We loved writing Old School Long-Ass Recaps of The Crown, but due to our own time constraints right now, we couldn’t replicate those for season three — so we’ll still cover the fashion and interiors in the slideshow, give general reactions in this space, and then kick it to the comments. Episode 4 AND Episode 5 will be covered on Wednesday, Nov. 27.
My notes from the first time I watched this episode read: “Ep3: Aberfan. Very effective. This show really is Men Explain Things to The Queen, though.” And I stand by that, although of course I am capable of being more loquacious about it, and I SHALL BE. The log-line is that this episode is about the Aberfan disaster, a terrible event wherein a local coal spoil tip — that’s, from what I understand, basically a very large pile of the non-coal waste that accumulates when you are mining coal — collapsed after a long period of rain and avalanched down a hill and into Aberfan, the town below, hitting the primary school and parts of the village and killing 28 adults and 116 children. This was an absolute tragedy — one that could have been prevented — and the show’s coverage of it was, I thought, very well done. It is wrenching.
The Crown’s role in this story basically reactive: Although Philip and Lord Snowden both go, swiftly, and are appropriately wrecked by the entire thing, the Queen doesn’t think she ought to go to Wales herself — “The Queen visits hospitals, Martin, not the scenes of accidents,” she tells Martin “Michael Gregson” Charteris, whose facial reaction to this is, essentially, “YIKES” — until a bunch of men inform her multiple times that her she should, and Prime Minister Wilson tips his hand that his office is going to use her absence from the scene as a way to deflect the blame for the whole thing off of them, and it would be wise for her to get her butt over there, and she FINALLY obeys. (He was right!) We also get a lot of concern from Elizabeth about how she feels nothing about anything ever, which I think is… not really something the Queen would confess to a Prime Minister, but which does open the door for Harold Wilson to talk to her about emotionally faking what people need from her regardless of whether she truly feels it.
Other thoughts, and then I’ll turn it over to you:
– Apparently, her slowness to visit Aberfan is one of the Queen’s greatest regrets in life, and I have to say that I think this episode (of history, not of this show specifically) does illustrate what is perhaps her greatest flaw: She tends to be slow to act in times of crisis. She was slow to act here (not even for the worst reasons; it is true that the Queen showing up in the middle of active rescue efforts probably isn’t helpful); she was slow to act when Diana died; she was, most recently, very slow to act in dealing with Prince Andrew’s association with Epstein. It is important for one’s leaders to be thoughtful and methodical, but some events call for decisive action and she has a history of being unwilling or unable to turn the boat around quickly.
– Jason Watkins, who plays Prime Minister Harold Wilson, is overall very good in the part and quite sympathetic; as many complaints as I have about this show, the acting is always topnotch. Thank you for sending me down a Harold Wilson Wikipedia Wormhole, Jason Watkins — it is my highest compliment. (He did an interview with the Guardian where he said Wilson was “a socialist, a monarchist, and a gossip,” and that does sound like a person I’d want to chat with now and then.) The scenes where he’s basically like, “Er, try to show some emotion to make people feel better?” were particularly subtly acted on his part, and I thought well done.
– Apparently NO ONE from the National Coal Board suffered the SLIGHTEST repercussions from this, which is ENRAGING, and they originally only offered fifty pounds per family to the victims, which is shameful. (They raised it to five hundred pounds but WTF.) They also originally refused to remove the rest of the coal tips and eventually helped pay for their removal out of the survivors’ fund, and apparently had I been in Wales in 1968, and Twitter had existed, I would have spent a lot of my time yelling at the NCB. (The money removed from the fund was eventually repaid…IN 1997! Without interest! FINALLY in 2007, the Welsh government made a donation to cover the lost interest.)
– The Crown is obsessed with three things: (1) Opening scenes by having people pull up somewhere in a car — they do know you can just open a scene in a room already, right? We’ll figure out that the Prime Minister arrived by normal methods and didn’t use Floo Powder or something; (2) Shots of the backs of people’s heads; and (3) Shots of Elizabeth’s hands (and her very dull manicure). This episode had three Manicure Shots in less than half an hour. We get it. Her soul AND her nails are beige.
– There’s been a lot of discussion (in my personal life and perhaps online) about whether the One Perfect Tear that Elizabeth cries at the end of this episode is meant to be a genuine display of real emotion from the character, or if she’s forced herself to see if she can feel. I think it’s meant to be the former, but I’m interested to hear what you think. This episode really leans into Elizabeth Has No Feelings!! (she even has to be instructed to cry in Wales [and tells Philip later she “dabbed a bone-dry eye and by some miracle no one noticed,” which contrasts sharply with the accounts of people who were there, who all felt she seemed extremely emotional indeed – H]) but the show itself doesn’t actually support that this is true; we’ve SEEN her have feelings. I wonder if we’re meant to think that she thinks she doesn’t have feelings, which is an interesting plotline which I feel like they didn’t really tease out over the season. (In fairness, that is a VERY interior subject, which is hard to tell in a visual medium.)
And over to you!