Act Two of The Crown sees the struggles that Queen Mary warned Elizabeth about come to pass. As Elizabeth navigates her duties as Queen, she is faced with decisions that contradict, or at the very least call into question, her opposing roles as a monarch and as wife, mother, and sister.
Despite a few touching moments the majority of Episode 4 is rather forgettable compared to the rest of the mid-season section. The Great Smog that rolls in over England is fascinating and devastating event; however its impact on the events of The Crown is relatively minimal and requires us too spend a little too much time focused on Churchill and his secondary supporting characters. However, we do get a beautiful opening in which Philip finally learns to fly a plane like he’s always wanted. Churchill then decides to spend more time discussing the reasons why Philip shouldn’t fly planes instead of discussing why the people of England shouldn’t be dying over a fog.
After Churchill all but ignores said Great Smog and Elizabeth manages to enact some authority over his stubbornness, all eyes turn to the upcoming Coronation Ceremony where Elizabeth’s challenges really begin to ramp up. Phillip decides that he does not want to kneel during the Coronation Ceremony, claiming that kneeling before his wife would be an embarrassing and emasculating action. Elizabeth, God save her, refuses to accept his refusal and insists that he is not kneeling before his wife but before the Crown and before God. Thus begins the tumultuous battle between Elizabeth the Queen and Elizabeth Mountbatten.
This conflict is as captivating as any in a period drama but of course one must remember that this is a fictionalised biopic of the lives of real people and not a dramatised documentary — whether or not Philip’s kneeling was a serious point of contention in the Royal Household is anyone’s guess. Since we’re aware of the track record of other period dramas in the way of historical accuracy, it’s not difficult to estimate that The Crown has beefed up the conflict between husband and wife for the sake of good TV.
And I’m not complaining, conflict is necessary to keep us engaged with and invested in character development. Not only that, but if we’re honest with ourselves we love a good gossip. Which brings me to the show-stealing plot in The Crown and what I would guarantee as a fan favourite: the love affair between Crown Princess Margaret and Captain Peter Townsend.
Their relationship has been touched upon in the show already, but Episode 6 is where things really heat up. It’s not an affair in the traditional sense; Townsend is divorced, not married. But this history is a big enough slight on his record to dismiss a marriage into the Royal Family. Margaret, however, considers this obstacle to be nothing but a simple bump in the road. With Elizabeth officially crowned, her younger sister Margaret considers this the opportune time to ask if she can marry her companion.
At this point, The Crown is both an inner conflict of Elizabeth struggling between her duties to the Crown and support for her family, and an outer conflict of Elizabeth contending to be the most interesting plot point on the show. It’s an fascinating reflection on what’s possibly real life. Things don’t really happen to the Queen. She’s primarily a passive character, and everything happens around her. The show, much like the actual job of being a monarch, is built around actions requiring a reaction from the Queen.
Elizabeth initially says yes to Margaret, and even suggests the pair get married in Scotland so as to avoid the divorcee problem by getting hitched in a country where the sovereign authority of the Crown has no influence over marriage bonds. Of course, no sooner as Elizabeth thrilled her younger sister than the older and wiser people around her — mostly, her mother — swoop in and tell her what a mistake she’s made and that Townsend needs to be shipped off and reposted in a different country while they wait for Margaret to turn 25 so she can do what she likes instead of needing the Queen’s permission.
Meanwhile the tabloids go nuts over photographic evidence of Margaret picking fluff off of Townsend’s jacket (no, literally, that’s the story), and Elizabeth learns the hard way about what happens when you promise your younger sibling something and then go back on that promise five minutes later. It’s not pretty.
These events set up a slippery slope for both Elizabeth and Churchill, the bottom of which we’ll get to in Episode 7, which rolls onto the theme of learning your limitations as a member of the Royal Family, and the stickier side of politics. But for now, bask in the tragic romance of Margaret and Townsend, because a royal love affair that borders on scandalous deserves all the indulgence it can get.