A note to begin: I think it’s very thoughtful of Netflix to include an opening PSA about Diana’s eating disorder, the beginning of which is covered this episode. I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on whether or not this plot point is well done, but I recently read this piece that said it is sensitively and accurately handled throughout the series, which is commendable; the series also worked with the Beat, which is an organization in the UK which aims “to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.” I have not included any screenshots from any of those scenes.
As a whole, this episode was very well-done; I think it was hugely helped by the fact that (a) Emma Corrin is very good and incredibly sympathetic in this part, and (b) the entire episode is about Charles and Diana becoming engaged, and Diana slowly coming to realize that — as she later so famously said — there were to be three of them in this marriage. That is inherently a compelling, human story and also one that we all sort of know, which cuts down on moments where the viewer feels like she needs to pause the action to look up something on Wikipedia (I’ve never seen a program that was less interested in explaining who various people are, while simultaneously also really loving clonky expositional dialogue.) Additionally, devoting the entire hour to Charles and Diana’s engagement period meant that the primary story was well-paced without having to continually side-bar to remind us that Margaret Thatcher is also alive and doing something at a desk somewhere. (It pains me to say that I think Gillian Anderson’s performance keeps teetering on the edge of being bad, and I am relieved not to have to have that emotional reckoning with myself this week, as this episode was emotional enough.) Now, would I perhaps have dragged out their engagement over more than one episode? Maybe. But as episodes go, this was a very good one.
Let’s discuss what our main players got up to (with further comments in the slideshow):
CHARLES: The heel turn from Sad Misunderstood Sweetieface Charles to Miserable Fuckface Charles is rather sharp. Never have I gone from feeling sympathetic to a character to wanting to kick him in the shins so quickly. (And, in a pleasant change from the usual on this show, I actually think we’re supposed to think his behavior is wretched.) Now, in Real Life, I kind of like Charles. While I think this specific portion of his life was obviously handled very poorly indeed, I don’t think that is ENTIRELY his own fault, and overall I actually do not think he is Satan Incarnate. But this episode was a great reminder of how PROFOUNDLY YIKES this engagement was, and it’s for the best that the real Chaz is not watching this show because this hour was a Greatest Hits of His Worst Real Life Behavior, including that “whatever ‘in love’ means” comment at their engagement announcement, which YES REALLY HAPPENED and is A MASSIVE RED FLAG. Just LIE, Charles.
Additional terrible real life behavior: Charles has a bracelet made for Camilla, which he later claims was a farewell gift, and Diana sees it. You ass, you should have given her your Goodbye Forever gift BEFORE you asked the other one to marry you, for pete’s sake.
Other questionable behavior from Chaz which is less factually verifiable:
a) Chaz tells Diana that he’s asked Camilla to reach out to her, “in case [Diana] wants company,” because Camilla “is the best company.” Diana’s face at this, as you can imagine, basically screams WHAT. THE. FUCK. Honestly, Charles, is your head full of clam chowder? I am well aware of the Posh British Set-Up in which the men are allowed to cat around and have mistresses, and the wives look the other way (and cat around themselves, after the heirs have arrived, sometimes), but he could at least have the decency not to try to jolly the wife and the mistress into being friends.
b) “It’s done, I did it,” is the romantic way that Charles tells his mother that he is betrothed, before getting highly offended that the Queen asked if he knelt when he asked Diana to be his bride, because “in terms of rank, the Prince of Wales only kneels before the sovereign.” At this, Her Majesty’s face basically says, “oh no, I think I messed this one up.”
c) Charles is also rather rude to Diana about her engagement ring choice, saying she picked her famous sapphire number because it was the most expensive option on offer. (i) they don’t have price tags on them, and last I checked, a nineteen year-old girl is unlikely to be well-schooled enough in precious gems to be able to know that, and (ii) you’re the BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY, you can AFFORD IT, it’s not coming out of YOUR ACTUAL PAYCHECK, CHARLES.
d) the show alleges that Chaz doesn’t even call Diana while he’s off on a lengthy royal tour between their engagement and wedding. He’s never seemed more spoiled. Yes, maybe you didn’t really want to marry her, but you ARE marrying her, so at least make a tiny effort and occasionally call this poor child! (Charles’s often biographer Penny Junor claims this was unlikely but Penny Junor is not really a reliable source about Charles’s cruddier behavior because it’s in her best financial interests to keep him happy with her.)
So anyway Charles is horrible now. Having said that, Josh O’Connor has to be enjoying finally getting to play this smarmy, clueless pill. It has to be fun to get to indulge one’s absolute twerpiest instincts every now and then.
DIANA: Look, I have no doubt that Diana was an imperfect person, as we all are. I am sure she was spoiled and selfish and intractable and manipulative at times, and I suspect if she were still alive, she might have been a very irritating mother-in-law. However! There is no question that she got steamrolled into this marriage for a lot of reasons — some of which are very understandable and some of which are less so — despite the fact that A LOT of folks knew it was a bad idea, including her. The show does an excellent job showing Diana’s youth, her loneliness, and her utter lack of support from almost anyone, including her own family. Emma Corrin is so good, and the show is so adept, at showing how inherently likable Diana was — the scenes of her dancing out her sadness, and roller-skating in the palace (which did really happen) are so charming and so well-done and so sincerely emotional in a way that The Crown has, in the past, shied away from. I think the show is also doing something interesting here in acknowledging that there were times when Diana liked (or needed) the attention from the public and the press, while not having yet realized what a Faustian deal that is, and I hope they can continue to thread that needle. (Fun fact, the outfit she wore in the skating scene is actually pretty iconic, though it dated from later in her life.)
CAMILLA: Yes, Camilla actually DID take Diana to lunch. I’m not sure if it happened at the actual restaurant called Menage a Trois, which really did exist, but I cannot blame Peter Morgan et al for being unable to resist that detail, as on the nose as it is. (And I absolutely laughed at the Horror Movie Music Sting they used when Diana got Camilla’s invite. In a good way. I’m sure Camilla popping up WAS Diana’s worst nightmare.) Emerald Fennell is VERY good in that luncheon scene, which feels like it’s the first time she’s really gotten anything to do and it’s also basically the first time this show has ever shown us her entire face. She’s conspiratorial, and jolly, and nice, and also wholly territorial and slightly conniving. It’s fantastic. In fact, that entire scene was great; you could see Diana and Camilla each slowly coming to absolutely hate each other’s guts. Delightful. Sincerely.
EVERYONE ELSE: Absolutely wretched, nearly to a man. Diana tells whoever answers the Queen’s phone that the wedding can’t go on and NO ONE CALLS HER BACK TO CHECK IN ON THIS? Phillip is like, “once she grows up, Charles will be more into it and it’ll all work out”? Not helpful! Margaret at least is correct that they need to call this off, but she waits to announce this until the night before the wedding, when it is essentially too late? The Queen basically advises Charles to lay back and think of England? Worked out great, y’all! (This is likewise rich on HER part because SHE famously wheedled her way into marrying a man who had a bunch of Nazi relatives because she liked him and thought he was hot!) No one in the Royal Family has covered themselves in glory here.
On Diana’s side, Lady Fermoy, Diana’s granny who gave her Princess Lessons, was by all accounts ALSO awful. She testified against her own daughter — Diana’s mother — in her custody hearing. (Having said that, Diana’s mother was ALSO awful, as was her father, AND her step-mother, whom she once shoved down the stairs, which was awful on HER part.) In real life, they were not speaking when Lady Fermoy died, but in real life, Lady Fermoy also told Diana NOT to marry into the royal family. (The bit about Queen Mary tying her Ladies in Waiting’s arms down so they didn’t gesture too much — apparently gesturing is crude — is BONKERS and I can’t figure out if it’s accurate, but it sounds like something that someone did and the writers have been dying to work it in.)
SPECIAL SHOUT-OUT TO: Diana’s nameless roommates, who do seem sincerely fun. Especially the one who toasted to “one day, not too far away, being the fucking Queen.”
Finally, if you’re interested in seeing everyone’s ACTUAL wedding looks, I covered Charles and Diana’s wedding over the summer. Yes, Princess Anne really did wear that absolutely terrible thing.