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?
She decides it’s time to take the next step. So, while her mother’s out one night, she invites Elizabeth and Philip to dinner (the phone call between the two sisters is a fairly hilarious to-do involving numerous switchboards, about a dozen separate operators, and quite a few servants. You feel like it must have taken about half an hour just to get connected.). Over the main course, Margaret very nervously asks Elizabeth if she’d be ok with Margaret and Peter getting married. Although she’s not 100% surprised by this, Elizabeth still seems a bit unsure what to do here. She hesitantly says that she’ll have to have a chat with some people, because everything has to go through official channels now, but as a sister, of course she’s fine with Margaret marrying whomever she wants and loves. After all, Elizabeth got to! Margaret squeals and hugs her sister, because life is good.
Except: no. Nobody else seems keen on this relationship. Not Philip, who thinks Peter’s too boring to be a fun brother-in-law (and Philip’s turning into something of a party boy these days, dashing off for boys’ weekends and joining a lunch club that seems evenly split between talking about current affairs, looking at semi-naughty pictures of ladies, and drinking.) Not the Queen Mother, who only has to hear about three letters from the word ‘divorce’ to get her hackles up. Not Lascelles and the other ‘men in grey’ types, who think this’ll complicate Elizabeth’s position as head of the Church of England, which didn’t allow divorced people to remarry at the time (which is stupid as hell, considering the only reason the CofE existed was so a man could divorce his wife and remarry. Sigh.)
Elizabeth starts wavering. She doesn’t want to hurt Margaret, of course, but being a good queen is important to her. But Lascelles and her mother provide something of an out: If Margaret and Peter wait until Margaret’s 25 years old, they can marry without having to seek the permission of the sovereign, therefore leaving Elizabeth out of it completely. Margaret pouts that she’ll have to wait two whole years to marry this man, but it seems like the best thing for everyone. She’s also not pleased that Peter will no longer be going along to Rhodesia, and that he’ll be sent away on a diplomatic posting to Belgium for a while. But they’re going to have a bit of time together before he goes, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, the press has gotten hold of the story. A journalist–wait for it–saw Margaret pluck a bit of fluff off Peter’s uniform at the coronation and is practically drooling over the whole thing. He keeps making the case to his editor that he should write the story, saying that, by letting the cameras into her coronation, Elizabeth has essentially declared open press season on her whole family and their doings in perpetuity. I’m sure they’re all really thanking Philip for being all progressive now. And I have to be honest, as someone who’s worked in journalism, I find myself wondering just what the story would be. Even in today’s non-news-sharing environment, I’m pretty sure everyone would go, ‘so, she brushed some fluff off a guy’s shoulder, so what?’ Not much ink to waste on that one.
But still, the story eventually goes, and now the public’s all, ‘yay! Royal romance!’ At least they’re on board.
Elizabeth invites Peter along on a brief trip she’s taking to Ireland. It’s meant to be her way of showing support for him, but Peter proves to be too popular, and that really brings out Elizabeth’s petty side. She gives Lascelles the go-ahead to order Peter to Belgium immediately, robbing him and Margaret of their last little bit of time together. That’s really shitty, Elizabeth. At least do your own dirty work.
Lascelles gleefully does as he’s told, giving Peter all of a couple of hours to pack his things and get to the airport and get the hell out of the country.
Down in Rhodesia, we get another moment of cringe-tastic 1950s racial tone-deafness, as Margaret, glittering and gilded and wearing a very floofy dress, praises all the white people in the room for wrenching this country away from savagery. As she leads them all in a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen, the black servants lined up against the wall listen, stony-faced.
As soon as dinner’s over, Margaret gets the telegram informing her of Peter’s immediate deployment. She gets on the phone to her sister (after a considerable delay, for reasons we saw earlier in the episode) and totally calls Elizabeth out on being a jealous bitch who couldn’t stand that someone else was hovering at the edges of her spotlight. Elizabeth denies it, and seems pretty shocked by the accusation, which makes me wonder if she completely didn’t realise that’s what she was doing. Nevertheless, it is done. Elizabeth has messed up here: her sister’s enraged, and pretty soon, the public’s going to get involved. Kids, this is gonna be messy.