TV review: The Crown. Season 5. Episode 2: The System

Di another day: The Princess (Elizabeth Debicki) spills the beans.

Bad news for fans of Imelda Staunton’s Queen Elizabeth II: she’s barely in this episode at all, appearing only fairly briefly at the start and again towards the end. She is, for the most part, Queen Unseen. Queen but not heard.

Never mind: instead, we get lots about Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and old Phillip (Jonathan Pryce). Diana is hanging out a lot with her fried, Dr. James Colhurst (Oliver Chris) who acts as an intermediary between her and author, Andrew Morton (Andrew Steele) as she provides first hand material for his sensational warts-and-all biography of her, Diana: Her True Story.

The Duke of Edinburgh, meanwhile, is indulging his love of carriage-riding with family friend, Lady Penny Knatchbull (Truman Show actress, Natascha McElhone). Yes, you heard me: carriage riding. Apparently, this isn’t just something people in 1820 used to do, but a genuine hobby which rich people like to do today: restoring and then riding about in old carriages. Each to their own, I suppose.

But hang on a mo! Lady Penny is much younger than the old Duke and very attractive. Does the Queen not mind about this? Well, fear not, it all seems to be perfectly innocent. The two do achieve a genuine sense of intimacy, but not in a rude way. In a sudden burst of story, Penny does reveal to Philip what Di’s been up to. Philip is annoyed and arranges to meet with Diana and gives her a friendly warning. Don’t rock the boat, he says. And, for once, he doesn’t mean the Royal Yacht, Britannia.

But it’s too late to cancel the book now and anyway Diana doesn’t want to. This seems to mark the point where Diana goes rogue.

TV review: The Crown. Season 5. Episode 1: Queen Victoria Syndrome

Live and let Di: The Prince and Princess (Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki) go on fighting the Cold War.

It’s 1991 and the political situation is very, very different from how it is today, in November 2022.

Hard as it is to imagine now but back in 1991, Britain had been under the same Conservative government for twelve long years. I know, right? With the economy slipping into economic recession, the Tories had forced out their unpopular woman leader and replaced her with the man who until recently had been Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new Prime Minister was the youngest one so far of the entire century. So, as you can see: nothing like the current state of affairs at all.

But never mind all that, where’s the Queen?

Well, the series opens with a supposed bit of newsreel footage showing the Queen attending a ceremony marking the commissioning of the Royal Yacht Britannia back in 1957. Older readers will remember that for the first decade of her reign, the young Queen was played by the actress Claire Foy and this is the case here. The flashback ends with Foy’s Queen staring, horrified into the middle distance as if she has foreseen the images which appear in the next scene where she has transformed into Imelda Staunton. We first see Staunton’s monarch enduring the banal necessities of a routine medical examination. We are now in the 1990s and like Staunton herself, the sovereign is now supposed to be in her mid-sixties.

Of course, we already know the real problem isn’t with the Queen herself (spoiler alert: she lives for another 31 years) but with her children, three of whom are about to divorce, almost simultaneously. A frisky Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison) is already eyeing up the local talent while Charles (Dominic West) is doing his best to preserve the public face of his desperately unhappy marriage to the much-loved Princess Diana. Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki does a great job of replacing the also excellent Emma Corrin in this challenging role, often displaying a remarkable physical resemblance to the late Princess of Wales. But by this point, the marriage is clearly already doomed, wrecked by Charles’s affair with Camilla and by the fact they obviously have absolutely nothing in common.

The onetime Trainspotting actor, Jonny Lee Miller plays Britain’s Prime Minister, John Major. Major mostly sits quietly while lots of people talk at him in this episode. It is not really made clear whether this is because he is supposed to be naturally inscrutable or because he is keeping quiet because he senses he is out of his depth. Prince Charles, in this, seems to be plotting to encourage the Queen to abdicate and waffles vaguely and attempting to draw vague parallels with the decision to replace the ageing sixty-something Thatcher with the male forty-something Major. Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) typically attempts to embarrass Major socially. Diana and the Queen are more polite to him. Sadly, there is no repeat of the scene in the Chris Morris comedy, The Day Today, in which the Queen and Major have a full-blown fight during their weekly audience together.

The Crown. Series 4, Episode 2: The Balmoral Test

Balmoral: 1981. And the holidaying Royal Family are buzzing with excitement at the news a computer-animated stag has been sighted, limping across the nearby landscape. Who amongst them will be the first to fell the wounded beast? This episode is entitled, ‘The Balmoral Test.’ It could just have easily been called, ‘Stag Party.’

The Windsors also have other prey in mind too, as the Prime Minister and her husband are set to join them for a few days of socially excruciating fun and games. Will Margaret and Denis Thatcher (Gillian Anderson and Stephen Boxer) prove up to the challenge? Will they, in short, pass ‘the Balmoral test?’

Spoiler alert: no. They don’t.

As usual, writer Peter Morgan presents a balanced view of things. On the one hand, Margaret Thatcher was clearly a workaholic, with little sense of humour and no sense of fun. In real life, she described Balmoral as “purgatory.” Here, she commits a number of social gaffes, notably turning up for a rural excursion to hunt the stag in a brilliant blue suit more appropriate for addressing the Conservative Party Conference. The woman who, in reality, spent nearly every New Year’s Eve of her eleven-year premiership in the company of Jimmy Saville, proves unable to tolerate more than a few days with the holidaying Windsors. She has better things to do: the country is in the grip of recession and her Cabinet, some of whom were in ‘Allo ‘Allo (Guy Siner – Gruber in the sitcom, Sir Francis Pym in this) are in open revolt.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see why any outsider might struggle to get involved in the long established traditions of a close-knit family, particularly one as jaded and weird as the Windsors are. The Royal Family treat the Thatchers with frosty disdain, never explaining anything and assuming everyone else already knows their silly little rules. It is easy to see why Thatcher might not enjoy playing ‘Iggle Piggle’ or enjoy the delivery of Princess Anne’s (Erin Doherty) spirited animal impressions at close quarters. It also doesn’t help that two of the Royals, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip (Helena Bonham Carter and Tobias Menzies) were clearly amongst the rudest people to have ever lived.

Later, Mrs. Thatcher diminishes herself still further in the eyes of the Queen (Colman) explaining her purge of the Wets (that is, more moderate Tories, uneasy at the severe consequences of her economic policies) occurred almost entirely due to a lack of resolution on their part resulting from their privileged social background. This would have been an odd tactic to adopt when talking to the Queen, of all people, and doesn’t really do justice to the stubborn self-belief which enabled the Iron Lady to cling doggedly to such policies, even as society was devastated by mass unemployment.

Back at Balmoral, however, another new arrival – Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) brings a new subject for the family’s scrutiny, young Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin). There is a slight sense of manipulation in the way Diana wins over the Royals – for example, she tells Philip (falsely) she is essentially a country girl at heart. But this isn’t overstated. Diana soon helps the Duke kill the stag, effectively winning over all the Royals (except Margaret) in one fell swoop. She has passed the Balmoral Test with flying colours!

Next time we see her, she is Diana as most of the wider world in 1981 first saw her. A beautiful but seemingly ordinary young woman at the centre of stories about her relationship with the Prince of Wales, smiling self-consciously as she walks down the street surrounded by a growing number of snapping photographers, seemingly slightly irritated by all the attention, but also rather enjoying it at the same time.

And so, it begins…

Some kings called George

Here’s a quick round up of all the British kings called George…

George I (1714-1727)

German. Born in Germany. Only spoke German. Didn’t like England and spent most of his time in Germany. Buried in Germany.

King_George_I_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt_(3)

George II (1727-1760)

(George I’s son). The last king to lead his men into battle. Died on the toilet, like that other great king, Elvis.

George_II

George III (1760-1820)

(George II’ s grandson). The longest reigning British king (sixty years) although did not reign for as long as his granddaughter Victoria (63 years) or her own great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II. Not that he would have known that as he was a) mad and b) dead. Sometimes just called “King George” so as not to confuse Americans who might think he was a sequel.

King_George_III_by_Sir_William_Beechey

George IV (1820-1830)

(George III’s son). Regent first. Fat, lazy and lecherous rather like Henry VIII, Edward VII or Boris I.

George_IV_van_het_Verenigd_Koninkrijk

George V (1910-1936)

(George III’s granddaughter’s grandson). Technically murdered as two of his doctors deliberately gave him an overdose of morphine on his deathbed. Last words were “bugger Bognor”. Ironically, it was still illegal to bugger Bognor at this time.

george v

George VI (1936-1952)

(George V’s son). Famous stammerer portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. Had he reigned for as long as his daughter, he would still have been king in the year 2002.

king-george-vi-02

George VII (2058 -2109)

(George VI’s great great grandson). Married Prince Alfie in 2037.

george prince

To name a King

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The royal baby has been born. But how to decide on a suitable name for the heir to the throne? The new Prince will be King for the later decades of the 21st century as successor to Elizabeth II, Charles III and William V. At least, that’s the plan. Let’s not forget that in the 20th century alone, neither George V nor George VI were expected to be King in their early years. Both were second sons. George V’s elder brother Prince Eddy died young while Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother George VI in 1936.

Generally, the rule of thumb with naming recent monarchs has been to name it after one of its predecessors. The two most recent Kings to have previously unused monarchical names were George I in 1714 and James I (of England, James VI of Scotland) in 1603. Neither of these two were expected to be future Kings of England at the time of their birth. George was German and only became King of England because the law changed to prevent Catholics from inheriting the throne. James was expected to inherit the Scottish crown alone, not the English one.

However, William and Kate could opt for a brand new name, for example, Philip (after the boy’s great grandfather) or Arthur, after the semi-mythical post-Roman King . Arthur was also the name of Henry VIII’s older brother who died before inheriting the throne. Both of these options are considered unlikely, however.

The royal couple could also name the new baby after Stephen or John. These two medieval Kings remain the only two with their names to have ever ruled. There has never been a Stephen II or a John II, largely because both men had disastrous reigns.

George is a far more likely option. The last bearer of this name, George VI was the present Queen’s father and though he did not enjoy a tremendously happy reign either (George did not want to be King, had a terrible stammer and died in his fifties), he is at least, well regarded.

More Kings have been called Edward and Henry than anything else: eight each. There may well be more Edwards in the future but with the Abdication Crisis of 1936 still within the Queen’s memory, Edward IX is unlikely this time (it would also invite confusion with the Queen’s third son, Prince Edward).  Henry VIII’s tyrannical reputation and religious divisiveness probably rule him out too.

James too, is a name, associated with religious division, in this case, the Protestant-Catholic feuding of the 17th century. James I was almost blown up by the Roman Catholic Gunpowder Plot in 1605 while James II was forced to flee the country.

Richard III was probably a better King than his Shakespearian reputation as a “poisonous hunchbacked toad” suggests. But Richard IV (to date, only a character played by Brian Blessed in the first series of Blackadder) would be a bold choice.

In retrospect, Charles was an odd choice for the heir to the throne in 1948. Charles I was, after all, beheaded in 1649 and his son, Charles II had a reputation for promiscuity. The future Charles III is already a controversial figure and it might be better to see how his reign plays out before naming anyone after him.

William remains a good name but again, we do not know what sort of King William V will be. We may not do so until the middle years of this century. It is also less fashionable to name one’s heir after oneself than it once was.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the smart money is on the new Prince one day becoming King George VII.

All the other names are gone.

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Why do the British like their Queen so much?

It seems a reasonable question. This is, after all, Elizabeth II’s sixtieth year on the throne. The jubilee celebrations across the UK suggest that support for the monarchy is at least as strong as it was when Elizabeth II became Queen as a young woman in 1952.

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