The Crown Recap: The Absence of Noise

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Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother. Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix
The Crown
Show
The Crown
Episode Title
Pride & Joy
Season
1
Episode
8
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Of everything we saw in the trailers for The Crown, the "pride and joy" exchange is one I've been especially eager to see in the context of the show. It's a well-wrought little piece of dialogue, hanging all kinds of meaning on that devastating little switch between Elizabeth's "and" and Margaret's "but." In the trailers, it was useful preview of a complicated, fraught sibling dynamic, and a sharp, barbed way to communicate who these two characters are. With the shorthand and reductionism of a trailer, though, the line also feels a bit trite.

So I was pleased to see that in the full context of the episode, the showdown between Elizabeth and Margaret is more brutal, more biting, and far more thoroughly explored. More generally, I was also pleased to see that the tension surrounding Princess Margaret has pivoted from "Margaret and Peter versus the Royal Family" into a meaningful clash between her and Elizabeth. Like the short confrontation Elizabeth had with her mother about her lack of education in the previous episode, this kind of one-on-one battle between the family members is where The Crown shines. That's not just because it helps illuminate these people as characters, although it certainly does so. It's also because The Crown is good at tying those characteristics together with bigger explications of what the monarchy is, and what it should be.

"Pride & Joy" lays out two different visions of how a person can represent the monarchy. Elizabeth and Philip set off on a grueling 23-week tour of the Commonwealth countries, and while they're gone, Margaret takes over some of her sister's ceremonial duties at home. Elizabeth works tireless to fulfill what she sees as her duty to represent her father's legacy and to further the status of the crown across the world. It's exhausting. At one point, she gets a muscle relaxant injected into her jaw so she can continue smiling at a dinner party.

Elizabeth doesn't get much help from Philip, either. He is, shall we say, less than helpful on this trip. He begins by complaining about his wardrobe fitting, insisting that he's getting measured for a "costume," not a uniform. (And this is Philip's problem, right here: For someone all excited about the possibilities of televising the coronation, he is remarkably incapable of recognizing the power and significance of a costume.) Once on the trip, Philip goes from reluctantly supportive to openly mutinous, suggesting that they skip events and whining about waving to the crowds in his sleep.

Things reach a pinnacle when Philip complains about being a "dancing bear" and mocks Elizabeth's frustration with the coverage of Margaret back home. He threatens to start smoking again, telling her that he'd be "better with cancer." And then he ventriloquizes Elizabeth's deceased father: "Bravo Lilibet, managed the whole tour, ticked every box … now I finally love you more than Margaret." Elizabeth throws a tennis racket at him.

The kicker? The altercation is caught on film by a local camera crew, and Elizabeth has to go out and beg them not to air it. (Compassionately, the journalist immediately opens the film canister, destroying the footage. If only Harry and Meghan Markle were being treated with the same care.) It's an interesting scene because of The Crown's preoccupation with the rise of TV and the role of TV coverage in how the general public understands the crown. During their absence, Margaret and the Queen Mother both watch Elizabeth and Philip's global progress on the newsreels. The tone of press coverage is something Elizabeth obviously cares about.

To me, though, the more interesting thing about the conclusion of the tennis racket scene is that it does nothing at all to resolve the Elizabeth and Philip's argument. No one apologizes or tries to move on. No one expresses regret for their words. (Or actions.) Instead, the fundamentals of their argument are carried through to Elizabeth's return back home, and her confrontation with Margaret.

Margaret has spent Elizabeth's absence being "dazzling" at various royal appearances, speaking openly about her affection for Peter at public events, and just generally enjoying the opportunity to show off while wearing the crown jewels. The reprimand she gets from Churchill and the other she later endures from Elizabeth are so intriguing in part because they're sparked by this very basic disagreement about what a monarch should be. Is Margaret right that the people want to see someone "inhabit" the crown, and not be afraid of it? Is Churchill right that the risk of "individuality" is another abdication crisis? Does Elizabeth actually have the right answer in her insistence that the best way forward is "silence … the absence of noise?"

The brilliance is that there's not really a wrong answer here, and neither sister can win. Elizabeth is harnessed to a thing she clearly would not have chosen, and is maybe not that well suited for. Margaret, whom their mother says "needs to shine," is stuck in a secondary position, constantly subject to the whims of her sister and the government and anyone other than herself. And they both represent a vision of the monarchy that has some theoretical worth: Elizabeth's stony silence as the most dignified and respectful figurehead, Margaret's character as a personality that people can actually identify with and relate to. Unfortunately for both of them, they're stuck in the roles they've been given, and nothing short of another abdication will change that. So Elizabeth sticks to her guns, and unsympathetically closes the conversation by making sure that Margaret will write the necessary apologies for her behavior. It's icy. It's not wrong.

You know who is wrong? Stupid Philip. Philip! What were you imagining this marriage was going to be like?! Who did you think you were marrying? Did you really never envision how much time you'd have to spend in motorcades waving to various crowds? You really think the best choice was to say that you'd rather have cancer than support your wife during an exhausting duty that literally broke her face? Should she have resorted to a physical attack? Of course not, that's not cool. But Philip. Get it together, dude.

Elizabeth and Margaret are clearly not winners here. Philip, obviously, does not come off very well either. Really, the only way to escape the trap of monarchal fame is to lose everything and buy a tumbledown 17th-century castle in the middle of nowhere, Scotland. This episode's portrait of the Queen Mother makes no pretense that she's suddenly happy. Everything about her life has been taken away, and she's completely bereft. The scene at the dinner table where she suddenly admits how empty her life has become is a revelation for her character. The shot of her on horseback, flying across a wet, grey beach with no distinguishable horizon line is the closest anyone in this family looks to being happy. Margaret is briefly pleased by her triumph as a party hostess. Elizabeth is relieved to get home after a successful trip. But only the Queen Mother gets to be actually free for a moment, negotiating for the price of her ruined castle with a charming elderly landowner who doesn't even realize who she is. She tromps around on cliffs wearing practical, unattractive hats. She contemplates the view.

It seems as though the best way to survive monarchal power is to live long enough that you're no longer in the limelight, and then slip away quietly. Good luck with that, Elizabeth.