“Aberfan” is perhaps the most depressing episode of The Crown, given that the narrative focuses on a catastrophic mining disaster in Wales that killed 144 people — 116 of whom were children. (Also, the queen can’t cry.) We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t talk about a magnificently amusing moment between Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) and a woman who’s near-exclusive purpose is to annoy him or question his authority at any moment of convenience. When he bemoans how Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) won’t visit ground zero of the disaster due to it supposedly not being royal protocol, our mystery gal does not take Wilson’s deference well.
“You’re pathetic! You disgust me!” she screams. “If you ever want to be a real leader, a real man, a real socialist, you’re going to have to grow some balls!” He … definitely knows she’s right. Look at that face. Cognac, anyone?
The woman is question is Wilson’s notoriously powerful private secretary, Marcia Falkender, who effectively served as his right-hand woman during his tenure at 10 Downing Street — as well as throughout his 27 years in political office for the Labour party. (Stylized as Marcia Williams in The Crown due to her first marriage, she’s played with great aplomb by English actress Sinead Matthews.) Also referred to as Baroness Falkender, she began working with Wilson when he became a new Parliament member for the now-dissolved Huyton constituency in 1956, and she soon grew a reputation for being “imperious, impulsive, and unpredictable,” but “feared” for her power and sharp insight. “Yes, I suppose so,” she explained, in the below 1984 interview, about government ministers being intimidated by her. “But they’d be equally in awe of any man near a prime minister, too. I think this has been overdrawn and exaggerated because I’m a woman. It lent an additional dimension to it, but not a real one, really.”
“I acted as his ears and eyes. I just went about my business,” she added about her boss. “Only later on, until after I left, did I realize the importance others had attached to my job, which I hadn’t.” In her subsequent post-Wilson years, Falkender enjoyed her status as a peer in the House of Lords and served on an array of film committees, and, in one last screw-you move, tried to expense the Lords for £128,000 worth of taxi-ride commutes. She died earlier this year at the age of 86, with big proverbial balls.