Monday, 17 April 2017

The Crown: Gloriana

"You have more freedom than any consort in history. And you repay it by scowling and sulking like an adolescent."

As ever, the title of the episode is clever. It's interesting to consider it alongside the final scene, with Elizabeth dressed up all regal and told to be Elizabeth Regina, most definitely not Elizabeth Windsor. This is both the theme and the tragedy of both the episode and the series.

Elizabeth Windsor has her interests- keeping her husband happy with the man she loves and maintaining a happy marriage with her increasingly petulant husband (Phil ends the series being increasingly unlikeable, beastly to both Elizabeth and Charles without sufficient motivation). But it's in the interests of Elizabeth Regina to ruin all this in the name of a glorious yet powerless monarchy and an uncaring Church which seems to exist only to cruelly police people's sex lives. What happens to Margaret and Peter is unspeakably cruel and I can see how Margaret sees the chance to renounce her titles as a liberation- the chains may be made of gold but to be royal is to be enslaved, with no agency, privacy, dignity or power.

And it stays with you. In a powerful scene a desperate Elizabeth asks for advice from her uncle David, the only person alive who knows how she feels- and for once he drops the cynical mask and speaks honestly; there is no escape from these conflicts between person and monarch, not even abdication. These are complex, abstract themes, handled well in a strong finale.

There's another strand to the episode, though. The new PM, Sir Anthony Eden, at first seems much younger and more vigorous than his predecessor, but we gradually see the pills he's taking, the pain he's in and, in the final scene, the recreational drugs he's injecting; is he any more fit for the job than his predecessor was? The trippy final scene makes it clear that Suez is coming.  This veteran foreign secretary has been reduced to a drug-addicted shadow of a man just when it's all about to kick off.


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