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.
Afterwards, she and Philip work the crowd, which gives Philip the opportunity to let his asshole flag fly. He stops by one tribesman and notes some of the military medals the man’s wearing. ‘Oh, I’ve got that one,’ Philip begins. ‘And that one too.’ And then it goes right off the rails. ‘Oh, come on, where did you steal that one from?’
Yeesh. Keep in mind, these people are the VIPs who have been selected to meet the royal party. They are important, Philip.
On an unrelated note, who knew I’d be able to use so many cringe gifs in a recap about Elizabeth II?
Philip moves along to the next guy, who’s wearing full ceremonial garb, including a very elaborate headpiece. ‘I like your hat,’ Philip smarms. Finally, one of the (white) officials hisses to Elizabeth that there’s unrest in the area and talk of independence, and they really need these people to remain on their side, ok? She sidles up to her husband with a big, fake smile, and tells him the man is not wearing a hat, he’s wearing a crown. Asshole. The insulted man’s face is as still as a mask, but you can totally see it in his eyes: he’s had enough of these douchebags.
Elizabeth and Philip head off to the lodge where they’ll be staying. There’s a bizarre bit of business during dinner where the (black) man serving them can’t seem to manage potatoes. Or something. He keeps dropping them off the spoon, while Philip and Elizabeth laugh and then Philip just starts grabbing potatoes with his hands, telling the guy to just serve with his fingers. What nice white people these are! So laid back and unsnobby!
The next day, they head off into the wild to stay at Treetops. They run afoul of a mating elephant along the way, which gives Philip a chance to be a hero and distract it while his wife hurries to the safety of the lodge. She totally thinks that’s hawt, and they commence a sort of second honeymoon and begin making plans to go back to Malta, once the tour’s over, because George is totally getting better, right?
No. Nobody is getting better. George seems to have gotten one last wind and is spending his days shooting at Sandringham, because why not? Winston’s being creepy with some new young secretary, obsessing about the Soviet Union, and neglecting important matters close to home, like the massive debt hole Britain has found itself in (thanks, Hitler!). Some of the Cabinet are starting to think Winston was a poor choice, and they urge Anthony Eden to start putting himself forward. The Cabinet can’t get rid of Churchill, but they can try pressuring the King to pressure Churchill to retire. Eden is (reluctantly, it seems) dispatched to Sandringham to do just that.
George’s response is basically: um, no, I can’t go interfering in the Prime Ministership or party politics because I’m the King and that’s a big no-no. The monarch must remain above such things. Eden, who didn’t seem all that into this to begin with, is sent back to London.
And things are hotting up a bit between Margaret and Peter. This does not go unnoticed by Tommy Lascelles, the king’s private secretary (played by the actor who plays George’s kinda crazy uncle on Poldark).
Morning at Sandringham. The bagpiper is pacing up and down, playing, like he always does. The king’s valet and a footman come up with breakfast, like they always do. But you just know something’s not right here. And sure enough, when the valet opens the curtains, he finds George lying peacefully in bed, dead. There’s actually a rather touching moment where the valet sits on the edge of the bed, places George’s hand on his chest, and then briefly lowers his forehead to that hand, taking just a moment to grieve a man he’s probably worked for and respected for years, if not decades.
Word spreads fast. Queen Mary (played, by the way, by Eileen Atkins, which is spot on both visually and attitude-wise) has the news broken to her over breakfast, and she breaks down. Queen Elizabeth (soon to be the Queen Mother) races out of her bedroom in her nightgown and robe, praying for it not to be true, and flies into her husband’s room. Margaret comes out of her own room, sleepy, confused, and hears her mother begin to wail heartbreakingly. Margaret cries too, and later seeks comfort from Peter, begging him not to leave, even though, with her father dead, he’s kind of out of a job. He promises to stick around, for her.
Churchill is woken and, after a stunned silence, croaks that the Foreign Secretary will have to be informed. He asks after Elizabeth and learns that nobody knows how to reach her.
While all this is happening, Elizabeth and Philip are having an idyllic time, videoing the wildlife, having fun, exploring. But it’s finally time to head back, all smiles. Because they have no idea that everything’s about to crash down right on top of them. And we, the audience, are sitting there in horror, wondering if Elizabeth’s going to end up hearing the worst and most momentous news of her life on the radio. Because while she and Philip and their party are driving through the countryside, the news is going out over the wires all over the world. All the radio stations and newspapers have picked it up. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches Nairobi.
It doesn’t take long. Even as Elizabeth’s on the road, her secretary, Martin, back in the city finalising plans for the remainder of their time in Kenya, hears the news on the radio. Horrified, he sprints out of there and races to the place where the royals are staying. They’ve only just returned. Elizabeth is writing her father a letter while Philip catches a nap in the hammock out back. Martin starts to go to Elizabeth’s room, but he can’t bring himself to be the bearer of this particular news. So, he goes to Philip instead.
Elizabeth seals her letter and heads out to the garden, somehow managing not to overhear the radio reports all the house servants are listening to. She steps outside and sees Martin and Philip talking, and just the look that passes between herself and Philip says so much. She knows. He doesn’t even have to say. Martin quickly makes himself scarce, bowing to her, and there’s this great moment where you know he knows he should really address her as ‘your majesty’ before excusing himself, but he can’t do it, because doing so would basically be breaking the news to her, and right now, that job belongs (rightfully, I think) to Philip. So, he just looks freaked out for a minute there and rushes away.
Obviously, they have to go back to England immediately. There’s some nonsense about Elizabeth’s maid having neglected to pack a black dress, which I find highly unlikely. Royalty always travels with at least one dark suit/dress just in case of a bereavement, either in their own family or in case of the death of another high-ranking royal or politician. Whatever. A black dress will be brought onto the plane in London so she can change.
Elizabeth and Philip go to leave, but before they go, one of the servants bends down and actually kisses Elizabeth’s feet. I’m out of cringe gifs, you guys. Whether or not that actually happened, did we really need a show made of it? What purpose did that serve?
There are reporters gathered, but as Elizabeth and Philip get into the car, they respectfully hang back, in a show of deference both to a new monarch and to a grieving daughter that would be unthinkable today.
During the loooong flight home, Elizabeth struggles with sleep and is sad to learn that Martin will have to step down, because apparently Lascelles gets to keep his job no matter who the monarch is.
Lascelles, meanwhile, is trying to deal with the Peter situation. Margaret’s gone to work on her grieving mother and convinced her to ask him to stay on in…some position nobody’s quite worked out yet. Lascelles strongly advises Peter to turn this down, but Peter’s full steam ahead and says he’ll be taking it, thanks, and to hell with the gossip and scandal.
The plane arrives in London, where Churchill (who’s brought his dog to the airfield, like, Winston, was that really appropriate, under the circumstances?) and the Cabinet ministers are all waiting, a sea of men in morning suits and top hats (well, Winston’s wearing a bowler, of course).
The dress (and some seriously fugly shoes) are delivered to Elizabeth, along with a letter from her grandmother, which she reads as her maid dresses her. Essentially, Mary tells her that this is going to be a really difficult time, and her heart bleeds for her granddaughter, but Elizabeth is going to have to step up now, forget she ever was Elizabeth Windsor, and become Elizabeth the Queen.
Elizabeth, now in black, emerges and Philip goes to accompany her down the stairs of the plane. But Lascelles, who’s come along too, sharply reminds Philip that the monarch takes precedence. Elizabeth will now, forever, be a step or two ahead of her husband, and you can tell that just galls him. Still, he’s not about to make trouble about it now. The two of them go to Sandringham, where George is laid out, in his naval uniform. Shortly after their arrival, Queen Mary shows up, draped in black, and gives Elizabeth a severe look. Remember what I said, child. Duty. Always.