The sixth episode of The Crown is a star turn for Josh O’Connor, covering the time leading up to his investiture as Prince of Wales at age 21. The portrayal, both on screen and on paper, leans into the notion that Charles was a very sensitive kid who felt overlooked as a person because of his position. With this and Aberfan, the show touched on the issue of how a monarch has to be in public versus the human they are in private — what opinions and individuality must be subsumed, either temporarily or altogether — and while it feels enormous sympathy for Charles in that regard, it cannot manage a drop of it for Elizabeth. She is characterized — by the script — as robotic or simple in the Aberfan hour, and in this one, as cold and cruel; indeed, Charles even says to her that they’re different because he has “a beating heart,” and a voice, and opinions, to which she says, “Nobody wants to hear it.” He asks if she means the people, or his family, and she repeats, “Nobody.”
– It IS true that Charles has often had interests the people found drippy at the time — conservation, and the environment, farming and sustainability — and he doggedly pursued them anyway. (I suppose you could include Camilla in that.) I admire him for it. The Crown seems to suggest Philip and Elizabeth eyeroll the fact that he’s “different,” which they may have — certainly Philip; it’s why Charles was always so close to Dickie Mountbatten — but it’s also awfully quaint to be watching this show now and hear them fret about that, when in modern times, they have another son who’s a thoroughly immoral, disgusting creep. Not that they need to get into that right now. It’s just a byproduct. Anyway, Charles Gets No Love and No Respect is very much the theme here, right down to nobody greeting him when he returns to Windsor from Wales, which is apparently true (though not because the Queen was being a jerk; history claims she had a cold).
– What is defiantly not true is, in fact, most of the rest of this. At issue, in part, is this idea that Charles abandoned the pre-written speech to deliver his own — entirely in Welsh, while his oblivious parents listened and couldn’t understand — that was politically charged and spoke to the Welsh desire for independence and recognition. The show posits that Charles resented not being allowed to read something that reflected him as a person and written by someone who doesn’t know his mind, so he crafted something he swapped in that was about the importance of the Welsh identity and spirit and how it must never be overlooked or erased or ignored. Then it claims Elizabeth read the translation later and raged at him for that, because she felt it was drawing obvious public parallels between Wales with regard to the UK, and himself with regard to his family. That’s all made up, though. The speech was partly in Welsh (though he didn’t repeat the Welsh bits in English or vice-versa) but it was not controversial, and Peter Morgan didn’t even quote from it. The parts that stoke Elizabeth’s anger were written entirely by Morgan; the words atthe crux of the episode’s climactic fight were entirely invented and therefore probably so was the conflict. Maybe THERE is your allegory. Morgan wanted to use his own words and reflect his own opinions, much as his fictionalized Charles did. It’s a strange time to go off-piste, though, when you’re shooting the ceremony at the same place it actually happened, but I guess… gotta make drama.
– This is the hour in which Elizabeth comes across as the most cold. And also ineffectual. It’s the PM’s idea to send Charles to University College in Wales to study the language; she acquiesces. When she chews on whether to let Charles write his own remarks, it’s Philip who tells her it’s a bad idea, and yes, she acquiesces. Sigh.
– The entire investiture scene is SUPER odd because she and Charles seem tense, sour-faced, and uncomfortable throughout, as if there was a fight scripted beforehand and they decided not to use it, perhaps because it took the air out of their later confrontation. The way O’Connor played the speech, he hesitated when he got to the place in the notecards where he’d swap in his own, and looked to Anne, who appeared to give him a subtle nod. My theory is that there was a moment where Elizabeth found out he’d written his own and ordered him not to use it (possibly in front of his sister), and this was the moment he pressed on and did it anyway because he knew she wouldn’t understand the words. Otherwise there’s no explanation for the incredibly nervous, bizarre vibe.
– And of course, because the show doesn’t develop relationships, we’re asked to accept the Queen’s and Charles’s interpersonal dynamic without having been SHOWN much of it at all. The characters in this show are frequently afterthoughts unless Morgan needs them to check a box on his list. There is hardly any build — a problem that we’ll circle back to when Camilla arrives. It’s a frustrating tell-don’t-show approach, and honestly, sometimes there isn’t even enough telling.
– Charles did apparently develop a good relationship with his tutor, and was a willing student. I’ve always thought Charles took his relationships to Wales and the Duchy of Cornwall extremely seriously, and the show mostly does right by him in that regard after the typical rocky start. It won’t surprise you that The Crown trotted out the old trope of having an anti-monarchist and his wife decide they, gasp, actually care about the poor lad, who has fought past their preconceptions to impress them.
Episode 7 switches gears to Philip, suggesting that his own midlife crisis dovetailed with the moon landing. (I suspect that is also wholly made up, but then again, we might never know. It’s not like Phil is going to come out and say, “Oh, yeah, I was JEALOUS AF when those guys landed on the f*cking moon, my GOD.”) And, yes, an episode in which you watch someone watch something else is not generally that interesting; when you consider the hour this was given, and then make note of the fact that Morgan skipped over Princess Anne’s entire marriage and attempted kidnapping and lands at the jubilee in 1979 with no whiff of it, it’s pretty infuriating. (He may flash back to it in season four, but… why? Why not use it in the proper place in the timeline?)
HOWEVER: All credit to Tobias Menzies. If this show were better overall, and treated its women more richly, I might not begrudge yet another hour spent on a man’s inner life and how the Crown has tarnished his spirit. Because Menzies is SUPER in this. For my money, he absolutely slays the little things about Philip that I imagine to be true from what I’ve seen — simple things, like the wave of an irritated hand, gruff noises and reactions, leaning toward a person with his ear first rather than his eyes or a turn of the head. He EXCELS at communicating that Philip is barely able to conceal his boredom in some of these meetings, and that he further cannot hide contempt. He’s great at the casual, caustic cruelty with which Philip can treat people — here, the gaggle of frustrated priests convening at a newly created spiritual center on the grounds of Windsor Castle — and then was stellar in the scene where Philip ate his words in front of them all and had to admit he’s just basically a bored, frustrated jerkface. It was strange to take so much pleasure in the performance, and yet strongly dislike the episode as a whole. But here we are. I thought Menzies was fantastic, even as I at times resented that we were sitting through it at the expense of other people and places and things (like, say, The Queen; Colman still has very little to do).
– Peter Morgan’s take that the astronauts were neat scientists but dull, disappointing disasters as human beings is… really something. He has Philip crave a deep and meaningful conversation about our place in the universe with the men who’d seen Earth from the moon, only to feel crushed when they had mundane head colds and questions about what it’s like to live in a palace. I just… okay, dude. Sure.
– By the way, the group for the priests to contemplate their faith, and how to connect with parishioners, is real. The show says it’s one of Philip’s proudest achievements, and yet the show ALSO showed that he had nothing to do with it other than agreeing that they could use a room (and then, by its estimation, popping by to shit all over it for a while before admitting he might need some friends).
– One thing I do like is that the scenes where Elizabeth and Philip flirt with each other, even lightly, are warm. It’s nice to see them portrayed as partners. Here, she even gets to crack a joke about aliens, and arranges for him to meet the astronauts because she knows it would delight him; he is kind and supportive when she needs it, too, except of course for when she drags him to Church. But their marriage has a comfortably worn-in feel, rather than the high-wire act of whether he resented her and/or cheated on her that colored the first two seasons. His frustrations here seem less tethered to her and to their marriage, so I appreciate that, at least.