The Crown “Beryl” and “Marionettes” recap: Queen for modern era

There are two things going on in Season 2 of The Crown that the people putting this show together can be described no less than as tacticians for managing. One, pace, in relation to the historical timeline, is frantic. Prince Philip’s royal assignment, occurring over a stretch of 5-6 months, plays out over three episodes, whereas “Marionettes,” one of the episodes I’m here to discuss, encapsulates a full year. Two, the events of those episodes are submitted as deep background to explain, ever so subtly, some of the decisions of the characters in later episodes, instead of forcibly including sequences to, for example, retrace Philip’s rumored affairs. So, in “Beryl,” an episode devotedly focused on Princess Margaret, why do Queen Elizabeth and Philip decide to throw a beyond average anniversary party for themselves? Well, it’s because public perception of their relationship is more critical now than ever, but we didn’t have to reengage in that dialogue to understand their thinking.

As perfectly measured as the storytelling is, you still wind up with a few duds in a row to start this season. Why? Because Philip is (gasp!) boring. But alas, “Beryl” and “Marionettes” re-centers the focus on the women of the royal family, Elizabeth and Margaret, and these two essential episodes go a long way in explaining how and why they became the women they were yesterday and today — one a princess for the modern age, the other a queen for it.

Margaret seems to desire something different in life than what her genealogy has provided her, but it isn’t until one traditional love story fails and an abnormal one begins that a normal person, a photographer named Tony, unlocks that desire.

Elizabeth has long been doing the rope-a-dope with her duty to uphold the traditions of the crown and her potential to transform the identity of it by letting her natural charisma and charm shine through her actions. In “Marionettes,” it comes to her attention that at least one public figure, a journalist, is quite tired of the same old monarchy, one that is failing to keep pace with what’s going on out in the world (for example, broadcasting Christmas greetings on the radio when it’s quite clear television is taking over as the dominant news medium).

With one out-of-touch speech at a car manufacturing plant, said reporter, Lord Altrincham, unloads a criticism that all the papers pick up — a criticism that gets the attention of TV host Robin Day, host of “Impact.”

If there’s one thing that the makers of The Crown can do to strike you in awe of their work, it’s sprinkling a bit of magic into their filmmaking. There’s one scene in particular, in “Marionettes,” that’s almost a magic trick all its own, that I’ll revisit in a bit. But first, the way that directors Philippa Lowthorpe (“Marionettes”) and Benjamin Caron (“Beryl”) paint the distribution of major news across Great Britain is incredible, like piecing together bits of cell phone footage from a where-were-you-when moment. (Cell phones, in a comparison to bring it into the now).

First, in “Beryl,” for the reveal of Margaret’s birthday photo in the papers. It’s the photo taken by her new love interest, not the one by the commissioned royal photographer. And it’s a shocker. It’s sultry. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Seeing all these little clips, in perfect unison, from the morning of, especially from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor scoffing at it back in the U.S., creates a pretty epic, universal gasp.

Then, in “Marionettes,” when Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the royal players find out Lord Altrincham will be on “Impact” defending himself, Lowthorpe mimics the Caron sequence from the episode before to design another strong sequence, this forming universal tension.

Altrincham holds his ground remarkably well against Robin Day, known for disarming guests he disagrees with — and he does disagree with him, hence his opening line, “Why do you hate the Queen?” Altrincham takes his hits for the comments, both literally and figuratively, but he does get invited in to meet with, essentially, a low-level ear piece for the crown.

**Pause for an aside: He takes the meeting thanks to Yara Greyjoy’s insistence to do so. So, now we know what Cersei’s done with her… she’s made her a typist for a nothing newspaper. Double gasp!**

This meeting makes for the most interesting sequence of the last two hours of television on The Crown, in its creative filmmaking and its complicated dance of negotiation.

The royals pull a fast one on Altrincham. They escort him high up the winding staircase of the Palace and into a claustrophobic side room, where he expects to be meeting with some nobody. He’s the first one in the room, and they make him sweat it out. When his back is turned, the door opens and shuts. He’s looking at a college picture of the man he’s meeting with. “We have something in common,” Altrincham says. His back still turned, “And what might that be,” says the Queen.

Boom. Roasted. You’re meeting with the Queen, good buddy.

He’s on his heels now, and as they’re seated — again, this is mono-e-mono, two people in the room, Queen vs. Altrincham — Elizabeth chimes in, “Is my voice all right? You can understand me? Not too strangled?”

BOOM! Doubly roasted!

You want to give Elizabeth a thousand high fives right then. I pump my fist, laugh and smile real big. She uses his words and shoves it right back in his face. This is her turf. You’re in her space, on her terms. You’ve never met her before, yet you rip her in the papers. Now she’s right in front of you, and she’s a prize fighter. She’s smart., she’s witty — all things she’s always been, and it on display for Altrincham.

I’m cheering on the queen. (But I always am.)

The actual context of the meeting is constructive. Altrincham’s gathered a list of three things Elizabeth and her team should start doing and three other things they should stop doing. Openly listening to his suggestions displays Elizabeth’s strength and poise. Altrincham’s largely criticizing Elizabeth’s team as being old and out of touch and her personally for failing to adjust old traditions for a more modern era. Many of these things she’s already had chances to take on — case in point, her private secretary. She wanted to choose the young up-and-comer, Martin Charteris, who was closer to her age and, thus, more in touch with her and with the modern times; instead, she picked Michael Adeane, Tommy’s recommendation who’d been biding his time for years and was traditionally next in line. There, she sided with tradition.

By merely listening to Altrincham — forget the fact that she accepted what he had to say — she’s accepting a criticism of herself. She, in fact, institutes most all of his recommendations, including the publicly broadcast (on TV) Christmas message, another great scene in “Marionettes” in which Claire Foy does an exemplary job of portraying a queen still internally embattled by wanting to resist taking direction from a man who’d criticized her so publicly and so personally. But she executes the television broadcast. Later, she invites members of the public into the Palace for a luncheon, another suggestion of Altrincham for making herself more accessible to the broader public.

Knowing what we know now, these aspects of her reign are no doubt pillars of what has made her grow and grow and grow in popularity. She’s beloved.

It is touching, in fact, that the episodes ends with a recognition of the contributions made by Lord Altrincham, later known as John Grigg, because they were so fiercely impactful.

When their discussion comes to an end, Elizabeth sends Altrincham out the door to send Charteris in. Charteris goes in and orders Altrincham to wait outside. No more than a few seconds later, Charteris invites him back into the room. And, as if a figment of his imagination, Elizabeth has disappeared. The two men sit across a desk from each other, and the discussion, presumably, starts back at Recommendation #1.

See. It’s like magic.

The Crown “Lisbon” recap: Abandon ship

MV5BMTU1MTA4NzU1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzE5MDgxMzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_“Lisbon” brings us back around to where Season 2 of The Crown began, aboard the Royal Britannia and five months into our timeline. In the face of a scandal that’s seen Philip’s closest adviser divorced by his wife on charges of, among other things, adultery, the royal marriage is under a microscope like never before.

There are some rumors the couple will address privately, but a larger truce needs to be made: What does Philip need to make this marriage manageable for him? After all, divorce is not an option like it is for other people. That’s what Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are discussing on the boat when this season began. Philip asks for a promotion, to be made prince consort, and Elizabeth abides.

So again, we find Elizabeth torn between her duty to the crown and what she’s feeling inside because no doubt she’s fuming inside about what she’s reading in the papers, what she’s read in one of Mike Parker’s letters and what she’s already suspected. With stony eyes, she motions through the ceremony that awards Philip his promotion, in what’s a pretty intense scene in this third episode of Season 2.

The episode sets up the next part of this season, as this three-part mini-season wraps. How will the royals handle the scandal unfolding in front of them, especially as out of their control it has gotten? What’s next politically, as Anthony Eden has resigned? And now, expect Princess Margaret’s arc to begin as well.

Moving on…


The Crown “A Company of Men” recap: Divorce


Don’t be alarmed by the title of this post, and, if you were, for goodness sake, learn your history.

In “A Company of Men,” the second episode of the second season of The Crown, the Royal Family is not what’s causing a budding scandal in Great Britain; rather, it’s the Parkers causing the stir. Eileen Parker is rampantly pursuing a divorce from her husband, Mike, Prince Philip’s personal secretary/best friend, while the men are aboard the Royal Britannia en route to Australia where Philip will open the Olympic Games. And those closest to the Queen are concerned about what Eileen’s accusations of her husband mean for Prince Philip.

It’s 1956, and women can’t just divorce their husbands without cause — possible causes being “he’s crazy,” “he beats me,” or “he cheats on me.” Eileen seeks evidence of that final issue, staking out the location of the Thursday Lunch Club, of which Mike and Philip are founding members and where we are to assume foul play is occurring, until she can snag a waitress who might know something. Women helping women, right?

Not quite. This particular waitress admits to several extracurricular meet-ups with Mike but isn’t willing to go public with the information, at the risk of losing her job.

Instead, it’s Mike who’s undoing his own cause.

Mike’s a showboat. There’s never been a better example of that than in this episode.

As Elizabeth and Philip struggle to connect via phone, during this trip that lasts several months, Mike writes home. But he’s not writing letters to Eileen. They’re postmarked to the boys at the Lunch Club, who are reading his frequent updates allowed most Thursdays as if they’re rousing political speeches or shocking, investigative reports in the local news.

Mike sits in the Britannia cafeteria, spending a careful amount of time writing these notes. They’re fluffed, exaggerating every inch of the lands they visit and the women they meet. He’s an artist for letter writing, but naive that they could be intercepted en route to the club or, rather, picked out of the trash by a waitress who wants to help a helpless woman who she’s unintentionally wronged.

The trip is exactly the kind of thing Mike’s dreamed of for he and Philip. It gives them the space and time to gallivant around other nations and meet beautiful women — be set free.

It gives Philip the chance to reacquaint himself with the sailor’s life he longs for from his past. It also forces him to confront other parts of his past he’s not ready to.

All’s well on the trip when Philip decides to invite a beautiful Australian journalist, who he’s seen at several press stops, in for a private interview. He thinks, She’s beautiful, and, Have you seen the way she’s looking at me? He thinks, Here’s a young female journalist who wants to be charmed by the Prince.

Easy, good press.

And it’s his way of, let’s say, getting his feet wet, seeing if he likes how it feels — tempting himself when he feels he has a chance to, far away from his wife, the Queen.

But his hunch is dead wrong. The journalist doesn’t pull any punches. She’s well-read. She’s researched his background. She’s digging in. He’s not prepared for it in the slightest, and he storms out of the interview. She forces him to revisit his challenging upbringing with his parents.

It makes him uncomfortable. It’s the start of what makes him, as he says at the end of the episode, homesick.

There’s only so much a person can enjoy on a trip far away from their loved ones for so long like that. There’s only so much male bonding time a guy can handle. There’s only so much freedom Philip can handle.

He and Elizabeth have a difficult time connecting on the telephone during the trip, which leaves Elizabeth feeling lonely and distant from her husband. All she knows of his trip is what she’s sees on TV, and there Philip looks happier than usual — happier in the world on his own than when he’s with her. That concerns here, so, again, she heeds advice from an influential male she meets with during the episode.

Elizabeth’s struggling with her insecurities about their relationship.

They’re able to finally hear each other speak, however, when they each deliver Christmas messages over the radio for the public — but also for a very specific audience. Elizabeth’s Christmas message is particularly personal to Philip, and he, like everyone else, recognizes this is unusual for the Queen to say. It dawns on Philip that he misses her — the message struck a cord.

But does he miss her specifically or, rather, the security and safety that she provides? He misread a situation badly and it collapsed onto him. When he’s with Elizabeth, when he’s at home in Great Britain, there’s much more structure and guidance. There’s much less pressure on him. He’s much more protected.

He’s not prepared to have the freedom he thinks he desires.