Why is it that so many biopics of famous queens end essentially the same way? With that queen, having struggled so long with the duty/personal life balance, fully embracing her own iconic image? Setting aside the personal stuff, putting the duty first and foremost, even to her own unhappiness and that of those closest to her, and becoming The Symbol? Watching the end of this last episode of The Crown, I was strongly reminded of the last scenes of Elizabeth.
Pretty similar, no? And when you think about it, The Crown and Elizabeth have a fair bit in common: they’re both about very iconic English queens (who share a name, no less!) having to put their personal feelings aside in the name of duty, and become something greater than themselves, for the good of the country. It’s not an uncommon theme in films about powerful women. But it’s not, really, quite so common in films about powerful men. I’m having trouble thinking of a film or series in which a king struggles with the hurt he must cause those he loves, in the name of ruling the country. Why the hell is that? Do filmmakers think this is only an issue women have to deal with?
Duty vs family is all over this episode, as you can imagine, and ultimately, duty wins out as the royal family deals with their two problem children: Margaret and Philip (or ‘Feeleep’ in Elizabeth’s pronunciation).
Margaret’s celebrating her 25th birthday at last! Hurrah! That means she can finally get married to Peter and live happily ever after, right? Ha! No. Because unbeknownst to her or to Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s working behind the scenes to put the kibosh on this relationship.
Apparently having had no faith in her younger daughter’s faithfulness, the Queen Mother thought the forced 2-year separation would be enough to end the relationship for good. I guess she never heard the phrase, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ and, as Margaret herself says to Philip, it’s easy to love someone who’s not around all the time. To which Philip responds, ‘Oh, maybe that’s why my wife’s sending me to Australia for a while.’
(I think I should point out that this show does a nonexistent job of explaining what’s going on with the Queen Mother here. If you’re coming into this cold, it seems bafflingly like she’s just deliberately trying to keep her daughter from marrying this guy for…no reason at all. In reality, the Queen Mother was a deeply religious woman who took the sanctity of marriage really seriously and followed the church’s line that divorce was terrible and divorced people should be shunned. And, obviously, her own brush with a divorcee didn’t change that opinion one iota.)
Peter comes back from Belgium, and the press is going wild with speculation, figuring an announcement is imminent. And Margaret wants that announcement to be imminent, and Elizabeth’s fine with that, but when she mentions the matter to Michael Adeane, he reels off a bullshit response that’s been fed to him from Lascelles.
‘Oh, you think your sister can make her own choices now? Actually, the completely nonexistent subparagraph 12 of subsection Y of the Royal Marriages Act stipulates that now she’s just allowed to personally ask Parliament for their permission to marry whomever she wants. And they will carefully consider the matter over the course of a year, then completely forget about it for a decade and a half, and then say no. Oh, and you can only ask Parliament for anything if you do so while standing on your head and whistling “Rule Brittania.” While juggling.’
Needless to say, Margaret is incensed when she hears about this nonsense, and Elizabeth’s not too happy either. She turns to Eden for help, but Eden’s got his hands full, having just returned from a trip to Egypt that basically went like this:
Still, he takes the matter to his Cabinet, which reacts like a bunch of incredible babies and refuses to support the marriage because DIVORCE! One of them even threatens to resign from politics altogether, and honestly I think they should let that one go. What a child! I mean, really? You’ll throw your whole career because the queen’s younger sister wants to marry a guy you don’t like? Peter wasn’t even at fault in the divorce!
Elizabeth thinks about it for a bit, and then points out that several members of Eden’s Cabinet–and Eden himself–are divorced.
(Fun fact! Eden’s second wife was a niece of Winston Churchill.)
She tells him to go ahead and try again, while she calls in the church’s big guns for a discussion. The Archbishops all clutch their rosaries and tell her that marrying a divorced man is simply out of the question. Elizabeth’s stuck. On the one side, she has the great and powerful of the nation digging their heels in and telling her there’s no way this is going to happen, unless Margaret basically gives up every aspect of being a royal, including her title, income, and freedom to live in the country, which is completely insane. And on the other side, she has sisterly love, Philip rolling his eyes and telling her to ignore all these men in suits, and a promise she made to her father back in the Abdication days to always support her sister, no matter what.
She needs some outside advice that’s also inside advice. So, she telephones Uncle Edward. He tells her that, from a personal perspective, he’s totally Team Margaret (and it seems like most of the country is too), but he also has a unique understanding of what it is to be a monarch and to have duty and personal feelings constantly at war with one another (I guess that’s as close as we’re going to get to a king admitting that in a film). He finishes by telling Elizabeth that she has to protect her country. His country.
Devastated, she hangs up, and then breaks the bad news to Margaret, who cries and guilts her sister, but doesn’t seem to have much of a choice here. She breaks up with Peter and promises never to marry (though, of course, she did. And so did he, to a Belgian woman. Their daughter and her family apparently live in a house once lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. History’s crazy like that.) Peter drafts a very sad statement for the press, announcing that there will be no engagement. He then returns to his boring desk job in Belgium.
And thus ends the relationship of Margaret and Peter, one of the first modern British royalty tabloid-fodder couplings (there were several scenes of photographers chasing the couple and, at one point, swarming their car as it drove down the road that were certainly meant to evoke memories of Princess Diana). It was an odd coupling–he was considerably older than her, and one can’t help but wonder if there was a hint of daddy issues about this. He did work for her father, after all, and would have represented a close connection with him after George’s death. And indeed, Margaret seemed to take their relationship up several notches after her father’s death, and the scene in this episode, where she goes to Peter’s bedroom during a weekend away and just snuggles up, head on his chest, had more of a father-daughter feel to it than passionate lovers (to me, anyway). No one’s really sure why the two split in real life (Eden was, apparently, about to present an amendment to the Royal Marriages Act that would enable her to keep her titles and civil list income, as long as she gave up her own and any children’s claim to the throne). Perhaps, as the Queen Mum here hoped, they tired of each other. Or perhaps there was another aspect to it (Margaret, like the other women in her family, was quite religious). Would they have been happy together? Who knows? But we do know that her eventual marriage soured rather quickly, and Margaret seemed to spend the whole of her life chasing happiness that always seemed elusive.
Speaking of unhappy people: Oh, Philip. He’s spinning his wheels, frustrated, and, as the Queen Mum observes, taking his frustration out on young Charles, who is simply not butch enough for his military man father. Elizabeth dismisses her mother’s concerns, but really, Elizabeth, something’s not right here. Philip actually calls his son a girl.
Honestly, Philip’s becoming such a pill, even Elizabeth’s fed up, and she suggests he go to Australia for a while to open the Olympic Games. Of course he whines about everyone trying to get rid of him (oh, by why should they want to do that, Philip? You’re so charming to be around!) and accuses his mother-in-law of orchestrating this. She, rather awesomely, tells him she kind of did, in the hope that he’d go away, bask in the spotlight for a while, and come back and actually be some sort of support to his wife, who sorely needs it, instead of being a whiny selfish toddler all of the time. And Jesus, Philip, JUST DO YOUR JOB! And just realise that Elizabeth is doing hers! And she doesn’t love it all of the time, but she’s doing it, because that’s what she does!
He’s Team Margaret, and he makes no secret of the fact he thinks his wife’s totally wrong for not sticking up better for her sister. He goes to Elizabeth while she’s getting ready to sit for some official portraits and petulantly informs her that fine, he’ll go to Australia and do this Olympics thing and whatever, and you know what? He’s going to extend his stay. Just because. Elizabeth almost rolls her eyes and tells him to grow up and consider the fact that he might enjoy himself. But of course he will do no such thing, because he’s determined to be miserable. He drives away from the palace in his lovely little MG, while Elizabeth shrugs all this off as best she can, slaps on the tiara, and gets down to business of queening.