In this episode — another strong one for this show, which is at its best this season when Margaret Thatcher is not being shoehorned into the story, and when the focus is on the family (and how miserable they are) — Margaret (a) has part of her lung removed in an exploratory surgery (true: Margaret smoked like a chimney until 1991, and it’s a miracle she didn’t get lung cancer, although she did end up having strokes and heart issues, which her smoking probably contributed to); (b) is forced to step back from being a Counsellor of State when Edward turns twenty-one (true, and I hope she enjoyed Harry knocking out Edward in 2005 from her perch in the afterlife) (speaking of taking creative liberties, we took some with the Counsellor of State thing in The Heir Affair, and I look forward to Peter Morgan’s bitchy recap of that); (c) gets drunk and sings for a crowd in a caftan on Mustique while in a downward emotional spiral (who hasn’t?); and (d) in the course of dealing with her own mental health issues discovers that she has two cousins with serious developmental disabilities who have been institutionalized, whom people (including Elizabeth) believed to be dead. Now, this last one is also in large part true-ish — we’ve absolutely discussed this here on GFY, as I ran across it in a Wiki Deep Dive ages ago; I clearly remember reading that Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyons had been marked as “dead” in Burke’s Peerage because their mother Fenella “had completed the form for Burke’s incorrectly due to Fenella being ‘a vague person.'” I said it then and I will say it now: One is generally not vague about whether or not someone is dead. The Independent has a good explainer on which bits of this are true and which are not; it seems that the main part of this story ARE true, but that the Bowes-Lyons family disputed large parts of the original reporting of this story. As one would in the 80s, probably; the truth is that developmental disabilities were often very poorly handled and understood in the 40s (as they still can be today, of course). In watching this episode, I kept thinking of the way Joseph Kennedy had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized and institutionalized in secret, at exactly the same time period.
In short form:
MARGARET: Starts off this episode coughing up BLOOD and because I have watched television before, I naturally assumed this meant she was shortly to DIE. Not yet! But she goes though it emotionally, certainly. In additional to everything I sketched out above, she’s also got a new boyfriend who comes over to her house, dances with her dramatically to David Bowie and then…BREAKS UP WITH HER TO JOIN THE CHURCH. She’s distraught, as one would be, and then rather flummoxed when the Queen points out that in addition to his desire to become a priest, it never would have worked out between the two of him due to his massive gayness. (Dazzle Jenkins WAS a real person, but The Crown used him to almost wholly fictional affect, other than that Margaret was hot for him. Well, we all go through a Thorn Birds period.) She also has quite a harrowing and affecting Journey of Soul as she continues to grapple with her essential uselessness in the family, especially as the Queen’s children get old enough to shoulder some of the workload. She’s at turns defensive, bratty, sad, depressed, and emotionally adrift. Helena Bonham Carter is very good in this role and once again does excellent work in an episode that truly focuses on her.
THE QUEEN: In a great scene between Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Colman — who are always one another’s best scene partners, and must long for more opportunities to really let it fly at each other — Margaret express that she feels like no one wants her anymore (professionally or personally), and Her Majesty admits that if it were up to her, she’d have let Margaret be QUEEN from Day One, but it’s not up to her and they have to live with it. It’s a meaty and delicious moment from the two of them and a great revisitation of the emotional throughline from earlier seasons, something this show occasionally lacks. (I do think Colman — whom I generally love as an actor — is much better this season than she was last season, where she often seemed weirdly daffy.)
PHILLIP: Gives a big speech at Edward’s twenty-first birthday party about how Chaz and Anne were born of duty but Edward and Andrew were born of “pleasure,” which the Queen corrects to “joy” and he then calls “reconciliation” and he also shares too much about WHEN and WHERE Andrew was specifically conceived and asks the Queen if she remembers and she’s like YES DO SHUT UP ABOUT HOW WE GOT IT ON ON THE YACHT. It’s funny/horrifying and a good moment for Tobias Menzies.
CHARLES: Comes to visit Margaret when she’s drinking away her feelings in a caftan on Mustique, and confesses that Diana is pregnant again and he’s depressed! They fight all the time, it’s “corrosive” and it’s left him with NO OPTION but to start seeing someone! Margaret is unimpressed — she knows about Camilla — until he tells her that NO, he means A THERAPIST. He and Anne think she should try it. And this is how Margaret enters the psychological care of Bridget Jones’s mother, who at least doesn’t yap her ear off about the turkey curry buffet or yell at Una to sieve gravy at any point during their first session, but does spill the beans about Nerissa and Katherine, which seems vaguely unprofessional, but I am not a therapist in the ’80s. Dr. Bridget Jones’s Mum does, however, assure Margaret (eventually? She had to look it up) that (a) Nerissa and Katherine’s issue stemmed from a relation to whom Margaret has no blood ties and (b) having a severe developmental disorder is not the same thing as being depressed. I am somewhat concerned that Dr. Bridget Jones’s Mum had to look that last bit up.
DIANA: Is apparently pregnant with Harry; also wears a large hat and makes various people feel vaguely jealous.
THE QUEEN MUM: Wears sincerely undignified rain gear that you’ll see in the slideshow, and has to explain to Margaret the harsh fact that once Edward abdicated, and she was extremely and unexpectedly fancy, shit got real (I am paraphrasing) and it was decided that having family members with developmental disabilities on full display to the public would make people “question the integrity of the bloodline,” and given that the “hereditary principle” wherein you just let people be in charge because they’re in one very specific family is also VERY hard to justify, everyone did what they thought was best. Margaret thinks this is pretty effed up.
THROW PILLOWS: Truly get their collective moment this week. Step aside, lampshades!