The Crown S2 E4 Recap
Drop Everything! Matthew Goode Has Arrived!
This article originally ran on Previously.tv as an Epic Old-School Recap.
First off, this episode was co-written by Amy Jenkins and Peter Morgan, and it turns out that introducing a woman to the writing process gives you a very, very good episode primarily about a woman. For some reason, Morgan often seems like he doesn’t quite know what to do with his female characters — which is why I think we get so much of Philip’s yammering — so I’m glad to see them adding some women to the writing staff here. You can feel the difference.
We open on a very posh wedding — but don’t worry, it’s no one you know. Swoony music swells in the background as we cut between the ceremony, and a dude (seen only from the back) on a motorcycle, zipping toward the festivities. I just want to note that I knew this was Matthew Goode merely from the cut of his jib. Impressive, or embarrassing? Please don’t tell me. I would, however, like to sidebar for a moment, before we’ve even seen his face and officially say: MATTHEW GOODE, THANK GOD YOU’RE HERE. The Crown had better deliver the partial nudity and tastefully lit sex scenes that both The Good Wife and Downton so cruelly denied me. And while I’m wishing for things, I also truly hope that this scene ends in Tony Armstrong-Jones crashing said motorcycle into the church to disrupt the wedding, as seen in the classic soap opera Passions — although, technically, that was a car, not a motorcycle, and as far as we know, no one in this ceremony is about to place a poisoned ring on the bride’s finger that will kill her instantly.
But speaking of people who wouldn’t mind the sweet, sweet release of death: Princess Margaret is in attendance, sitting at the back of the church with her mother and looking deeply bored and incredibly irritated and extremely bitter, which seems to be how her face has frozen since her sister ruined her entire life by refusing to let her get married.
Peter Morgan toys with us for a long while, refusing to give us Matthew Goode’s face. We see endless shots of the back of his head as he pulls up to the church, just as the wedding is letting out; endless shots of him snapping photographs with his small camera covering his face. Margaret still looks like she’d rather have her toenails pulled out with a pair of needlenose pliers than be there; even her walk is bored, as she sweeps past him, paying absolutely no attention until he sort of offhandedly snaps a shot of her face, at which point she shoots him the dirtiest look possible. “MAY I CALL YOU PRINCESS?” screams the song on the soundtrack, in a very subtle choice. (The music in this episode is by and large rather good — Margaret loves to put a record on — but you don’t have to hit it RIGHT on the nose.)
The wedding reception seems like posh matrimonial business as usual: Cecil Beaton is the official wedding photographer, and keeps drawling clench-jawed instructions like, “Do look very, very fresh…AND flash”; the toasts are standard, and Margaret looks even more bored, which I did not think possible. She is so bored she can barely remain upright. “Bloody awful things, weddings. Dreadfully upsetting,” notes the man standing next to her, who is literally drinking from a bottle of something alcoholic, and who was actually taking a nap during the ceremony itself. Please meet Billy Wallace. We the audience don’t get his name for ages — this show loves to toss a character into the mix without context and withhold his or her name for as long as narratively possible — but I am not going to write this whole paragraph without it. “Unless it’s one’s own, of course,” Margaret notes. Billy just grouses that, as soon as a couple gets married, no one ever sees them again. Poor Margaret takes a swig of her drink and wonders what she’s supposed to do with regard to her matrimonial outlook: “No one wants to take me on, apparently. Too daunting a prospect.” This is very true, in fact, for poor Margaret. After the Peter Townsend drama, most of the suitable men in Margaret’s life were somewhat uninterested in her as a potential wife, because she brought with her so much baggage, landing her in the bizarre situation wherein the most eligible woman in the country couldn’t really find anyone who was interested in marrying her. (This is actually a problem that has been faced by most of the senior British royals: there is a LOT that comes with marrying into the royal family, and anyone who is “suitable” is generally also sufficiently rich and posh that the perks don’t outweigh the problems. Luckily, of course, the so-called suitability factor has mostly fallen by the wayside in the modern era, but even William and Kate have been bedeviled by rumors — to which I personally give little to no credence — that he only married her because she was the one left standing who was willing to take on the weight of royal responsibilities.)
“I could give it a go,” Billy says. “Don’t be silly, you’re a friend,” is Margaret’s response. Billy makes his case: namely, that friendship ought to be requirement number one when looking for a spouse. So what if they’re not madly in love? Marriage is supposed to be sensible, Billy says. They could breed an army of children and a passel of Derby winners, and isn’t that really the point of marriage, anyway? They’re from the same class; he knows “the ropes and the rules”; he already knows her entire family and they adore him. “And I you. Always have. I’m your old faithful, after all,” Billy says. He’s awfully cute here, but don’t get too attached to Billy because he is about to take us all on a wild emotional ride of male idiocy. He leans into kiss Margaret, and she avoids his kiss in the most spectacular manner: she barely moves her head but manages to evade his lips in seven different ways; it’s astonishingly awkward and fantastic. Billy takes the loss with a genial smile, and Margaret sort of just stares at him.
Margaret gets home from the wedding, shedding shoes and bag very aggressively along the way before flopping back dramatically on her bed. There’s a terrific amount of chintz in her bedroom.
Meanwhile, at some palace or another, Elizabeth and Philip are sharing a bed, each reading a book. (I’ve just spent FAR too long trying to figure out where I think they are: it’s not Buckingham Palace, because this is a new bedroom set-up; judging from political events in this episode, I think it’s fall, so…well, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s either Windsor or Sandringham or Balmoral. Let’s say Balmoral, for fun.) Elizabeth’s book is called BLOODSTOCK BREEDING, so that’s very subtle in wake of the news Philip delivered in the previous episode about how she wants another child — a conversation, as Heather pointed out, that it would have been nice to see these two people actually have with each other. “Mummy said something interesting the other day,” Elizabeth pipes up. “She said that the first ten years of marriage are just an overture. That there’s often a crisis at ten years, and then you work it out and settle in. And it’s only then that it really gets into its stride.” Philip’s response to this is basically a series of moderately interested grunts. “Do you suppose that’s what’s happened to us?” Elizabeth asks. “Possibly,” Philip replies. Wow, what a compelling discussion of the state of their marriage — an actually interesting topic that, say, a fictionalized drama about their lives might want to explore! Anyway, Elizabeth suggests throwing a massive anniversary party, “to celebrate hitting our stride.” Philip agrees with a correspondingly massive lack of enthusiasm, and then the phone rings. Who could be calling so late?
It’s Marg — smoking, of course — and she has the phone set to speaker in the most peculiar way:
She’s calling with the wedding download, telling Elizabeth that the event “somehow managed to lift one’s spirits and make one want to kill oneself in equal measure.” Well, that seems about right for a wedding when you’re unhappily single. “It took forever to get there. Mummy was a NIGHTmare. Mercifully, they sent a helicopter to bring us back. ” Elizabeth rolls her eyes at this. “MARGARET,” she mouths at Philip. Margaret continues: “And I have this horrible feeling that somewhere, in the middle of it all, I agreed to…get…married…myself.” Elizabeth’s response to this is quite literally WUT — as is mine! When was THAT decided?! Certainly not while Billy Wallace was romancing the air near Margaret’s hair with his lips! — and Elizabeth has a few follow-up questions (namely “to whom?!?!”), and there is a running bit of funny stage business where Elizabeth keeps turning to Philip and mouthing the newest details, and as soon as he gets the entire story, he groans, “OH CHRIST.”
Margaret sucks on her cigarette and nervously wonders, “So if I were to accept…it would be…a yes from you?” That poor thing. Having to get your sister’s consent to marry is enough of an emotional minefield without the added trauma of already having lived through her not granting it once; I know that, in later years, Margaret said that she didn’t want to give up all that she would have had to sacrifice to marry Peter Townsend anyway, but my theory is that that’s a lie you tell yourself to save your own broken heart and eventually if you repeat it enough, you start believing it. But no worries on this front from Elizabeth: “Yes, of course,” she says. “An emphatic yes. And Philip and I were discussing having a party for our tenth wedding anniversary.” At this, Margaret doesn’t just roll her eyes, she rolls her entire body over. “And you and Billy could use the occasion to announce your engagement if you wanted?” Elizabeth suggests. “That’s a nice idea,” Margaret says SO INCREDIBLY WANLY. People sound more enthusiastic agreeing to a second serving of pudding. And it is AMAZING to me that apparently Elizabeth doesn’t have any other follow-up questions like, “Do you love him?” or “Since when do you want to marry this dude?” or “How long has this been going on?” or “How did he ask?” or “Is there a ring?” or…you know. Literally anything else. After they hang up, Margaret just sort of lies there and sighs. Uh, mazel tov on your engagement, I guess?
Post-credits, Elizabeth and Philip, with PM Macmillan and his long-suffering wife Dorothy, watch on TV as Sputnik is launched, and we all learn that Macmillan is a loud mansplainer who will not let anyone — not even the Queen — get a word in edgewise on any topic. For example: “I’m not sure how I feel about a Russian satellite circling the earth,” Elizabeth says (dude, you don’t even know), and Macmillan responds to this with a blustery speech that can basically be condensed to THEY’RE GOING TO HIT US WITH A NUCLEAR BOMB AT ANY MOMENT. Macmillan continues: “IMAGINE THE EFFECT THIS WILL HAVE ON THE AMERICANS. THEY’LL HAVE A GREAT CRISIS OF SELF-DOUBT IF I’M NOT VERY MUCH MISTAKEN.” (Again, you have no idea.) Every time Elizabeth opens her mouth to respond to him, Macmillan launches into another bombastic statement. EVERYTHING from this guy is a speech. He even interrupts one of Her Majesty’s bland “yes, yes”-type statements to bluster about REPAIRING THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP between the UK and the U.S. that was destroyed by the Suez debacle. I have to note that this scene is where I liked Philip the most in weeks: Matt Smith makes the most amazing series of “get a load of this guy” expressions toward the TV as the Prime Minister keeps interrupting and talking over Elizabeth. Macmillan treads on familiar territory as he yells that the relationship between the UK and the U.S. is LIKE A MARRIAGE and MARRIAGE TAKES WORK in order to GET BACK ON TRACK. After a beat: “They say listening is important,” Elizabeth pipes up. Reader, I laughed out loud.
But then things get juicy for poor old Prime Minister Macmillan: he and his wife, in the car, agree that it’s time for her to break up with her longtime lover now that she’s the first lady. WELL! This is an interesting and unexpected turn of affairs! Dorothy swears she is going to FINALLY end this affair — and, indeed, in real life Mrs. Macmillan had been having an affair with another politician for going on thirty years at this point — and it won’t surprise you that when we see her red-hot lover, Baron Boothby, he is yet another old man. (This episode later floats the rumor that the Macmillans’ youngest child was, in fact, fathered by Boothby, but Wikipedia tells me this probably wasn’t true. If you have some time, though, his entry is an amazing deep dive. It has everything: serial killers! Open bisexuality! Orgies! Affairs with cat burglars!)
Back at the palace, Margaret is posing for her annual birthday portrait at the hands of Cecil Beaton, looking excruciatingly bored, as is her wont — and, in a detail that delights me and might also you, wearing the tiara that Kate Middleton wore when she married Prince William, the Cartier Halo tiara, AKA the Scroll tiara. Did I gasp a bit when I recognized it? Yes, and I’m not ashamed. (I think the version in The Crown is a bit bigger than the real thing.)
NETFLIX; THE ROYAL FAMILY CHANNEL, YOUTUBE
“Why does it always have to be Cecil Beaton taking my official birthday portrait?” Margaret grouses. Her mother, who is overseeing this endeavor, points out that last year everyone said how pretty she looked! “No, they said how much I looked like you,” Margaret corrects her. “Well, quite,” the Queen Mum says. Margaret complains that the Beaton look is very “one-note: fairy tales.” Um, you think?
And it is here that we meet Margaret’s New Modern Sensible Lady-in-Waiting, Elizabeth Cavendish, who Margaret claims “has at least one foot in the real world,” and who does her job admirably for Margaret by agreeing that “birthday portraits should evolve and mature with age, like the subject! Show change in the character. Complexity. REALITY.” There is a moment of silence in the room, before the Queen Mum notes that no one is looking to the royal family for complexity or reality, and Cecil Beaton obviously agrees with this (naturally, as this is his livelihood), and then very dramatically spins a tale of the fictional woman who might see this photo that he’s about to take. You should know that she sits in a “drab little scullery.” Apparently she LONGS for MEANING beyond CHORES and that Margaret’s photo is going to “lift her out of her miserable, pitiful reality.” Margaret’s face gets slowly ever more horrified by this little tale, but she manages to smile very tightly. Cecil, still waxing poetic: “Later! She will step out of her house in…a new neckerchief, perhaps, for which she has saved! Oh, she will hold her head up high! SHE IS RENEWED! And all thanks to you, Your Royal Highness, and to the ideal which you represent.” Margaret seems to think this sounds like a load of old tosh, but she sits there as Cecil snaps her portrait, anyway.
Yet more is about to go wrong for poor Margaret. There’s a party at Blenheim Palace (I only know this because someone later mentioned it was at Blenheim; it would be nice of this show to occasionally use, you know, an exterior establishing shot) at which we are reunited with the groom from the wedding with which this episode opened. He is one Colin Tennant, and although he seems like a bit of a douche in this moment, he proves to be correct on many fronts, and I fell in love with him when I read this line on his Wikipedia page: “At Oxford, he gained a reputation for being terribly kind to plain girls with nice manners and extremely waspish to pretty ones with nasty manners.” Wikipedia also taught me that Tennant found out late in life that he had fathered a son many years earlier and he was JUST DELIGHTED by it. He also spent all his money because he decided to buy the entire island of Mustique. Anyway. He has a lot happening, and in this scene, what he has happening is the following: he swans up to two posh young personages and sneers in the general direction of one Billy Wallace, asking, “In the twenty or so years we’ve known the hapless, misshapen crane that is Billy Wallace, has any women EVER looked at him as an object of desire? I mean, even remotely?” Everyone turns and looks at Billy, who is SURROUNDED by women, and who is not perhaps strictly behaving in the manner one might expect from a man engaged to be married. Colin Tennant is NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS.
The next day — and I only know that because of info we find out later; just as The Crown is lazy about establishing shots, so too is it very lax in communicating the passage of time — Margaret is putting the final touches on her very formal look when someone comes in and tells her that Billy Wallace is going to be indisposed that evening. “That’s impossible,” says Margaret. “We’re announcing our engagement tonight.” It turns out that Billy has had “a rather serious injury,” so Marg gets in her car in her evening gown and her tiara and heads over to Billy’s and I need to note that I am very confused about what time of day it’s supposed to be here. She’s dressed and coiffed like she’s about to head over to the Palace for Elizabeth and Philip’s anniversary bash at any moment, but it’s still broad daylight. Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding anniversary is in November, and in London it gets dark in November at like 4 PM. There is no way this party started that early. I know they’re not fudging the time because Sputnik launched in October. So are we being asked to believe that Margaret puts on her gown and her tiara, like, seven hours before a party starts? Women…don’t do that. (I assume The Powers That Be are handwaving a lot of space and time issues because they want the shot of Margaret in her incredible crown and tiara storming in to see Billy to be fully lit, but I find that sort of thing to be sort of lazy and annoying.)
Who else is lazy and annoying? BILLY. Margaret storms inside and upstairs and, y’all, Billy is fucked up: he’s been shot in the leg, he’s got a black eye, his dress shirt is covered in blood, he’s smoking a cigar, and he’s still drunk. His loving greeting to his future bride? “Oh, shit.”
So Margaret, obviously, demands to know what’s going on. “Unforeseen circs, I’m afraid,” Billy says, waving his cigar. He explains there was “rather a dust-up in the early hours.” And what he means is…brace yourself, because this is quite good: Colin Tennant challenged him to a duel in Margaret’s honor. I can find no evidence that this actually happened, but I enjoy it regardless. (In real life, Billy cheated on Margaret when he was on vacation in the Bahamas and she broke up with him.) “A little childish in this day and age, if you ask me, but a duel is a duel, so I stepped up to the mark,” Billy tells Margaret, as we see what really happened: he was dragged barefoot, drunk, and crying to this face-off. “It’s what a gentleman does,” Billy tells Margaret.
Billy goes on to claim that they “faced the dawn with clear heads and strong hearts.” Can’t lose! Wait, wrong show. In reality, Colin is very calm and Billy is sobbing and snotty and drunk and just an absolute embarrassing mess of a person. “Fucker shot me in the leg!” he continues. “Bloody awful thing. Anyway. I survived with a small flesh wound.” (It is here that you must compliment me on not making a Monty Python joke.) Margaret obviously wonders what prompted this stupid and childish display, and Billy waves his drink around and tells her, “It was the strangest thing. Ever since word got out about our engagement, I’ve found myself quite the center of attention. It’s as though every good-looking girl on earth has taken the news as a personal challenge. I’m not used to the idea of being a beau, much less a catch. It seems to have gotten to my head, rather. Had a bit of a fumble at Blenheim. Rather a beauty. She’s in pictures, you know. An ACTRESS.” At this, Margaret closes her eyes. This is the issue with agreeing to a proposal when the marriage is one of convenience from the beginning, and one of you is (a) an asshole and (b) believes you to have “an understanding” that you haven’t really discussed. Margaret is rightly pissed, and tells him that Colin was correct to take offense on her behalf: “You are a pathetic, weak, contemptible fool. I never even wanted to marry you. You were only ever an act of charity, or desperation. And now you insult me. You. People like you don’t get to insult people like me. You get to be eternally grateful.”
Then she climbs onto his bed and gets right in his face. “You have quite the way with women,” she spits. “Take a look at this face. A picture of disappointment and disgust. This is the look that every woman you will ever know will come to share. This is what the next forty years of your life will look like.” She seems to fight back tears for a moment; then she whacks the bottom of Billy’s glass so that his Bloody Mary goes all over his face, and she storms out. A round of applause for Princess Margaret!
And now Margaret has to go to Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding anniversary party and NOT announce her engagement, which has to sting pretty brutally. When Michael Adeane comes in and whispers to the Queen that the engagement announcement is off, everyone within earshot exchanges glances, but there’s nothing they can do to get the details when they’re surrounded by 300 people. Margaret eventually slinks in and has to sit and listen to Philip give, frankly, a horrible speech that’s the royal equivalent of Ben Affleck’s Oscar acceptance speech in that it’s all about how marriage is HARD WORK and how it’s important to have different interests and you have to spend the whole time keeping your mouth shut. Elizabeth looks fairly stony and hurt as he comes to wrap it up: “You have to come to an accommodation. An arrangement. A deal, if you like, to take the rough with the smooth,” Philip says. “But the extraordinary thing is, down there in the rough, in the long reeds of difficulty and pain: that is where you find the treasure. So I would like to propose a toast. In the name of love.” It is at this point that tears begin to run down Margaret’s face. Vanessa Kirby and Claire Foy both do everything in this scene and have not a word to say. “In the name of our beloved country. In the name of steadfastness. In the name of another ten marvelous years. I give you, mon petit chou.” At this, Elizabeth cannot repress a tiny, tiny smile, as tears are just dripping off Margaret’s chin. “Lilibet. Elizabeth. The Queen.” Everyone stands and drinks to Her Majesty, and Margaret distracts Elizabeth from wondering such things as “Why are we only drinking to ten more years?” and “What is wrong with a simple ‘I love you’?” by running out of the room crying.
Margaret runs all the way back home, where she proceeds to play Ella Fitzgerald at full volume and have a powerful, powerful wallow. She is absolutely drunk off her ass, smoking, wandering around and crashing into things, occasionally tossing items to the ground and breaking them, staring at herself sadly in the mirror, waving her arms around in a full tantrum, and sobbing and panting throughout. She is, as the kids say, fully in her feelings, and those feelings are very very bad.
It is here that Peter Morgan seems to have realized it has been literally minutes since we worried about the sad man feelings of a dude, so we dash over to the Prime Minister’s house, where Macmillan overhears his wife say the following on the telephone: “No, I want only you….I’ve tried and TRIED with Harold, and I can’t. I can’t have him touch me, BE NEAR ME. His WEAKNESS! REPELS ME! His LAUGH! Disgusts me!” I mean, far be it from me to tell Dorothy Macmillan what to do, but maybe she should have closed the library door for that call?
The next day? Margaret is smoking in her bedroom, the curtains drawn — and honestly, you should just assume that Margaret is ALWAYS smoking. In bursts the Queen Mother, all cheerfully perky, to open the curtains and note that she has the proofs from Margaret’s birthday photo shoot and won’t that be a tonic and also, FYI, BTW, Billy has been calling ALL morning and he’s QUITE distraught and so is his mother and so is his grandmother! Margaret states that she’s never going to speak to Billy ever again. “Then we will find you someone else!” the Queen Mum chirps, and then starts running down a laundry list of potential mates, including the Landgrave of Hesse (which delights me and Heather because we wrote a very silly joke about him toward the end of The Royal We and it’s such an obscure reference), and Prince Christian of Hanover, whose only potential drawback is that HE WAS A NAZI. I know things are dire, but being a Nazi is now and always a dealbreaker, you guys.
Obviously, when one’s mother is trying to marry one off to a Nazi, the best course of action is to force one’s lady-in-waiting to invite one to a dinner party where everyone is “normal.” (Or, at the very least, where “none of them breeds horses, owns land, or knows [Margaret’s] mother.”) And it is at this party at Elizabeth Cavendish’s house that Margaret is — FINALLY — reunited with Tony Armstrong-Jones. (In real life, this happened two years after the Billy Wallace thing.) It is a very groovy party, which you can tell because there’s a jazz band and people wearing turtlenecks and eating shrimp salad served in avocados, and no one stands up or bows when Margaret shows up. She seems very shy in this situation, and also like she can’t believe no one is paying any attention to her, and of course when Matthew Goode Tony sweeps in to light her cigarette (naturally), it’s a delight for all of us. “Feeling a little left out?” he asks. “You’re thinking to yourself, ‘These dabblers and freaks all seem to know each other very well.'” He flirts with her by teasing her about the fact that she doesn’t remember him from Colin Tennant’s wedding, and then quizzes her on their fellow guests’ names, and feeds her all kinds of salacious gossip about them — one, for example, is heir to a chocolate fortune; one is a documentary maker who loves the bus — and rates their levels of attractiveness. He hints that he may have had a threesome with one couple, and I swear to you, the instant Margaret figures out that’s what he is implying, he’s approximately one million percent more interesting to her. I think Margaret may be, as they say, a princess in the streets and a freak in the sheets. The next thing you know, Tony and Margaret are reciting poetry to each other, and clearly half of what is appealing to Margaret about Tony Armstrong-Jones is that he isn’t impressed by her and doesn’t even seem to like her all that much. (The other half is his face.)
Margaret and Tony spend the rest of the party talking about his photography — he tells her that “the idealized version [of anyone] is of no interest” — and flirting, and eventually he tells her, “When you come to my slum studio, leave the titles and princess airs outside. And for the duration of the session, you do everything I say.” Margaret gives him a slightly raised brow. “Don’t look like that,” Tony says. “You’re dying to.” Margaret acts as if this is slightly shocking to her. “Dying to what?” she asks. “Be a supplicant,” says Tony. “I can tell,” and the way he says it is very arch and charming, and, frankly, Matthew Goode is VERY good in this part. He and Vanessa Kirby have excellent sexual chemistry, and he’s really good at hitting that line between flirtatious and slightly mean so that he lands at exactly the level where any reasonable person might starting thinking about banging him in the coat closet.
The next morning, Margaret gives Elizabeth the download on this party, noting that people were SO nonchalant about her that it was almost impertinent. One of the guests, she notes, was very impertinent: “Tony.” Elizabeth snorts, “ANTHONY, surely,” but Margaret — with the air of a schoolgirl just DYING to talk about the cute new bad boy she’s met — swears that he insists on Tony. (I do have to note that Tony is a BIT posh: he’s got a double-barreled last name and he went to Eton and Cambridge.) Margaret then reels off the many facts she’s learned about Tony: he’s Welsh, he had polio, he loves inventing things, and “he would never dream of being something as straightforward as simply queer.” (“What on earth does that mean?” Elizabeth wonders; Margaret doesn’t know but she definitely wants to find out.) The fifth fact is that Margaret likes him: “There’s a contempt in him. For me. For us. Everything we represent. I actually think you’d like him. That’s what’s so dangerous about him.” Margaret has, I think, hit it right on the head: Tony is just full of sexy contempt. There must be something tremendously appealing about not being sure if someone likes you or not, when you’ve lived a life where everyone wants to make it absolutely clear that you’re the best and you’re not sure that’s accurate.
So Marg pops round to Tony’s studio in an absolutely amazing outfit and sits for a portrait and the rest of this segment is such an intense actor’s exercise between Kirby and Goode that it is almost a shock to the system when we emerge from it for the episode’s final montage involving other people. These next few scenes are tremendously well done in terms of casting a spell over this couple, and the show’s languid pacing adds to the dream-like quality. It’s just extremely artfully done — in part because both actors are so good. Anyway: the portrait-taking process is, in part, Tony manipulating Margaret. He bangs around upstairs for a long time, while she sits downstairs and waits for him, eventually getting out her purse to light a cig. And by “bangs around,” I mean he literally occasionally bangs on things upstairs so that she thinks he’s doing something other than purposefully making her wait. Eventually, he trots downstairs and does all manner of stage business: takes off his shoes, fiddles with the lights, and then finally, finally casually snaps a few pictures. “Don’t smile,” he tells Margaret. “It’s lovely, but don’t.” He explains that he wants her to be herself, although he realizes that’s impossible, because she hasn’t the faintest idea who she really is. (Ah, the old trick of mildly negging someone you like in order to get the best possible art out of them!) Tony points out that no one knows who she is, outside the palace gates, and she agrees with him, and hands him the Cecil Beaton birthday portrait. “Cecil is a disgrace,” Tony says, and then asks her about her family — what their relationship is like, whether they’re nice to her. He tells her that he thinks what they did with Peter Townsend was cruel, which it absolutely was. “Was he really as dreary as he seemed?” he asks. Margaret looks very sad at this. “He was decent and old-fashioned,” she says. “Easy qualities to mock. Easy to miss, too.” At this, Tony stands behind her and slowly slips the straps of her dress off her shoulders, but goes no further. “Do you miss him?” he asks. Here’s what else I think Margaret finds appealing about Tony: he (a) is honest and (b) really seems to want to hear truthful answers to the questions he’s asking her. “Sometimes,” she says. And…click. Got it.
Margaret and Tony go upstairs to Tony’s living space, and I have to note that it is a FANTASTIC loft situation and that he has AMAZING taste. Margaret loves it too, as she pokes around his things, including a mirror he has hung, which everyone he’s shot has signed — using nicknames — with a diamond. As one does. He hands her the diamond and tells her to sign it. “What shall I put?” she asks, noting that she doesn’t have a nickname. Tony suggests “Beryl,” and then very unself-consciously checks out her ass as she leans over to sign. “Rhymes with peril,” he adds.
Tony and Margaret then go down into the darkroom to develop her shots, and it’s much sexier than I personally recall from my high school photography courses (although I always liked the darkroom; it’s so dramatic, so fraught with the danger that you could screw up the chemicals and ruin all your work. I love shooting digital photographs like everyone else, but the ritual of developing film was romantic). It is here in my notes that I just wrote, “This is a very good episode.” Tony guides Margaret’s hands through the process of taking her photo from film to paper — rather like Ghost, but with photography and not pottery, and also no one here is dead. It’s very seductive. “When we first met, I was sure you were queer,” Margaret says. “Just the way you talk to women. Understood women….Not to mention your tidy little hips. All vanity and fastidiousness.” All Tony says in response is, “I’m not vain.” (He also was not gay, but a serial womanizer who allegedly had a giant penis. Don’t ever say I’m not educating you!)
“I’m insufferably vain,” Margaret admits, then points out that she doesn’t think Tony’s gay anymore, because this is a well-practiced routine of seduction, and one she’s not going to take to its usual destination. (At least, not yet.) But by then, the photo is done. Margaret loves it. “In this photo, you’re not a princess anymore,” Tony observes, and she nearly kisses him. Instead, she gives him an address to send the picture to, which he writes down before taking her home on his motorcycle — a thrilling, romantic ride through the London night, her car and driver trying to follow and not succeeding very well.
The last few scenes create such a mood that it’s a comedown to return to Elizabeth and Philip, who are bidding some diplomats good night and complaining about how boring their evening has been — and it’s a very effective way of reminding the audience that coming home must have usually felt that way for Margaret, too, as she hops off Tony’s motorcycle and looks like she feels alive for the first time in two years. “Definitely not queer,” she says. He tells her to keep the helmet and goggles, and she runs upstairs like a giddy teen, puts “I Only Have Eyes For You” on the turntable, lights a cigarette, and relishes feeling like a human woman again.
Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth go through a tedious nighttime routine — prayers, flannel nightgown, a sexless goodnight and lights out. I almost don’t know if we needed this bit; we’ve spent the last season seeing how totally passionless this marriage is. I don’t think anyone watching this episode is going to look at a criminally sexy shot of Matthew Goode smoking and admiring Margaret’s photo and think, “But is it possible that Elizabeth and Philip are secretly having crazy, lights-out sex right now?!” We’ve all forgotten they’re even on this show.
The next morning — or, you know, whenever: it’s sometime later — everyone opens his or her paper to see Princess Margaret’s new birthday portrait. (As far as I can tell, the photo they’re using here is based on this real one, which Tony actually took of Margaret after they were married; my favorite one he ever took of her is this famous one of her in the bath.)
And everyone, EVERYONE, is shocked. The Prime Minister is shocked, Tommy The Mustache Lascelles removes his glasses in shock, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor make a cameo to appear delighted by how shocking it all is. Finally, Elizabeth and Philip open their copies of the paper. Philip begins: “It appears she’s–” “NAKED,” Elizabeth squawks. “Yes,” Philip says, and he cannot quite keep a straight face, which is the most I have ever liked Philip. And this was such a satisfying episode that we’re not even going to address the fact that he, of all people, was given the last word.
For more on this episode — and Fug Nation’s reaction! — check out the fashion and interiors recap we ran right here on GFY.