As King George VI is too ill to travel, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip take his place on a tour of the Commonwealth, a journey expected to take several months. Churchill is still Prime Minister, but younger colleagues are rebelling. As the king dies during this episode, which happened on February 6, 1952, it probably takes place some point at the end of 1951 through the beginning of 1952.
How sunny Kenya is compared to England! I am so glad no elephants were shot during the episode; I hope none were murdered during the real visit.
We’re reminded repeatedly how different attitudes were then compared to now: Princess Elizabeth talks of the area having been “savage” before, a negative word compared to the neutral “wilderness” that would be acceptable today; Prince Philip teases a local king about his hat, not comprehending it is a crown; after Elizabeth becomes Queen, a local kneels before her and literally kisses her feet. But these behaviors and attitudes were taken for granted back then, especially by the Raj (and yes, I know that term comes from India and not Africa). And these different attitudes and behaviors are not confined to white vs non-white. The new Queen Elizabeth has to walk in front of her husband, a matter of precedence, and her elderly grandmother, Queen Mary — who so far has had much more personality than Queen Elizabeth’s mother — makes a deep curtsy to show her respect.
Churchill, who feels with some justification that he saved England from Hitler, uses that conviction to behave pretty badly. He refuses to yield power although he is ageing. He compels his new secretary, Venetia Scott, to read papers to him through the door while he is taking a bath. I believe his habits were often inappropriate, but this last seems rather impractical.
I felt real grief at the death of George VI, especially the despair of the three female relatives in his household: daughter, wife and even his mother. How awkward it was for everyone – including the BBC – that Elizabeth could not be reached immediately to be informed of her father’s death and her accession. I am surprised she had no black dress with her, but that appears to be true; I can understand why they rushed one to her. The casual skirts and frocks seemed completely out of place after the news.
Queen Mary’s letter to her granddaughter lets us know the theme of the series exactly: the struggle to be a monarch when you want to be a person. No subtlety here! But perhaps subtlety does not belong to a docuseries.
I had chills at the end when Churchill explained how he, whose childhood had been spent under Queen Victoria, took comfort in being able to say again, “God Save the Queen.”
Bits and pieces
The special crown in this episode is a local king’s headdress in Kenya.
Attempted to figure out the significance of the episode’s title, “Hyde Park Corner,” as did several others on the internet — without success. My guess it’s just some place someone on the show liked and decided to use it as a code name — but that’s a guess. If anyone out there knows better, please put it in the comments.
Alas, the letter from Queen Mary, to dear Lilibet, seems to have been a fabrication.
Queen Mary says she has seen three monarchies brought down by personal indulgence. One was obviously her eldest son’s, who preferred Wallis Simpson to his kingship. Were the other two George V and George VI, who both died early because of smoking?
Elizabeth II: It’s not a hat. It’s a crown.
Churchill: You need to be a monster to defeat Hitler!
Churchill: Unless you have X-ray vision, you need to open it, so as to tell me what’s in it.
Philip: Why does everybody think, just because we’re royal, we like fine dining? Don’t they realize we’re savages?
Queen Mary: While you mourn your father, you must also mourn someone else: Elizabeth Mountbatten. For she has now been replaced by another person, Elizabeth Regina.
Intrigued, interested, and learning lots. Like it plenty — but can’t say I love it. Three African headdresses out of four.
Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.