When The Crown was announced I think we all knew that it was going to be something special. With a rich and eventful Royal history to adapt for the screen, it was clear there was going to be a wealth of powerful moments—moments that would be made even more powerful thanks to an incredible cast. I’ve watched the first two seasons a few times now and I’m still blown away by the attention to detail, the performances, and the stories that are told. Nothing is thrown in there for the sake of it: every story and scene is important. As we prepare for Olivia Colman and the rest of the new cast to take over on November 17th I thought I’d reflect on some of the most powerful moments from the shows first era. Enjoy.
Margaret is denied her true love
Princess Margaret was often considered to be the rebel Royal with her preferring drinking and partying over Royal duties. But why was she such a rebel? The answer is likely a simple yet sad one: she just wanted to be loved by a good man.
She had seen her sister marry the man that she loved, she had seen them begin a family together, and she had seen their relationship adored by the public. Margaret wanted to fall in love and have her happy ever after. When she did fall in love with Peter Townsend, though, it sadly wasn’t meant to be.
When news of Margaret and Peter’s relationship begins to circulate in the press it begins to overshadow Elizabeth who is enjoying her post coronation fame. People are more interested in Peter during a visit to Ireland than they are the Queen. It’s in this instance that we begin to see just how much Elizabeth wants to be popular with the public. Margaret doesn’t have to work for the popularity as the public is very much on her side over the relationship. It adds a new dynamic to the relationship between the sisters and adds a new depth to Elizabeth’s character.
I think there’s a case to be argued on both sides here. Obviously, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was preventing the two lovers from marrying. But I also believe that Elizabeth’s jealousy played a part in it too. Elizabeth believes that it is the monarchy that should remain front and center for media coverage and the prospect of another romance and relationship risks taking over. She naturally wants to protect her own image. This is in the beginning at least—I must stress that I think Elizabeth would have eventually allowed them to marry had the decision not been made for her by the crown. Despite waiting till she’s 25 Margaret is still denied the chance of her happy ever after with Peter.
This is when the story delivers its powerful scene. When Elizabeth reluctantly tells Margaret that she can’t grant permission for the marriage, it’s so intense. As Margaret realizes what she’s being told by her sister it’s almost as if the entire thing is playing in slow motion. She wastes no time in telling Elizabeth that she has no idea how it feels to be unhinged and we see just how fragile Margaret is. Vanessa Kirby’s performance as Margaret is truly out of this world and these scenes showcase just how much of an incredible actress she is.
Edward VIII abdicates for love?
Margaret wasn’t the only one denied her happy ever after in the Royal family as we learned in King Edward VIII’s story. Edward had fallen in love with a married woman: Wallis Simpson. He intended to marry her after his coronation and once her second divorce had come through. Divorce was a huge no-no for anything related to the Royals back then, even though this rule has become a lot more relaxed in recent years.
After they were denied a marriage, he abdicated from the throne in order to be with the woman he loved. They leave the country and live in France where they eventually wed. After his brother George dies he’s forced to return to the country and face the family that turned their back on him.
Edward is a remarkable character and I love that the show chose to portray him as both a victim and a villain. His hatred for the family that banished him to another country has clearly festered away in the years he’s been gone. When he returns he doesn’t really make any attempts at genuinely reconnecting with the family and instead focuses on his true motivation: money. He’s worried that his annual allowance will now be stopped so manipulates everyone from Elizabeth to Churchill to make sure he’s still provided for.
The power in these scenes lies not only in the slow reveal of Edward’s hatred to his family but also in the way it brings out a different side to other characters. We see an intense hatred from the Queen Mother who blames Edward’s abdication for her husband’s death. His abdication was a national scandal resulting in George having to work harder to ensure he was seen as a strong and dignified monarch. Something which didn’t help his health in the end.
The entire situation is a deep family shame that affects the family for decades after his abdication. Of course, there’s much more to his abdication than we first learn…
The rise and fall of Winston Churchill
I don’t think many people realize just how important the relationship between the Queen and her Prime Ministers really is. It’s really something special that the show has used these differing relationships to show how each one affects her life and the decisions she makes. Obviously the relationship with her first Prime Minister was going to be interesting. She had never worked with one in a professional capacity and he (Winston Churchill) had only ever worked alongside a male monarch. It was going to be a learning curve for both of them.
Winston was an old fashioned gentleman who had probably never had to answer to a woman in his life. This was something that created an interesting dynamic within the show: a woman rising to power in a world run by men. Things would have to change, especially with Winston.
By the time Winston comes into office as Prime Minister for his second term he’s an older man with health problems. He’s struggling to find respect for the young woman he answers to. The problem is he still can’t accept that he’s older and that things have changed. It takes the death of his secretary Venetia during the Great Smog of London for him to finally realize that he might be past his prime. It’s tough viewing to see such a strong and stubborn man slowly realize that his days in office are numbered. This becomes even tougher to watch when he keeps his heart attack a secret from Elizabeth.
John Lithgow gives the performance of a lifetime with this role and its incredible to watch him almost give two different performances. In the beginning, he plays a strong and passionate man but by the time the season ends he’s a frail and broken man who has to retire.
The scenes in which he sits for his birthday portrait are so beautifully done. Lithgow doesn’t have to say much but we can physically see Winston’s emotions change from respectful, to extreme sadness and then to anger. When the show explores his grief for his daughter it’s a really poignant moment. We finally see the real Winston and the heartache he carries with him every day.
George VI passes away
When people think about Elizabeth becoming the Queen they often forget that it only happened due to her father dying. While the country celebrates the anniversary of her ascending to the throne, for Elizabeth it will always be a day full of heartbreak.
I wasn’t sure how much of a role George would play in the show and I’m really glad he got a large part in the first few episodes. I feel like it’s really important to see him trying to prepare Elizabeth for the role that will one day befall her. It was equally important to see him trying to do what was best for both the country and his family despite suffering from lung cancer.
His family knew he was sick and they knew that death was likely. It could never prepare them for the change it would bring to their lives though, especially Elizabeth’s.
You get the impression that George didn’t want to be King but had to accept after his brother abdicated. Had he not abdicated the path to the throne may have been an entirely different one, and Elizabeth may have never been the Queen. It’s this unexpected propulsion to the throne that makes George want to prepare Elizabeth for the future. Although it’s something he can never completely prepare her for. How could he?
The power behind these stories lies in the way the various members of the family react to the news. The look of disbelief in his mother’s face, the outpouring of grief from his wife and the slow realization of whats happened by his daughter Margaret. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is on a Royal tour in Africa with Philip. She’s one of the last people to discover what’s happened and her turning to hide her emotions from the press is really heartbreaking. It’s really interesting that these scenes display a life of privilege in Africa yet quickly remind us that privilege doesn’t make you immune to heartbreak and loss.
Before they even have time to come to terms with their grief they must all quickly adapt to a new way of life as three generations of Royal women must learn to walk behind and curtsy to a new monarch.
Philip reflects on his tragic youth
During the first season, we were only ever teased about Philip’s past. Then in Season 2, I was pleasantly surprised that he was given an entire episode dedicated to his backstory and the relationship he was forming with his son Charles.
The entirety of the “Paterfamilias” is heartbreakingly powerful. Prior to the episode, Philip had been presented to us as arrogant, rude, somewhat childish, and annoying. But this flipped everything on its head and achieved the almost impossible: I actually felt really sorry for him. I knew various points of his life story so some of this didn’t come as a surprise to me as it would to someone who knew nothing. But to see this story played out on the screen in the way that it was was really quite something.
I think the most powerful thing about the imagery in this episode is that it’s all actually true. Philip’s sister and her entire family were killed in a plane crash. There was a newborn baby found in the wreckage as Cecile had gone into labor as the plane ran into trouble. Then a 16-year-old Philip was forced to walk behind their caskets surrounded by Nazi flags and swastikas. I can’t say enough how powerful the imagery, the story, and the performances are in this.
This tragic upbringing obviously affects the relationship Philip has with his own son. He wants to send him to the same tough boarding school that he attended. He feels that Charles is becoming overindulged with luxury and wants him to toughen up and be a man.
The sad part of the entire story is that Philip (who wasn’t raised by parents) can’t see that his eldest son just wants a parent. One that will take him under their wing and calm of all the secret anxieties he has about being in line to be King. Philip wants to help his son but can’t do it in the right ways and instead, the neglect and abuse is passed down to another generation.
The Royal marriage hits the rocks
One of the things I love most about The Crown is that it never shies away from showing that nothing is perfect. Elizabeth and Philip are often seen by the world’s media as some kind of perfect couple that people can only dream of being. No marriage is smooth sailing and the Royal one is no exception. The show tells us right from the start that they have their fair share of troubles, just like any other couple.
While they’re busy preparing for a blissful family life neither of them expects George to suddenly pass away. Elizabeth becoming Queen changes their marriage completely much to their dismay. It’s something I don’t think either of them was remotely prepared for.
Philip has to kneel for his wife, he has to walk behind her, he’s outranked by his son, and he has to answer to a woman. He can no longer make decisions for his family as they’re ultimately made for him by Elizabeth or the government. You can completely sympathize with his problems but at the same time, it’s hard not to get angry with his actions. While he’s busy being angry about the changes in his marriage he doesn’t seem to see that Elizabeth is struggling with the change too.
Unlike other couples, divorce is never going to be an option for them so they must compromise with each other. For me though, it kind of feels like things are only changed to keep Philip happy and Elizabeth’s problems are left for her to just put up with. His resentment that his son ranks higher than him results in him being given his own title: His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The true extent of the marriage problems was revealed in the first episode of Season 2 when the pair argued on board the HMY Britannia. The scenes and performances were powerful and it was a great way of starting up the new season. We knew we were in for a wild ride and we were desperate to know what had happened to lead to this confrontation.
Edward’s secret past is revealed
I’m going to go on record here and say that “Vergangenheit” is one of the best and one of the most powerful episodes of The Crown. Having taken an interest in history from a young age the story within this episode was one that I already had a lot of interest in. I wasn’t even sure whether this particular piece of history would make it into the show. It’s surely a dark chapter in the history of the Royals.
Surprisingly there are still plenty of people who don’t know about these events as it isn’t something that is really taught in schools etc. I think the show creators and writers knew that this had gone under the radar for many people and used it to their advantage. The way the story was told was really clever.
Throughout the first season, the show didn’t shy away from the fact that Edward and Wallis had a nasty side. Edward was manipulative and cold, and neither of them hid their resentment towards the family. In fact, they seemed to bask in that hatred together. But there was still a huge emphasis on their love. The show wanted us to think that their story was all about love and giving up the crown in favor of it. That’s why the revelations of “Vergangenheit” are so powerful.
There still exists a large number of people who want to romanticize the idea of Edward and Wallis as they share stories of their love and sacrifices. The story was romanticized at the time too, not just by the public but by the media too. It wasn’t until The Marburg Files resurfaced in the ’50s that their dark secrets came to light. Suddenly a family feud about love seemed irrelevant.
Edward and Wallis had deep ties to Hitler and the Nazis. When Elizabeth is told of their dalliances with Hitler and the way that they sympathized with his ideologies she goes pale. I imagine a lot of unknowing viewer’s faces did too. Her confrontation with Edward is incredible. There’s no official record of Edward ever returning to England during the remainder of his life after this information came out.
The most powerful moment of this episode comes during the closing credits. In other episodes, we were given real facts about the events we’d seen but in this case, we were shown the real photographs. Seeing Edward and Wallis meeting Hitler (all smiles) and shaking his hand is a moving yet disturbing moment. It shows us what kind of people they were and they don’t deserve to be remembered for their love. By abdicating he did the country a favor. We may be living in an entirely different one now had he stayed on the throne.
Elizabeth accepts the crown
This is ultimately what the show is all about: Elizabeth accepting the crown and becoming the Queen. But she wasn’t always the strong and confident monarch that we see nowadays. Every step of her reign has been a learning curve, especially in her early years. This is one of the areas where the show excels the most. We see Elizabeth grow not just as a ruler, but as a woman, a wife, and a mother too.
When she takes the crown every relationship that she has changes. Despite being in love for well over a decade and married for nearly five years at the time Elizabeth becomes Queen, they practically have to start their relationship again with new rules. It’s the same with her mother, her sister, her grandmother, and the countless other people who are part of her life. She is now the monarch, everything is different now.
I love how we see Elizabeth struggling with her role and responsibilities in the early years. It’s almost as if she isn’t quite sure how much power she has and doesn’t understand the things that are expected of her. You see her become torn between her family and her duty on numerous occasions. It’s all a journey that she has to make so she can eventually understand that the crown must come before anything else. No matter how hard it is, no matter who she upsets, that is her life now.
It’s also a journey of self-discovery for her. One where she must find her inner voice and have the confidence to stand up for the things she believes in. In the beginning, it’s almost as if she takes what everyone says (like Winston) for a fact. It’s only later that she gains the confidence to speak back, to put her point across, and challenge them.
Part of The Crown’s beauty is the effort it puts into dispelling the myth that people from wealth and privilege have an easy life. Their problems may be very different from ours but they still exist. These people still cry, they’re still denied the things they want the most, and their life is far from perfection. I know we can’t take everything the show tells us as a fact, but if we can take one thing from it it should be that Elizabeth hasn’t had an easy life. She’s had to make sacrifices that upset the people she loves, she’s had to sacrifice her own happiness, and she’s endured her fair share of heartbreak. It’s far from easy being the Queen and her entire journey is a powerful one. Claire Foy was absolutely outstanding in this stage of Elizabeth’s journey.
Season 3 will begin a number of years after the second season ended. We’ll be seeing a more mature monarch than the one we got with Claire Foy. Things are going to be very different and I cannot wait to see what Olivia Colman does in the role.