The moment we’ve all been waiting for! At last this show has been shoved into a sincerely dramatic portion of history — from love triangles to assassinations — and it can no longer deny real life’s soap operatic moments. I’ve long argued that (like Downton Abbey), The Crown would be better off if it embraced its destiny as super expensive soap opera and apparently that day is finally here. We don’t get screeners of this show, so I’ve only seen this one episode thus far, but I am delighted to report that it was very satisfying as a premiere — sincerely compelling, emotionally satisfying, and very well-structured. So, let’s discuss! Instead of doing a full recap-recap, we’re just — as we did with Game of Thrones — going to bulletpoint this thing and then turn it over to y’all for discussion.
First things first, the truly important question: How many times did we witness the manner in which a person arrived at a location, as if we the audience might suppose that Charles (for example) arrived at Althorp via hot air balloon if we didn’t see him get out of a car? SEVEN!
As for the rest:
a. It continues to be DELIGHTFUL how expensive this show is. There is something profoundly soothing to me to never have to complain about shoddy production values. Netflix just pours money all over this thing and you can smell it.
b. As you’ll see in our slideshow, Diana is introduced to us in costume as a tree sprite of some sort from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, darting from behind various potted plants, which I am taking as a shout-out to me and my constantly joking about royals getting stuck in plants. (It is, I cannot stress enough to you, not really a shout-out to me in any form. Cousin Peter does not acknowledge me! [Also technically we are not related.]) It’s VERY charming; Emma Corwin is really quite good and immediately so likable. (And, yes, Charles dated Diana’s sister Sarah first. Most recently seen here, at Archie’s christening.) When we meet her again later, she’s wearing a totally ridiculous and very accurate outfit (which you can also see in the slideshow), and she’s again simply lovely and basically the only human who is plain old nice to Charles — all of which bodes well for the rest of the season. I do think this show is hugely blessed that Josh O’Connor continues to be extremely good and highly sympathetic as Charles; love triangles are most satisfyingly agonizing when you like everyone in them, to my way of thinking.
c. Meanwhile, Dana Scully — er, Gillian Anderson — is introduced to us as Margaret Thatcher as she puts the final touches on her hair and make-up before going out to greet the press as a newly elected Prime Minister. I don’t remember Thatcher terrifically well — we’re in 1979, a date the show NEVER tells us but which I looked up on Wikipedia, and I was only four years old at that point — but as far as I can tell, the hair and makeup here is excellent. I am torn on whether I feel like she’s doing too much of A Voice? Regardless, having a female Prime Minister this season is going to drastically cut back on this show’s ability to turn to us and ask, “but what about THE MEN???” and I appreciate that — even if Thatcher was a nightmare person in general who tells THE QUEEN!!! that she thinks women are “too emotional” for leadership positions, and the show makes a massive deal of the fact that she still irons her husband’s shirts. The show also has Thatcher seemingly very surprised that the Queen isn’t a total dingdong and I decided that was Gillian Anderson giving Peter Morgan (her romantic partner) the note that Olivia Colman had been coming off like a ditz and to pull that shit back right quick. Related: Colman’s performance this season (so far) feels much more assured to me.
d. Speaking of misogyny: “That’s the last thing this country needs. Two women running the show,” Philip says (in a scene that gives us Thatcher’s backstory in an incredibly clonky way that recalls the way daytime dramas do exposition: two characters reciting a third character’s history even though they both already know everything they’re saying to each other, and in real life people don’t talk like that). Neither Her Majesty nor I appreciate this comment! Other ways in which Philip is awful this episode: Although he’s lovely to Princess Anne (who also continues to be the greatest even though she’s saddled with a half-cooked C plot about having the yips on her horse), he gives poor Charles a truly emotionally agonizing speech about his resentment of how close Dickie Mountbatten and Charles were, instead of comforting his heartbroken son in the wake of Mounbatten’s assassination. I have to note: I think Tobias Menzies is spectacularly good in this role. He is tremendous in that scene with Charles; I felt so much for both of them, even though Philip is being so self-absorbed. There is not a moment where Philip seems to reflect that perhaps he should try to be a better father than his was to him, or that his parenting has been less than perfect, and that perhaps that was the reason that Dickie was a surrogate father both to him and to Charles, and yet I still felt for him. No disrespect to Matt Smith, but Matt Smith could never have pulled that off.
e. Chaz and Dickie Mountbatten have a big fight about Charles continuing to see (the married) Camilla right before Mountbatten is assassinated by the IRA blowing up his boat, and Charles received a very firm but kind letter from Dickie about making the right choice about dropping Camilla and picking a bide-able virgin bride after Mountbatten is dead; I don’t know how much truth there is in that (in the fight/letter part, the IRA did of course assassinate Mountbatten, which must have been a truly shocking turn of events when it happened), but I appreciate that for once this show went for the most agonizing possible personal version of events for Charles. Not because I want to see him suffer, but because that’s better story-telling, and it truly sets up the reason for Charles to pursue Diana in a way that feels really emotionally honest.
f. I found the scene leading up to Mountbatten’s assassination to be pretty tense, but I’m curious if it felt that way if you didn’t know that he was about to be killed; I also thought the scene of everyone getting the news was very well done. (Having said that, the metaphor of having everyone else in the family hunting and killing wild animals while Mountbatten is being killed by the IRA to be a little heavy-handed.)
g. On the fashion tip, there are a LOT of pussy-bow blouses in this episode. They were on trend for the time period and I do seem to recall Thatcher wearing a lot of what I’ll call Lady Ties in the 80s. There was also a psychotic amount of good tweed and great scarves, which I always appreciate.