It’s the moment most fans have been waiting for since Netflix’s historical series first premiered: Princess Diana has finally arrived on The Crown. Though many viewers may think they know everything about her doomed romance with Prince Charles, The Crown delves into moments that may surprise even the most devoted Diana followers. But The Crown is still a story centered on Queen Elizabeth, so the Prince and Princess of Wales’ marriage story is far from the only drama we’ll encounter in The Crown season 4.
When the Emmy-winning series last left us, back in season 3, it was 1977 and Prince Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) romance with Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) had just been pried out of his hands by his meddling uncle and grandmother. They helped ensure that Camilla would marry Andrew Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan) and that Prince Charles would be overseas with the navy and unable to stop the wedding.
Season 4 picks up in 1979 when Charles first meets Diana (Emma Corrin), before launching directly into the ‘80s, when Charles’ and Diana’s courtship turned into their marriage, the birth of Prince Harry and Prince William, and their relationship’s slow, painful demise. While the series has always been fascinating, this season delves into one of the most interesting periods in royal history — with the possible exception of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2020 exit from the monarchy.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but let’s dive right in.
Episode 1: “Gold Stick”
It’s 1979 and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) has just been elected Britain’s first female prime minister. The Queen (Olivia Colman) seems kind of excited about this at first, but her excitement fades somewhat when Thatcher says that she doesn’t think women are “suited” for high positions, because they’re too emotional. It’s an odd thing to say as a woman in a high position speaking to another woman in a high position. But while Thatcher broke a glass ceiling, she wasn’t interested in pulling anyone else up with her. And she most certainly wasn’t a feminist.
Within the royal family, Prince Charles has begun dating Diana’s sister Sarah Spencer (Isobel Eadie), which is actually how he meets Diana, who is then just 16 years old. However, he’s still seeing Camilla Parker-Bowles on the side, despite the fact that she’s now married. Most of the royals are disappointed in Charles, but only his pseudo-father Lord Mountbatten aka “Uncle Dickie” (Charles Dance) is willing to call him on it. He pens a letter to Charles, instructs a footman to deliver it, and goes lobster fishing with his grandsons.
But Dickie never makes it back to shore. His fishing boat explodes, after a bomb on board is detonated by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who are seeking independence from Britain. The members of the IRA assassinated Dickie as well as 18 British servicemen in response to the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, in which British soldiers shot 26 unarmed protestors in Derry, Northern Ireland.
The plot against Dickie prompts Thatcher to promise the Queen she will swiftly deliver justice to Ireland and the IRA — Northern Ireland is, to this day, part of the UK. In real life, the bomb killed Dickie as well as three others onboard. One of the victims was Dickie’s grandson Nicholas, whose twin brother Timothy survived. Timothy went on to write a book about the day, titled From a Clear Blue Sky.
After the tragedy, Prince Charles receives the letter that Dickie wrote before his death. It’s basically this note that sets into motion Charles’ eventual relationship with Diana. Dickie implored Charles to remember his duty and to find a “sweet and innocent well-tempered girl, with no past, who knows the rules and will follow the rules.” Because Dickie was like a father to him, Charles seems resolute to follow through on Dickie’s final request. Charles remembers Diana, the sweet younger sister of Sarah Spencer and decides to make a go of it, thinking she will be the perfect “sweet and innocent” rule-follower that Dickie wanted for him.
The show does an excellent job of highlighting Diana’s innocence, born out of the fact that she was an actual child when she and Charles first met. She was just 16 then, and the series makes sure to mention that Diana was still in school at the time — highlighting the age difference by introducing the two while Diana is still in her nymph costume from her school play. And when the two later meet at a horse racing event, she’s wearing yellow overalls and a floral sweater that continue to emphasize just how much younger she is than Charles. She was just 19 when they got engaged, 12 years younger than Charles. But while the series makes it known at every turn, Diana and Charles’ age difference didn’t seem to matter much to Charles or the rest of the royal family.
History is set in motion on The Crown when Charles telephones Diana’s sister Sarah — who, again, he previously dated — and asks if he can take Diana out. Sarah is quite obviously (and rightfully) annoyed that Charles has decided to date her sister instead of her, but she gives him permission to do what she knows he’ll do anyway. The episode ends with Diana meeting him for their first date, sealing what will ultimately be her very tragic fate.
Episode 2: “The Balmoral Test”
We open with the royals at their country castle Balmoral in Scotland. They learn that a large deer has been shot and wounded by a neighbor and is now wandering around the estate, so naturally, they all want to be the first to kill it. The deer spends much of the episode wandering around, wounded — a metaphor large enough to knock you out. It’s not subtle, but it is sad.
Anyway, Margaret Thatcher is on her way to Balmoral with her husband Denis Thatcher (Stephen Boxer). She complains that she feels patronized by the all-male cabinet she’s working with, and they don’t agree with her vast spending cuts. But Denis can’t stop talking about how the royal family supposedly tests their guests with challenges to determine whether they pass muster or not. The Thatchers quickly fail the first “test” when they dress far too early for dinner and are flummoxed by having to sleep in separate rooms like the Queen and Philip do. Margaret also can’t get into the fun mood of the trip, as she’s worried about all the work she’s missing. Later, she really blows the test when she dresses in a bright blue dress and heels for the hunting trip.
That last faux pas makes the Queen even less interested in being kind to Margaret, largely because the royals worry Margaret will scare off their beloved deer. Later, as she watches a Highland Games ceremony, Margaret complains to Denis that the royals are “boring, snobbish, and rude.” She says the country needs to be changed from top to bottom so a certain class doesn’t make all the rules anymore. Having fully run out of patience, she cuts her holiday short and heads home to deal with work. Back in London, she abruptly fires three of her cabinet members (as she also did in real life). It’s clear we’re witnessing the birth of the infamous Iron Lady, when she tells the Queen she doesn’t mind making enemies.
Meanwhile, Charles wants to invite Camilla to Balmoral, but she knows that’s extremely inappropriate so she suggests that Charles call Diana instead. He and Diana have been on a couple of chaperoned dates, but it’s clear Charles has no interest in Diana. That’s uncomfortable enough on its own, but then there’s also the massive power imbalance on account of their age difference and the fact that Diana has to curtsy to him because he outranks her as crowned prince. But after Camilla does all the work for him, telling him exactly what to say on his phone call to Diana, Charles does invite her to Scotland, where Diana is then put through the same wringer as Margaret was just days before.
Unlike the prime minister, however, Diana passes with flying colors. She charms the royals at dinner with her self-effacing jokes and eventually, she seals the deal by helping Prince Philip shoot the deer when she correctly notes which way the wind is blowing.
The whole family loves her, but it’s painfully obvious that Charles doesn’t. “You’ve been a great sport,” he says to her at the end of the trip with a chaste (and perhaps passive aggressive) pat on the shoulder. He telephones Camilla to complain that Diana is “a child,” but he can clearly see the direction things are heading. Charles’ sister Anne (Erin Doherty) tells him that Diana is perfect and that it’s time to close his chapter with Camilla. For his part, Philip in tells Charles, in no uncertain terms, to marry Diana as they’re both actively skinning the deer. Charles clearly sees himself as the deer — in case it wasn’t incredibly clear — because the life is being sucked out of him by his own family. But the larger picture would suggest that Diana is actually the deer, as she begins to be stalked and targeted by the press at the end of the episode, sacrificed by the royals who’ve decided her fate for her.
Episode 3: “Fairytale”
This episode begins with a trigger warning: as Diana becomes a princess, we begin to learn of her more private battles, including her eating disorder. Diana quietly struggled with bulimia for much of her life, eventually opening up about it to author Andrew Morton for the book Diana: Her True Story — in Her Own Words.
History is moving swiftly along and Charles is now engaged to Diana. But while most non-royals would assume that getting engaged to a prince is a sweeping, romantic moment, reality is a bit harsher: Charles doesn’t get down on one knee to propose because of his higher rank. In case you didn’t already know, it’s now clear this marriage is going to be great. After the proposal, Charles sends Diana back to London by herself, where she’s forced to endure the swarms of press outside her apartment. She also begins what are essentially “princess lessons” so she can learn all the royal protocols. We watch as she fails at the apparently all-important practice of curtseying to her royal family, and gets the order all wrong during a dinner party. Charles is quick to remind her who she should curtsy to first, as if all this pomp and circumstance really matters. Rank is one of the few things these people have in their lives, and they’re desperate to hold onto it.
If you needed more evidence that Charles and Diana were doomed from the start, it comes during a press interview about their recent engagement. A reporter asks if the pair is in love, and Diana says of course they are. Charles callously adds, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” He actually said that. It’s a real, well-documented quote.
After that charming interaction, Charles leaves Diana again to go on a six week tour of Australia, but he at least has the decency to move Diana into the palace so she’s not bombarded by reporters. He suggests that if she gets lonely, she can reach out to Camilla, because she’s great company. Diana is taken aback by the comment because it certainly sounds like Charles is still hanging out with his married ex-girlfriend. Oh, Diana. If only you knew.
While Charles is gone, Diana grows more and more lonely in the palace. Her fiancé won’t answer her phone calls and neither will the Queen. She turns to binging desserts from the kitchen late at night. Eventually she gets so bored that she does call Camilla and the two have lunch (this also really happened). But it doesn’t cheer Diana up, as Camilla goes on and on about all the things she knows about Charles — all things that Diana doesn’t. But it’s not really Diana’s fault that they’re strangers. They haven’t spent any meaningful time together. In real life, the couple only met 13 times before their wedding day.
Back at the palace, Diana finds sketches Charles had drawn up of a bracelet with his and Camilla’s code names — Fred and Gladys — inscribed on it. She again tries to reach the Queen to stop her impending wedding to Charles, who she now knows is still very much in a relationship with Camilla. “It will be a disaster for everyone,” she tells the Queen’s aide, but the Queen is, as always, unavailable to speak to her. In his Diana biography, Andrew Morton wrote that Diana really did want to call off the wedding after learning that Camilla and Charles exchanged gifts days before the ceremony, but her sisters reportedly said she couldn’t because her face was already all over merchandise like tea towels.
When Charles finally returns home from Australia, he heads straight to Highgrove to see
Camilla instead of going to the palace to see his betrothed. The wedding rehearsal is the first time Diana’s seen Charles in six weeks, an opportunity she uses tells him that she knows about Camilla. Still, Charles insists that the bracelet was a “we’re over” gift — a thing that shouldn’t, and also doesn’t exist — and he gives Diana a ring. Apparently, that’s enough to make her forgive him for now.
But the cracks in the relationship are becoming obvious to others and Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham-Carter) notices Charles and Diana acting strange at the rehearsal. She immediately knows this means that Charles is still in love with Camilla and implored the Queen and Prince Philip to stop the wedding. It’s not known if this conversation happened in real life, but if it did, Margaret would have been speaking from experience. She knew better than anyone what it was like to be torn away from true love and forced to marry someone more “suitable” — her forced relationship ultimately ended in divorce and she knows that’s where Charles and Diana are headed.
After hearing Margaret out, the Queen completely ignores her wishes and meets with Charles to remind him of his duty. That duty is apparently to enter a doomed, loveless marriage so that British citizens can continue to idolize and trust the monarchy as a stable national symbol. That’s the Queen’s reasoning, but after having watched what Margaret went through, it’s unclear why anyone is being put through this pain.
The episode closes moments before Charles and Diana’s wedding, which was watched by people all over the world. Rather than showing us the glamorous wedding that TV cameras gobbled up, we watch as Charles and Diana, both filled with dread and uncertainty, get ready for the event.
Episode 4: “Favourites”
Every parent has a favorite child, including Margaret Thatcher, whose favorite son Mark Thatcher (Freddie Fox) went missing in 1982. The race car driver disappeared during the Paris-Dakar rally, vanishing into the Saraha desert. Mark and his teammates were missing for six days before a rescue pilot located them. When Mark returns home, his mother lavishes him with attention, deeply annoying Mark’s twin sister Carol (Rebecca Humphries). She eventually calls her mother out on not having good relationships with women, blaming it on Margaret’s rough history with her own mother. Margaret says she didn’t respect her mother because she was “weak” and only wanted to be a housewife. Again, that’s not feminism.
According to the Independent, it’s true that Maragaret and her mother Beatrice Roberts had a strained relationship. Margaret never even mentioned Beatrice in her memoir, though she lavished over stories about her father. The Independent noted that Maragret once said of her mother, “I loved her dearly, but after I was 15 we had nothing more to say to each other.”
After learning from Margaret that Mark was her favorite child, the Queen asks Philip if he has a favorite amongst their four children. Without skipping a beat, Philip says that Princess Anne is his. The Queen says she doesn’t think she has one, but just in case Phillip is right, she arranges individual formal meetings with her kids to determine if she does have a favorite.
During her meeting with Prince Edward (Angus Imrie), she learns that he’s being picked on by his classmates and has turned to enforcing the law as head boy out of revenge. He also says it’s going to be easy for him to go to any college he wants because he’s a royal. The Queen is visibly uncomfortable with his obnoxiously privileged attitude. So it’s not Edward.
Next up is Princess Anne, whom the Queen takes riding in the country. Anne complains that she’s always being compared to Princess Diana. The Queen also mentions Anne’s deteriorating marriage and the rumors that she’s been unfaithful with her protection officer Peter Cross. The Queen says she’s having him transferred, which upsets Anne. She explains to the Queen that she’s angry and unhappy all the time, and the Queen unhelpfully remarks that “it will pass.” Anne storms off, feeling misunderstood, and it seems we can check Anne off the list.
Then it’s time for her meeting with Prince Andrew (Tom Byrne), who arrives by landing a helicopter on the palace grounds to make an “entrance.” He and his mother talk about his relationship with American actress Koo Stark, which he’s not really taking all that seriously. (Despite all the fanfare around Markle’s profession, it turns out Prince Harry wasn’t the first royal to be charmed by an actor from the States.) Still, Andrew wins over the Queen somewhat by highlighting that he’s all about his duty to the Crown, and he even compliments her salmon, which Edward had mocked in his meeting with their mother.
For her test — I mean meeting — with Charles, the Queen visits him at his Highgrove house where a very pregnant Princess Diana has locked herself in her room. Charles calls her “pathetic,” which is not exactly doting father-to-be behavior. He later complains to the Queen about Diana, but she calls him out for being selfish and still seeing Camilla. There’s a moment after she leaves where it looks like Charles might take the Queen’s advice to be more present in Diana’s life, but instead he turns away from her bedroom door and goes off to be alone. So this marriage is still going just swimmingly.
After completing her research, the Queen is less sure that she has a favorite and more convinced that all of her children are lost. “What does that say about us as parents?” she frets to Prince Phillip, remembering how often she let the nanny step in for her. Philip says she can’t blame herself, their children are adults now and in charge of fixing their own lives. But while British leadership is hung up on all this favorite child nonsense, a skirmish arises in the Falkland Islands, a British territory, when a group of scrap metal workers raise an Argentinian flag and declare the land to be theirs. This will eventually lead to the 1982 Falkland War, which was also started simply by metal workers raising a flag. When Argentinian officials hear about the incident, they threaten to send missiles to the island, and Margaret Thatcher, fresh off almost losing her son, decides she will not lose the Falklands either. Despite warnings from her fellow government leaders that the cost will be enormous, she decides to take the Falklands back anyway, and the episode ends with a naval ship on its way to war. In real life, the Falklands War lasted just a handful of months in 1982, but 256 British lives would be lost in the conflict.
Episode 5: “Fagan”
The episode opens with news footage about a break in at Buckingham Palace. Michael Fagan (Tom Brooke) found his way into the Queen’s private bedroom and the two spoke for 10 minutes.
Cut to three months earlier, and we’re flipping through scenes of Fagan’s everyday life. He’s living in a cramped, dingy apartment. As he listens to Margaret Thatcher speak on the radio, he yells for her to “fuck off.” The rage feels justified: She’s going on about how anyone can prosper if they work hard, no matter their background, which is an extraordinarily condescending thing to say any time, but especially as so many Britons are struggling to make ends meet.
Over the course of the episode, we learn about Fagan’s struggles: He’s unemployed, his wife left him, he can’t have his children over until he fixes the water damage in his apartment, and he can’t afford to do that. When he gets into a fight with his estranged wife’s new boyfriend, he loses custody of his children permanently.
Fagan, like many struggling folks would, blames Thatcher for invested too much money into the Falklands War when people like him are home in Britain without work or money to get by on. So he tries to make his concerns about Thatcher’s policies known to a government official, but he may as well complain to a brick wall. The government official sarcastically tells him to take his complaints to the Queen, who has a meeting with Thatcher every Tuesday. Little does he know, that’s exactly what Fagan will end up doing. (Note to self: Don’t use sarcasm if you ever end up working for the government.)
With that idea noodling around in his head, Fagan is riding the bus one evening when it passes Buckingham Palace. Just like that, he gets off the bus and then just climbs a side fence into the palace grounds. From there, he casually manages to avoid security and makes it through an unlocked second story window. Once inside he sits on the throne, drinks a bottle of wine, and accidentally shatters a vase. According to the Mirror, he also peed in the corgi food, ate some cheese and crackers, and viewed a roomful of gifts for newborn Prince William. Fagan flees when a maid sees him.
The following day, the Queen is briefed on the break-in, as she wasn’t there at the time. She requests that they don’t tell Thatcher, because she doesn’t want security to be beefed up any more than it already is. That’s the exact opposite of how I would feel if my home got broken into, but sure.
Back at home, Fagan watches a news broadcast about the Queen returning home. So he does the obvious thing and makes his way back to the palace to break in again, this time by shattering the now-locked second floor window and cutting his hand. Despite the mess, he’s able to make his way to the Queen’s bedroom, where she is asleep. Though she first assumes Fagan is a steward, she then she opens her eyes and is rightfully startled to see a complete stranger in her private chambers. Fagan says he just wants to talk, and the Queen obliges, but only to distract him as she tries to first to reach a hidden panic button next to her bed and later, to place a phone call to a maid. No one comes. Perhaps beefing up security wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.
While the Queen struggles to get security’s attention, Fagan has the floor. He relays his concerns about Thatcher and the country’s high unemployment numbers. The Queen insists there isn’t anything she can do and suggests, as a figurehead is wont to do, that the country will eventually bounce back. They talk until the maid arrives with the Queen’s tea. The guards finally arrive to escort Fagan out, but as he’s taken, the Queen promises she’ll “bear in mind” what he’s said. In The Crown’s version of events, she keeps her promise, and in her next meeting with Thatcher, mentions some of Fagan’s complaints. Thatcher is unconcerned, again spouting the idea that everyone has it within themselves to succeed and that Fagan will likely end up in a mental hospital for what he did. Then she leaves to go to the victory parade for the end of the Falklands War. Priorities, I guess.
In real life, Fagan served three months at the Park Lane Mental Hospital and now continues to reside in London. In 2012, he was interviewed by The Independent where he revealed that he didn’t actually have a heart to heart with the Queen at all. Once in her bedroom, he said, “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.” The scene of him getting the idea to break into the palace from the government worker was also fictionalized. He told The Independent that he couldn’t explain his motivation, he just went for it. (In a later interview, he suggested that he was under the residual effects of psychedelic mushrooms.) Yet, somehow, the truth remains that Fagan somehow managed to break in twice, undetected. The rest of the details are something only Fagan and the Queen know — and this fanciful recreation is probably the closest we’ll ever get to knowing what, if anything, was really said in that brief moment.
Episode 6: “Terra Nullius”
The Crown S4. Picture shows: Prince Charles (JOSH O CONNOR) and Princess Diana (EMMA CORRIN). Shooting Location: Llano del Buho, Almeria
We begin with some gripes. Australian prime minister Bob Hawke (Richard Roxburgh) isn’t a fan of the British monarchy having influence over Australia, which is part of the Queen’s Commonwealth of nations. But any hope he has of turning Australia into a republic is about to be shot in the foot by Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ 1983 royal tour. They leave the country with thousands of adoring fans — at least, Diana does.
Ahead of the tour, the Queen has some concerns about Princess Diana in her first of two condescending family tribunals about Diana. The problems this time? Rumors have spread about Di’s struggles with bulimia and Diana wants to take Prince William to Australia. Imagine that! A mother who doesn’t want to leave her newborn baby behind for six weeks! The horror!
In real life, Princess Diana’s insistence on bringing William actually helped break down that royal barrier, so that Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle could bring their own children along for royal tours in later years. Previously, it simply wasn’t done. The Queen and Prince Philip once left their children home for six months while they traveled for their royal duties — something seems pretty relevant when you look back on The Queen’s endeavor to find her favorite child in episode 4.
But while everyone’s raising qualms about Diana, Charles is still seeing Camilla. Looking back on her own experience, the Queen hopes that the Australia tour will bring Charles and Diana closer as it did for her and Philip in 1954. But that hope dies a slowly and painfully as the Oz tour continues.
On the plane, before they’ve even landed in Australia, Charles is already annoyed that baby William is along for the ride. As William cries, Diana raises some of her own concerns: their schedules are too jam-packed for parents raising a newborn. When Charles’ aide suggests that William shouldn’t have come (it’s a little late for that, pal), Diana reminds them, “No baby, no me.”
It’s a bold moment for Diana, but minutes later she’s told that for the first two weeks of the trip, William will be with a nanny across the continent while Charles and Diana work. End of discussion. Without her son, Diana is clearly distracted. She barely looks up at a press conference and she gets dizzy walking up the famous Ayers Rock. Charles later complains to Camilla that Diana is “weak,” but she’s strong enough to demand that their tour stop so she can retrieve her baby.
Diana lights up when they’re reunited. They do a photoshoot together with Charles, and the press seems delighted to get photos of the baby. It sure seems like royal babies aren’t as bad for business as the stuffy old royals thought. Shocker!
Riding that success, Diana confronts Charles about her general unhappiness in her marriage. She explains that she just wants to be “heard, understood, and appreciated.” She also calls her husband out over still talking to Camilla — and even wearing the cufflinks Camilla gave him on their honeymoon. (That’s true, he did. They had interlocking letter “C”s on them for Charles and Camilla. Brutal.)
“Where do I fit in?” Diana asks. Charles replies, “You fit in because you’re my wife and…” he pauses. “Because…” he pauses a bit longer this time. “I love you,” he finally says. Hearing that, even with all the strain it took for Charles to just get the damn words out, means the world to Diana. Her mood shifts immediately and they agree to encourage each other more often. They toast to a new beginning. If only that was the end of the story.
When they resume their tour, their popularity has skyrocketed. A glamourous montage shows the royal duo seemingly falling more in love as crowds of adoring fans follow their every move. Charles joins Diana in her bedroom and he even declines a call from Camilla! Maybe they can actually make this work. They even dance together at a gala, where they look happy and genuinely thrilled to be doing it all together. There is footage of the real royal couple dancing at that event, and it looks just as joyous as The Crown’s recreation. But the series, like history, must move on from here. So somehow these happy scenes are even harder to watch; we know what’s coming.
Things start to change as Diana’s profile rises above Charles’. There’s a moment where Diana is swarmed by fans, and the prince is pushed out of the way. Back home, Princess Anne points out that Charles is in Diana’s shadow, and he won’t like that. Back in Oz, it’s obvious that he doesn’t. Fewer moments drive this point home harder than the moment when he attends a polo event solo and the crowd chants, “We want Di” and laughs at him when he falls off a horse. (In real life, he insisted he was pushed). Things are made worse when they meet with the prime minister, who says that Australia may have continued hating the monarchy if only Charles had come on the tour, but he just had to bring his charming wife.
The tour, quite expectedly, ends on a sour note. And when the royal couple return to England, Charles goes straight to his country house to see Camilla. Diana calls the Queen and tells her that she’s “wretchedly unhappy.” The Queen says that she looks happy in all the pictures of them together. Surely the Queen should know better than anyone that happy pictures don’t mean a thing. But she’s trying to keep Diana in line, so she also suggests that Diana is enjoying her fame too much.
When the Queen calls her second family tribunal about Diana, she points out that while they’re all a little tougher than she is, Diana connects with the modern world far better than they do. The Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) dismisses the issue, because Diana is immature and will in time bend to the way things are “as Philip did.” The Queen muses, “And if she doesn’t bend?” Princess Margaret answers, “She will break.”
She may well already have. In the episode’s final moments, Diana curls up in her room, spiritless, looking through her window. She’s alone, again, and her situation shows no sign of getting better.
Episode 7: “The Hereditary Principle”
Picture shows: Princess Margaret (HELENA BONHAM CARTER)
While Diana’s story is fascinating and incredibly moving, episode 7 is finally Helena Bonham Carter’s chance to shine. Princess Margaret has thus far been relegated to tertiary scenes with witty one-liners. But as we learn, Princess Margaret has a new beau, a man she calls Dazzle but whose real name is Derek Jennings. Their potential romance is short lived, however, when he decides to become a Catholic priest. The Queen points out that Dazzle is also a “friend of Dorothy” which is an old-fashioned euphemism for him being a gay man.
The actual Derek Jennings was private about his life, but a biography about his friend actor Alec Guinness says that Dazzle would make “constant references to homosexuality.” Beyond his friendship with Princess Margaret, Dazzle apparently also wanted her to convert to Catholicism. According to the Catholic Herald, author Noel Botham wrote in Margaret: The Last Real Princess that Margaret only refused to convert out of a loyalty to the Queen, who is head of the Church of England. To convert to Catholicism also would have lost Margaret her place in line for the throne.
But back to The Crown, where Margaret suddenly begins to cough up blood. She undergoes investigative surgery to find out what’s wrong. In real life, the chronic smoker had a portion of her lung looked at in 1985, but it was determined to be non-cancerous. We see a news broadcast about her surgery as it plays in a mental hospital where a patient named Katherine starts to cry as she watches the report. This will become important in a bit.
Thankfully, Margaret is better in time for Prince Edward’s birthday party, and she pledges to give up smoking, men, and alcohol. “I’m finally ready to focus on the one thing that won’t let me down. Us. My position as a royal,” she tells her sister, the Queen. “Give me as much responsibility as you can.”
Her timing couldn’t be worse, though. Now that Edward is 21 and can take on his own royal duties, there isn’t much left for Margaret. The Queen tells her she’s being demoted, because only six senior royals can exist at a time. Margaret, who’s finally found her footing after all these years, begs the Queen to give her something to fill her time, but the Queen just suggests she do more charity work. That’s also not an option, laments Margaret, because charities only want Diana. But the Queen won’t budge, instead passing the buck by saying its not up to her. It seems like it should extremely be up to her, but logic isn’t going to change this situation.
Having a hit a brick wall with her sister, Princess Margaret’s attempt at a cleaner lifestyle is short-lived. She jets off to the island of Mustique, where she resumes drinking copiously. Charles visits her to inform her that Diana is pregnant again (with Prince Harry this time), but that their marriage is suffering more than ever. He admits he’s begun seeing a therapist and suggests that Margaret do as well. The book Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life claims that Charles did begin seeing a therapist as his marriage with Diana became more toxic for the both of them. Both Charles’ children are now advocates in the mental health space.
The talk seems to stick, because when she returns to London, Margaret does go to therapy. The book Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret claims that she once saw a psychiatrist but it was a short-lived experience. “I only lasted one session — I didn’t like it at all. Perfectly useless,” the princess allegedly told a friend.
In the therapist’s office, she tearfully admits that she’s “been feeling a little low for a while now.” The therapist wants to know if anyone else in her family struggles with mental illness, and that’s when we learn about The Queen and Margaret’s first cousins, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon. At that time, these cousins are living at the Earlswood Institution, a mental health facility. When Margaret relays this information to the Queen, she’s surprised. She finds a book of all her family members, which lists Nerissa and Katherine as deceased. Margaret doesn’t believe this information, so she sends Dazzle to the institution to check.
Not only are Nerissa and Katherine alive, but several of their cousins are also in the institution. Margaret confronts her mother about this, complaining that in their royal family, “If you don’t fit the perfect mold … then you’ll be spat out or you’ll be hidden away.” Clearly, the royal with no more royal duties is seeing some common threads here. The Queen Mother says that they simply had to hide Nerissa and Katherine or people might have questioned “the integrity” of the royal bloodline. It’s a horrific excuse for a horrific act, but at least we get the benefit of watching Carter’s Princess Margaret as a champion against this backwards line of thinking. Margaret then finds out from her therapist that the mental illness her cousins have isn’t even genetically part of the royal bloodline, so there was no need to hide the cousins in the first place.
Margaret ends up even more disillusioned with her family than she started. She goes back to her island, where she fills her day with partying, drinking, smoking, and looking miserably lonely through it all.
To close the episode, we learn that Nerissa passed away in 1986 and her sister Katherine passed in 2014. They spent their whole of their lives in an institution. According to Surrey Live, the Daily Express reported that the Queen Mother didn’t learn about her nieces being institutionalized until 1982. She then sent thousands of dollars so that birthday and Christmas presents could be purchased for Nerissa and Katherine each year. As for the book that stated they were dead, the mistake was discovered in 1987 and was said to be a filing error, per Surrey Live. There’s no evidence that Princess Margaret was in contact with the cousins at all or tried to seek them out.
Episode 8: “48:1”
Claire Foy, the original Queen from the first two seasons of The Crown, returns for this episode opener, in which it’s 1947 and she’s giving an address from Cape Town, South Africa. It’s her promise to always be there for the Commonwealth, which includes countries like Australia, Canada, and South Africa.
Back in the show’s present timeline it’s 1986 and a man named Michael Shea (Nicholas Farrell) is writing a lyrical novel on a typewriter, which he then hands over to his agent. She wonders if he might willing to write about more compelling subject matter, but he staunchly refuses. He’s an aspiring author in his spare time, but acting as the Buckingham Palace press secretary is his day job and he takes that very seriously. This is going to be important, but first, some nuptials.
Prince Andrew (yep, that Prince Andrew) is getting married to Sarah Ferguson (a.k.a. the original Fergie), which will be a scandalous relationship all its own if it’s explored in The Crown season 5. It ended in divorce after Ferguson was caught by paparazzi with an American financier who was — and this is real — kissing her feet.
In much more meaningful news, Apartheid is in full swing in South Africa, and many nations in the Commonwealth want to impose economic sanctions to encourage its end. The one who doesn’t? The UK, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher, who was famously against sanctions. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Thatcher and the Queen discuss the situation in South Africa. The Queen implores her to approve sanctions “on an Apartheid regime that has no place in the modern world.” Thatcher is more concerned about monetary issues, stating that trade between their two countries brings in three billion pounds a year. Thatcher agrees to sign a document with the rest of the Commonwealth Heads about South Africa, but not if it says “sanctions” or “proposals.” She also vetoes economic measures, actions, controls, protocols, and limits before agreeing to “signals,” which is suggested by the Queen’s press secretary. The Commonwealth members think they’ve won, but Thatcher makes a speech where she points out that “with one simple turn, a signal can soon point in an entirely different direction.” They’re all naturally flummoxed by her ironclad disinterest in banding together on this issue.
As tensions rise, it’s becoming clear that the Queen and her prime minister are at odds. Press secretary Michael Shea suggests that the Queen make a statement of support for Thatcher to quell rumors of a feud. But the feud rumors are true, and the Queen is concerned about Thatcher’s lack of compassion. In this retelling of events, the Queen encourages these comments making their way into The Sunday Times, which marks an unprecedented reversal of the Queen’s tradition to stay mum on political issues. In reality, the Times article from that point in history reported that while aides confirmed the rift, Buckingham Palace disputed the report.
In their next meeting, Thatcher confronts the Queen over the feud reports in the most heated moment of their relationship thus far. The prime minister suggests while she worked hard and earned her position, the Queen did not. Technically that’s true, but still, rude. Thatcher says she believes Britain must think of themselves first (sounds familiar, no?), but her son Mark is a businessman in South Africa which probably definitely has something to do with her not wanting to impose sanctions. In real life, Mark lived in South Africa for many years before pleading guilty in 2005 to financially aiding an attempted coup to replace the president of Equatorial Guinea. He was fined $500,000 and given a four-year suspended sentence for breaking South Africa’s Foreign Military Assistance Act. He then relocated to America.
Despite subsequent palace denials that the Queen and Thatcher are clashing, the story remains top news, in part because the claims were apparently substantiated by the Queen’s aides. Her aide Martin (Charles Edwards) decides they need a fall guy to put a rest to the rumors, and though he didn’t want to go along with the leak in the first place, they pick Michael Shea. In case you forgot, prior to his dismissal, Michael was so loyal that he refused offers to write political thrillers even though he dreamed of being an author, because he didn’t wish to betray the confidences of the Crown. After he was let go, the real Michael did go on to write several political thrillers as well as a memoir called A View from the Sidelines. There’s some karma for you.
The end credits makes sure to state that the Palace remains resolute that the Queen has never officially made her opinion of a prime minister known — The Crown is, after all, a loose recreation of events. And in 1994, Apartheid fell, thanks in large part to sanctions imposed on South Africa. But perhaps it could have fallen nearly a decade earlier if Thatcher had just gotten on board in 1986. I supposed we’ll never know.
Episode 9: “Avalanche”
Picture shows: Princess Diana (EMMA CORRIN) and Wayne Sleep (JAY WEBB)
It’s Prince Charles’ 37th birthday, and he’s at a gala event to celebrate. For his present, Princess Diana has secretly choreographed a routine with famous ballet dancer Wayne Sleep where she would come out in a slinky white silk gown and dance to “Uptown Girl.” You can watch Sleep walk through the whole number here.
It’s hard to imagine why Diana thought Charles would like to see her at performing center stage considering the way he reacted to her time in the spotlight in Australia, but understanding one another has already proven to be Diana and Charles’ weak point. As anyone who’s been paying attention up until this point would assume, Charles hates it. “Tomorrow the newspapers will be about nothing other than you,” he complains before dropping Diana off at the palace and heading to his country house — to see Camilla, obviously.
Meanwhile, the Queen — who is either very oblivious or desperate to believe that nothing is wrong between Diana and Charles — sees the photos of the dance in the paper and remarks that she thinks their relationship is turning a corner. Not even close.
Then, a few months after his birthday, Charles almost dies. This bit is real: during Charles’ March 1988 ski trip in Switzerland, a deadly avalanche roared down Gotschnagrat Mountain, killing one member of his party. As in real life, The Crown’s Charles survives, and the accident buys him a few days before the press turn from covering his rescue mission to rumors of his rift with Princess Diana. The Queen is somehow surprised to hear that Diana and Charles aren’t getting along, so she asks Anne to tell her the truth about how it’s going. Anne says between the age gap and their lack of understanding for each other, it’s pretty much not a marriage at all and that they’re both having relationships on the side. Anne blatantly slut shames Diana, referring to Diana’s “revolving door” for men. I once rooted for Princess Anne, but now she’s just being cruel — though perhaps she’s just projecting, since it would later be revealed that she was having an affair of her own. Still, the royals seem to be focused on Diana’s affairs, despite the fact that Charles was unfaithful first and showed no willingness to stop seeing Camilla long before Diana gave up and had affairs of her own.
Seeing the dire state of their relationship, The Queen decides it’s time to intervene and confront Charles and Diana about the state of their marriage. It seems that Charles’ near death experience with the avalanche has not brought them closer, but rather, driven them to completely opposite conclusions. Charles no longer wants to waste his life being apart from Camilla, but for Diana, the idea of almost losing Charles entirely has cemented just how much she wants to be with him. She tells the Queen as much, totally changing the tone of the confrontation just as Charles was planning to make his big speech about ending things. They’ve always been on such opposing sides that it’s kind of a miracle their marriage lasted as long as it did, but this chasm seems insurmountable. Charles is furious that Diana jumped in to declare her intention to work on their marriage when he was about to grasp the life he really wants. He says he’ll just wait for her to slip up with another man, and that his protection officers will alert him to any affairs immediately.
Cut to Diana, who tells her team that she’s well and truly done with all the men she was seeing — even Major James Hewitt, whom Diana secretly saw in real life from 1986 until 1991. Instead, she’s focusing on planning her wedding anniversary celebration with Charles. Unfortunately, her husband completely forgot their wedding anniversary and was reminded only when his aide suggested that he not plan a rendezvous with Camilla on the same day. Blissfully unaware of just how disgruntled Charles has become, Diana makes her way to Highgrove for their anniversary dinner, belting along to Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” with her sons behind her in the backseat of her car. As she drives, a team of maids hide all the photos and mementos of Camilla that Charles has stashed around Highgrove. It’s not the least bit surprising, but it’s still heartbreaking to watch.
As the couple exchange anniversary gifts at dinner, we witness one of the fundamental flaws in their relationship: they have totally different love languages. Charles gives Diana a book about the history of her family home, which she seems to find extremely boring. Diana gives Charles a VHS tape of her performance of “All I Ask Of You” from The Phantom of the Opera. She thinks because she’s giving him the performance in private, rather than on the world’s stage, that he’ll like it. He still hates it. The performance wasn’t “monstrous” as Charles later described it, but it’s admittedly a pretty odd gift to give a husband like Prince Charles. Diana clearly communicates in acts of service and that’s never been Charles’ thing.
A frustrated Charles complains to Anne about his marriage, but Anne reminds him that it’s not like he can just have a life with Camilla — she probably doesn’t want out of her own marriage. She has children and a happy enough life with Andrew Parker-Bowles. Charles is annoyed by the suggestion, so he confronts Camilla about it later. She tries to assure him that Andrew doesn’t adore or need Camilla like Charles does. However, she’s quick to say that for her and Charles, “What we both want and what we can actually do are not the same thing.” They both feel trapped by the lives that they’re in, but only one of them seems to think there’s a way to escape.
At this point, it’s clear there’s no hope for Charles and Diana, but it’s still confirmed with a montage of Diana attempting to reach her husband several times and being ignored. As much as she wanted to save their marriage, it takes two to repair a rift this deep, and Prince Charles isn’t even trying. Eventually, Diana understands it’s hopeless, so in her sadness and loneliness, she rekindles her affair with Major Hewitt and sneaks him into the palace. Just as Charles said, his protection officers were waiting for her to slip up, so they run and tattle to the prince immediately.
Yes, Diana once again cheated. But under the circumstances, she deserved some grace. Not a single person in Buckingham Palace has Diana’s best interests at heart. Everything they do is for the monarchy, and as we’ve seen, they don’t mind who they crush. While Charles may also be trapped, he still holds the power here — and he has since the day Diana learned she had to bow to her husband. But if you think you hate The Crown’s Charles after this episode, just wait. It’s about to get so much worse.
Episode 10: “War”
The Crown S4
We open on a man collecting some papers, sighing, and heading off for what is sure to be an awful day of work. It’s Sir Geoffrey Howe, Margaret Thatcher’s deputy prime minister who resigned from his position in 1990. According to the BBC, his resignation is credited as a key part of Thatcher’s eventual downfall. During his speech, Howe broke rank and criticized Thatcher, as well her infamous penchant for being quick to say “no.” He called working for her akin to a game of cricket wherein you’re “sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only to find … their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.” The prime minister is stoic as she leaves the resignation, but once she’s home, the Iron Lady breaks down in tears.
The Queen and Charles are oblivious to the breakdown in British government as they once again discuss Diana. Charles is upset that Diana has cheated again — this is truly rich coming from Charles. “It leaves me with no option than to start a formal separation,” he says. But their conversation is interrupted by Prince Philip informing them about Howe’s resignation speech. The separation idea is tabled again.
So despite Charles’ desire for an urgent separation, he and Diana are still very much legally together. So they attend Prince William’s rugby game at boarding school, yet another opportunity to show how wildly different they are. As they leave, Diana hugs William goodbye and tells him she loves him. Charles gives him a pat on the shoulder and says, “See you at Christmas.” In real life, Prince William and Charles are reportedly much closer than they used to be these days, although it wouldn’t be hard to be closer than that ice cold shoulder pat.
Back in the car, Diana asks Charles if he’s just going to ignore her forever. “Silence was preferable,” Charles says, because when they talk they always fight. He then asks about her solo trip to New York, behaving as if the trip had been planned without his knowledge. “Don’t look surprised,” she says. “The government requested it. Everyone knows I was going.” Charles says her going alone is an “ugly piece of self-advancement,” even though Diana insists that she would rather be going with him anyway. “The past few months you’ve barely been in a fit state psychologically to go to the hairdresser much less represent the crown,” Charles spits back. Josh O’Connor, who plays Charles, said in an interview that he doesn’t think the prince is the “villain” of the season — but he’s pretty villainous here.
When the two meet with their respective teams later, Charles’ aide suggests that the princess will be too taxed to complete her duties on the New York tour. “No one here would wish to see the princess of Wales overstretched, certainly not ast a risk to her own health,” he says, adding, “Not to mention the amount of time she’d be separated from her children and the distress that might cause her.” It’s extremely patronizing, but Diana comes out of the discussion a winner for not punching him square in the jaw. Diana’s aide firmly says that she’s up for the trip and all its requirements. She later frets to her bodyguard, “I’m in hell and he just hates me and wants me to fail. He tells everyone I’m mad. They treat me like I’m mad, and I’m starting to feel mad … I’m going to fall flat on my face.”
But Diana doesn’t fall flat on her face during her 1989 New York tour; she soars. You can see a taste of her real life tour thanks to this archive from New York’s local ABC news station:
Americans loved her just as much as Australians did during her tour of Oz, and she cemented her growing reputation for being an AIDS awareness activist. A prime moment came during a visit to a small hospital in Harlem: she hugged a child who had the illness. At the time, misinformation about HIV/AIDS was rampant, and people feared contracting the virus just by touching someone who had it. Diana wasn’t one of those people and braved the stigma to get the right message out. At the time a physician at the hospital told Diana, “Visits like yours help. Our own ‘royalty,’ whatever that is, being a democracy or a republic or whatever, have not done as much as you, anything so symbolic as you.”
Back in England, Camilla watches coverage of Diana’s tour and tells Charles that he has to stop trying to break things off with the princess. She wants to be with him, but she fears humiliation more: “If you put me in a popularity contest against her I will lose … she will always defeat me in the court of public opinion.” But Charles doesn’t care about public opinion, or anyone’s opinion, calling Camilla “my one true love.” And while Camilla is in love, she’s also the realist in this situation: she’s a mistress, just like her great grandmother was to Charles’ great-great grandfather. She’s talking about Alice Keppel, who allegedly had an affair with Edward VII, who was king from 1901 to 1910. Like Charles does with Camilla, Edward VII reportedly preferred Keppel to any other romantic partner.
Meanwhile, Thatcher is downplaying the seriousness of her deputy prime minister resigning, but all her efforts to squash the subsequent rumblings are unsuccessful. Even when Thatcher attempts to meet with her cabinet, they make it clear to her that she no longer has any support. One cabinet member flat out tells her that she is unable to unite their party and is “ruling by decree.” It’s time for her to stand down. She tells her husband she still has “one card left to play.” That one card, as she reminds the Queen in their next meeting, is that she can dissolve parliament to help her stay in power. This sounds extremely dramatic, but it’s worth noting that in the UK, parliament is dissolved every five years when there’s a general election. What Thatcher likely hoped to do was end the term before a challenger within her own party could be named. “We are on the brink of war, what kind of signal does that give to our enemies … if we were to change leadership now? It would make us look hopelessly weak and divided,” Thatcher says.
The Queen — the voice of reason in this situation — notes while it’s within Thatcher’s power to dissolve parliament, that doesn’t mean she should. The Queen suggests that she should step down and try finding a new passion. For the second time, Thatcher — whose reputation for being unmovable dissolves a little more with each scene on The Crown — begins to cry. Her job is her only true passion.
But just as the real Thatcher did, this PM does eventually give in and resigns after over 11 years in office. The image we see on The Crown of Thatcher’s iron facade breaking as she got into the car is pulled from real life. Thatcher did look quite upset as her vehicle pulled away. On November 28, 1990, the real Thatcher exited Number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence, for the final time, seen here via a BBC News archive video:
The Queen seems to feel for Thatcher leaving the position that meant so much to her — something she intimately understands as a monarch who prizes duty over all. So she arranges for Thatcher to receive the Order of Merit, which is restricted to just 24 living members at a time. The Queen tells Thatcher that when she became monarch at a young age, she had to deal with “stuffy, rather patronizing gray-haired men everywhere telling me what to do,” and she was proud of how Thatcher handled her own set of those and her overall devotion to the UK. It’s a touching moment between two women who are so publicly stoic, and whose historical reputations don’t often allow for this kind of nuance.
But we still have the matter of Diana, who has since returned to England after her New York trip. Naturally, Charles does not us this moment to tell her what a great job she did (if Diana thought he would, she’s vastly overestimated him yet again), instead firing off that her “capacity for self-delusion never ceases to amaze me.” After years of sending their children away, whether it be for a royal event or just to boarding school, Charles has the audacity to use their sons against her, saying that the children need her home. The stinger is his suggestion that she is back where she “belongs without too much damage done.” Diana reminds him that she was gone four whole days and their children are fine.
But Charles has had it. He suggests that Diana hugged that ailing child for the good press, not because she’s a kind person. “The exquisite selfishness of your motives and the calculated vulgarity of the antics knowing full well the headlines they would get,” he says, his jealousy of Diana’s praise at full volume. He suggests that any of the royal family could “theatrically hug the wretched and the dispossessed and cover ourselves in glory all over the front pages” if they wanted to. Charles is trying hard to make Diana feel small, so she fights back with an equally cruel retort: “I doubt it. You barely find it in yourselves to hug your own.” But then comes the real reason Charles is so angry about Diana doing something selfless: it hurt Camilla (in reality, it made Camilla realize what they’re doing doesn’t work, but Charles probably doesn’t have patience for that kind of specificity). “Why would I care about her?” Diana shouts back. Charles — fully in his own world at this point — tries to spin the logic that Diana should care about Camilla, because he cares about Camilla, and Diana should care about who he cares about. That is some twisted logic, even for a serial cheater. The fight ends with one last barb: Charles says he’s done with their “grotesque misalliance” and that if Diana is upset about not being loved, she should talk to the people who arranged their marriage.
And that’s exactly what she decides to do at the royal family Christmas. When Diana finds the Queen, she asks to speak with her, but the Queen brushes her off as usual. Then the Queen is ambushed by Charles who also wants to talk. This time, she listens, however temporarily. As soon as Charles says that he’s “suffering,” his mother’s had enough. “No, you are not suffering. We’re suffering having to put up with this,” she says, speaking for every single one of us at this moment. “When people look at you and Diana they see two privileged young people who, through good fortune, have ended up with everything one could dream of in life. No one, not a single breathing, living soul anywhere sees cause for suffering,” she quips. There will be no separation and they must make the marriage work, but that’s where her opinion diverges from pretty much anyone else watching this marriage unfold: Set these people free. And Diana first, please.
Diana, having been denied an audience with the Queen, is lying down in her bedroom instead of joining in the holiday, so Philip checks on her. He calls her a “sensitive creature,” and sure, she’s sensitive in the way that humans are, but she’s also an incredibly brave woman who has put up with more than she should have for far longer than most people could. Diana describes being in this marriage and this family as “an icy, dark, loveless cave with no light, no hope anywhere — not even the faintest crack,” which is not an inaccurate description of the year 2020.
Philip does his best to make Diana feel better by inaccurately promising that Charles will come around eventually, but Diana knows they’re well past that. She says she wants to be able to find love and security and if she can’t find it here, she’ll officially leave and find it somewhere else. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Philip says. “Let’s just say, I can’t see it ending well for you.” This line is chilling, considering what we know of Diana’s fate.
The season ends with Diana coming downstairs to join the family Christmas photo. As the camera flashes, it illuminates her unsmiling face and the tears welling in her eyes. And it foreshadows how things will end for her in real life, with unfriendly and unfamiliar camera flashes as she does anything she can to escape.
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