries off to tattle about it to Queen Mary, and it’s hard to say what offends her more: the name change, or the fact that Ernst was shooting and drinking champagne the day after her son’s funeral.
Nevertheless, she grabs the Queen Mum and Lascelles and tells them, and they summon a representative of the PM and tell him this is all out of the question. Winston goes back to Elizabeth and tells her the same, but apparently she found some balls lying around during those Clarence House renovations, and she reveals that she knows Winston’s in trouble, politically, but that nobody will remove him from power while he’s planning a coronation. She’ll acquiesce to the coronation delay, if he’ll back her up in the matter of the name and remaining at Clarence House. He pouts and agrees. Go, Elizabeth!
Margaret’s also feeling her power. Peter summons her to his office to tell her his wife’s left him. While this may seem like good news to us modern-day viewers, it’s not great for them, because if Peter gets a divorce, he’ll be a (whisper it) divorcé, and we know how the royal family feels about them (Wallis was conspicuously not invited to the funeral). He’d be damaged goods and not deemed fit to marry a princess. Margaret doesn’t care and comes by later in a very, very pretty dress for a quickie makeout session. She also accidentally leaves her purse in the office, which is found by Philip when he swings by to ask Peter for flying lessons. Luckily, Philip doesn’t know the purse is Margaret’s. Yet.
Edward’s gotten word that his allowance will only be £10,000 a year, and while that’s a comfortable income in 1952, it’s definitely not enough to keep Wallis in Cartier and couture. He goes whining to his mother, for some unfathomable reason, and for an equally unfathomable reason, she actually sits and listens to him bitching for a while and even seems slightly sympathetic. But really, Edward, you had one job to do, and you couldn’t bring yourself to do it, so you’ve spent the rest of your life being a useless leech and a liability. Why should you get more money? What the hell do you do to earn it? Nothing. Go get a job, like everyone else. That’s what people who quit their jobs usually have to do.
Next, he goes wailing to Churchill, who’s his buddy and provides a sympathetic ear. He promises to have a word with the right people, if Edward will go to work on Elizabeth over this name and Clarence House matter. Edward practically licks his lips at the prospect.
He goes to have breakfast with Elizabeth, who’s nice to him, but also forces him to apologise for basically ruining her life and makes it clear she knows all about his nasty little names. He tries to defend himself by saying he only called her Shirley Temple because of her bright little personality, and her face says, ‘Nice try! You’re still an asshole, and that’s why most of my family hates you. We’re not actually frigid, distant people, like you say. We’re just like that with you.’
But she realises she’s young, and she needs someone (a man, because that’s how things are here. It was the 50’s, after all.) to help her out and rely on. With her father dead, her former king uncle kind of fits the bill. He’s thrilled to be asked for his advice and input and immediately pushes the Churchill agenda. And Elizabeth, because she did ask, after all, takes it to heart.
Poor Philip gets home, all excited to tell his wife he’s decided to take up flying! And he’s greeted with the news that his wife and children will not, in fact, take his name after all but will be known as Windsor, Elizabeth’s maiden name. It’s like he’s not there at all, really. He pouts that he thought he and his wife were in this together. Clearly not.
On all sides, she has men bearing down on her and breathing down her neck and telling her what must be done and patting her on the head and giving her cutesy nicknames because she’s just a girl and what the heck does she know? And she could only withstand that pressure for so long, so Philip was the ultimate loser here. And I can understand that this sort of emasculation–not just the name thing, but all of it–walking behind her, being subservient, having no real useful role, having to make small talk with people he thinks are unequal to him, being unable to even remain in their own house (and I’d like to point out that the way the scenes in Buckingham Palace are shot this episode, it does not look like a place one would want to live. It looks cold, massive, and overly ornate.)–must have been galling to a man of his time and personality. This was a rough, tough navy man suddenly being told he has to walk several steps behind his wife and can barely be acknowledged as the father of his own children. That sucks.
But there’s no recourse. The Queen has spoken. So, off to Buckingham Palace they all go. And back to New York goes Edward.