Fifty years ago, a shy young man was invested as Prince of Wales in a lavish ceremony punctuated by pomp and circumstance at Caernarfon Castle. On the surface, 21-year-old Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) followed every detail of protocol. That is until, according to The Crown, he gave his speech. It was here that Charles used his newfound knowledge of the Welsh language to turn the moment into a venting session over his invisible, mute existence as heir to the British throne.
I have to hand it to The Crown: It’s doing a terrific job in portraying Charles as a sympathetic character, especially now with the addition of O’Connor, whose task is to transform the awkward, sensitive prince into one hardened by rules and isolation. Between last season’s “Paterfamilias” and now “Tywysog Cymru” (saved you a Google search: It’s Welsh for “Prince of Wales”), let’s just say I may not join Team Diana so quickly in season 4. Yes, Charles’ future wife was an undeniable victim of the repressive institution that is the British royal family. But now is our chance to see how Charles was as well.
The episode starts about three months before the July 1969 investiture, when Welsh nationalism is on the rise. Harold Wilson recommends to the Queen that Charles take a leave from his studies at Cambridge to live in Wales. By having the English prince learn the language and culture, Wilson hopes it will temper the “growls” of “separatist stirrings.” Charles, who has just started coming into his own at university as a member of a dramatic society (something an on-brand Philip dismisses as “frivolity”), is heartbroken over the prospect. After what he went through at Gordonstoun, I can understand his not wanting to leave an educational setting where he’s actually happy. But you know the royal family motto: Duty before happiness. Charlie boy is going to Wales.
Enrolled at University College of Wales at Aberystwyth, the prince is paired up with Edward “Tedi” Millward (Mark Lewis Jones) as his Welsh tutor. A “self-proclaimed nationalist” who initially protests this new assignment, Millward becomes Charles’ guide not just in language lessons, but in helping the prince find his voice. (While Charles did study Welsh with Tedi Millward, the insinuation that the prince and his professor had a King George VI/Lionel Logue-level relationship feels like another Crown fabrication.)
First there’s a growing-pains subplot where the republican Milward chews out Charles for his ignorance toward not just Welsh history, but his all-around cluelessness regarding his predecessors (at a faculty dinner, Charles is all, “Uh, who?” when the first Prince of Wales, Llwelyn ap Gruffudd, is mentioned). It’s not until Millward describes his people as feeling abandoned by the previous Princes of Wales that Charles finally sees a connection between himself and the Welsh. The young royal high-tails it to the library and immerses himself in his studies, emerging with an enormous feeling of solidarity: Just as the Welsh don’t want to be governed by those who don’t understand them, the sensitive Charles wants his family to stop pushing him around and let him stay at Cambridge, where he can perform Richard II in peace.
But the biggest lesson Charles receives at the hands of Millward doesn’t even come from the classroom: While dining at his tutor’s home one night, Charles witnesses Tedi and his wife, Silvia (Nia Roberts) lovingly putting their son to bed. Watching this mundane nightly routine emotionally wallops the prince, because a scene like this is as foreign to him as the Welsh language was upon his arrival at Aberystwyth. It makes the frosty scene with Elizabeth later in the episode all the more poignant.
With the investiture fast approaching, Charles decides he wants to make some personal additions to the speech that has already been written for him, reflecting upon what he’s learned during his time in Wales. Tedi assists with these changes, despite knowing that the pro-Welsh, individualist comments are not going to sit well with the royal family. This is another instance where there is no doubt that these “changes” are a Crown creation, because Charles’ argument of, “Oh, I said it in Welsh, so my parents will have no idea what I’m talking about” is so flimsy he might as well have said, “Mummy’s gonna rip me a new one in the next scene!” (Come on, Chuck, your mother is the Queen. She will obtain a translation of that speech.)
When Charles returns from his post-investiture tour of Wales, for the second episode in a row, we are treated to a dynamic discourse from Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth on how being a monarch demands the ultimate sacrifice: one’s individuality. She’s livid over her son’s decision to turn his investiture speech into a therapy session, comparing being ignored by his family to the plight of the Welsh, so now it’s time for her to drop some harsh truths. This scene is stunning, because it encapsulates everything that is correct about being a monarch — leading the audience to debate for the gazillionth time why a royal family is even necessary. It also establishes something that dozens of royal documentaries have discussed, but were never able to illustrate: How Elizabeth’s cold, aloof mothering has caused permanent harm to Charles. The barrage of insults alone — Charles having “rather too much of a voice to [her] liking; and that “No one wants to hear it” — caused my chest to tighten.
As a monarch, Elizabeth does understand the impossible job that awaits Charles someday. But as a mother, she destroyed this pivotal moment for her son because she was incapable of providing advice with the warmth that Queen Mary did for her more than a decade earlier. In an almost word-for-word replay of this season 1 scene between Elizabeth and her grandmother, the Queen imparts the same wisdom to Charles: “To do nothing, to say nothing, is the hardest job of all.” If you go back and replay both scenes, though, what’s missing from the Elizabeth-Charles version is any ounce of empathy, or kindness. The delivery is just as important, if not more so, than the message, and I think Elizabeth blew it here.
We know that there was a time when Elizabeth too felt that it was inhuman to remain so impartial, so to see her doing to her son exactly what she had initially fought against is difficult to watch. She’s kept the monarchy alive at the cost of her own spirit, and now her son’s as well. Considering Charles has spent almost three-quarters of his life waiting to inherit the throne, with “Tywysog Cymru” The Crown is now asking, was it worth it?
If the Richard II monologue that he delivers at the end of the episode, about a sovereign who has lost his kingdom, is any indication, Charles doesn’t think so. He already feels like a failure, before he’s even taken the throne.
• You better believe Charles used that language lab with the ginormous headset IRL!