My notes for this episode read, “Margaret is miserable; FINALLY she and Elizabeth have a very good scene together. Also, sunglasses.” And that about sums it up; we’ve skipped ahead to 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (which is treated as a bit of a side note), and Margaret and Tony are NOT in a good way (and they, in fact, divorce the following year). She takes up with a younger man, Roddy Llwellyn (with whom she was together for eight years, through her divorce, in reality) and here’s Wikipedia’s take on the whole affair, which is a world full of yikes:
In February 1976, a picture of Margaret and Llewellyn in swimsuits on Mustique was published on the front page of a tabloid, the News of the World. The press portrayed Margaret as a predatory older woman and Llewellyn as her toyboy lover. On 19 March 1976, the Snowdons publicly acknowledged that their marriage had irretrievably broken down. Some politicians suggested removing Margaret from the civil list. Labour MPs denounced her as “a royal parasite” and a “floosie”. In May 1978, she was taken ill, and diagnosed as suffering from gastroenteritis and alcoholic hepatitis. On 11 July 1978, the Snowdons’ divorce was finalised. It was the first divorce of a senior member of the British royal family since Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh’s in 1901.
Poor Margaret! Jesus, that’s enough to give anyone alcoholic hepatitis. (If you’re curious, Victoria Melita lived an incredibly dramatic life, and her Wikipedia is a very interesting read.) She’s not in a good place, but this episode is a very good one, I think because (a) this has juicy emotional stuff to play for both Helena Bonham Carter and Oliva Colman and they’re both very good at that, (b) it’s really only telling one story (the B plot, in which we get back Prime Minister Wilson and then lose him again, because he’s sadly got Alzheimer’s, feels a little superfluous, and the storyline about the jubilee really isn’t a story at all). This means we really get to spend some time with Margaret, and the aforementioned sunglasses, and that lets us really sink into the story. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the episode with the most affecting and well-done interpersonal scenes between women was directed by a woman, Jessica Hobbs.
Other notes, and then over to you and the slideshow:
– Tony Armstrong-Jones does seem like THE WORST; leaving mean notes in books for Margaret to find (this actually happened! It’s SO mean), and wallpapering his country house bathroom with rude newspaper clippings about her family (I don’t know if this happened or not but it’s an amazing detail either way). This is SO aggressive and jerky of him; neither of those are off-the-cuff moments of meanness. It takes a lot of effort to WALLPAPER YOUR GUEST BATH as an insult. Obviously, Margaret often gives as good as she gets in terms of their arguments, but he seems like he was HIGHLY provoking. And, frankly, if I were having an affair with someone and went to use his bathroom and it was WALLPAPERED with insulting items about his current wife and her family, it’d be….a real red flag. (Tony did, however, marry the woman with whom he’s having an affair in this episode. They broke up much later when she found that he, at 67 years old, had fathered a child with someone else!) I think Ben Daniels is good in this part — he has the same kind of lanky energy that Matthew Goode has.
– Roddy and Margaret were introduced by Anne Tennant, AKA Lady Glenconner, who — conveniently for her! — has a new book out about her life, which is apparently VERY juicy. (It’s been out in the UK for a bit but comes out in America in March; that’s an affiliate link to Amazon. The Guardian has a piece about it that really makes me want to read it, and which has the amusing bit of trivia that HBC and Colin Tennant are cousins.)
– The scenes of people airing their personal grievances with each other in this episode — like Margaret’s VERY awkward birthday dinner, where she announces to the table that Tony is sleeping around, or her big fight with Tony at the end — are SO satisfying that it makes me long for the show this could have been. Airing personal grievances is what makes a drama interesting! Even the most prestige dramas — Mad Men, for example — are about, eventually, the dramatic airing of grievances! (Sometimes there is dramatic tension created by WAITING for the airing of said grievances but eventually they are aired!)
– Related, the scene at the end where Elizabeth tells Margaret that life without her would be unbearable, and Margaret says they must carry on, then, is I think — arguably — the most emotionally successful scene this show has ever done. Both actresses are great in it, the stakes are very high (given that Margaret has just nearly overdosed), and it’s very well-written. This reminds me of last season, where the final Airing of Grievances between Philip and Elizabeth was FANTASTIC, but it took us a long time to get there. Peter Morgan, you’re good at these scenes! WRITE THEM MORE OFTEN!
– I also enjoyed the part where Elizabeth worries that she’s done nothing as Queen, and Margaret reminds her that if they’re just confident enough, no one will notice, and that the key is to just hold it together in public. “Must I do that alone?” Elizabeth asks. “There is only one Queen,” Margaret tells her. I rather think that was the thesis of this season, but that Peter Morgan didn’t really figure it out until he got to the end of it. Which…well, every writer has been there.
– This episode had EXCELLENT interiors and costumes — which we’ve collected in this slideshow — and as a collector of commemorative royal mugs, I was delighted to seem some herein. On the whole, this episode was pretty satisfying. How nice to end this season on a high note! Thank you for sticking with us!