This covers the period 1947 – 1951, starting just before the wedding between Philip and Princess Elizabeth to the point when George VI’s illness reaches the point where he has to call his daughter back from Malta and some unspecified amount of time after that.
At the beginning, when we met George VI, I immediately thought of The King’s Speech, even though George VI is now played by Jared Harris instead of Colin Firth – yet both actors evoke the same man. That’s the point, of course, but I was nevertheless impressed. Perhaps it was caused by the voice – unlike most people, I am more influenced by sound than sight – or maybe others will react differently (but my husband had the same response that I did). My eyes were telling me one thing and my ears another.
Many minutes into the first episode, the emotions have been centered mostly on George VI who is ill (how exhausting it must have been, having to soldier on until death – so glad that nowadays retirement is an option for popes and monarchs). Well, although the show is advertised as the story of Elizabeth II, its title is The Crown, and she’s not wearing it yet; her father is. We’re also focusing on Philip, who is giving up his titles from other countries in order to marry Elizabeth. In fact that was the open, and I thought it was a great choice.
Although the wedding was a big splash in its time, and The Crown spent gobs of money to get it right, I was indifferent to the finery. This may be just me; obviously many people like this stuff, which is great for them and does help stimulate the economy. I was more interested in the story, and the conversation about Elizabeth insisting that the word “obey” be included in the ceremony. I can understand why she did it – a function of the era, which was so different – but I also hope that no spouse-to-be includes the word “obey” in his or her ceremony today. We’re told by some that she’s strong-willed, but we don’t actually witness this strong will. The episode uses this form of exposition several times, as when Churchill appears. It’s telling instead of showing, and I’m not crazy about it, but it is a way to make clear that these personages are talked about – by an entire nation. So maybe that makes it showing and not telling?
The episode spends little time in Malta, even though it covers several years of Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage and the births of their two eldest children. I don’t have a sense of what attracted these two people to each other in the first place. That is, I think, another problem.
The king knows he’s sick but not how sick; Churchill gets that something is wrong but not how serious it is until he meets with the king to form a government. I appreciated how Churchill figured out what was wrong before King George VI did (but George VI realizes that Churchill knows - and let's stop here before we get stuck on a Möbius strip).
The conversation at Wolferton Splash, between Philip and his father-in-law, is supposed to be the heart of the episode, when George VI explains to his son-in-law what his real duty is. I think our characters are going to be struggling with this duty for a while (and I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler, but this is recent history).
Bits and pieces
I loved the dirty limericks exchanged by the king with his valet.
I was impressed with John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill, and how this tall, skinny American pulled off this character. He was assisted by make-up and scenery – the door of 10 Downing Street was made taller so that Lithgow would appear shorter – and by putting cotton up his nose to help change his voice.
Naked body count: I did not expect any, but we actually got the bare backside of Philip (Matt Smith). I guess the Duke of Edinburgh was a hunk in his day!
The paper crown at the Christmas celebration emphasizes the title of the show. Wonder if we’ll see something similar in other episodes.
The episode’s title, “Wolferton Splash,” refers to the place where George VI and his son-in-law Philip have a conversation while duck hunting. We have some other splashes in the episode – literal, in Malta, and figurative, the wedding.
Queen Mary (Princess Elizabeth's grandmother): You overestimate her.
Queen Elizabeth (Princess Elizabeth's mother): You underestimate her.
Princess Elizabeth (to her sister, Princess Margaret): I quite see the attraction of Peter. But he’s married.
Philip: My work is as a naval officer, not grinning like a demented ape while you cut ribbons!
King George VI: You understand, the titles, the dukedom -- they’re not the job.
George VI: She is the job. She is the essence of your duty. Loving her. Protecting her. Of course, you’ll miss your career.
Assigning a rating to a docuseries is always a challenge. The plot is constrained by what actually happened, and so must include certain events and personalities, even if they are dull, and not include twists and turns that never occurred. I admit also to some discomfort, watching a series about Elizabeth and Philip, as these two are still alive, particularly when bits come up when you want to ask them if that’s how it really happened (Peter Morgan, the creator of the series, has never met them). On the other hand, the royal couple have been living in a fishbowl for decades, and they must be accustomed to it. Although not everything in the series is flattering, I’m sure they have endured much worse – and some parts, I’m sure, were flattering compared to reality. The episode was educational, certainly, giving color and detail to events for which I only have a vague appreciation, and I especially found the king and Churchill engaging. Three paper crowns out of four.
Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.