The Crown: Beryl

“People like you don’t get to insult people like me. You get to be eternally grateful.”

Some reflections on marriage in general – the episode opens with a wedding – and a lot about Princess Margaret and her less-than-happy situation.

The first part of the episode touches upon marriages, both literally and figuratively. Let’s go to the figurative first, the relationship between Britain and the United States. That “special” relationship has been strained ever since the Suez Canal mess, but then Russia launches Sputnik, which lets us know that the year is 1957 and is bound to make the Americans insecure. The Brits take advantage of this insecurity to cozy up to the Americans with moral and presumably scientific support.

We then move to more literal marriages. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth decide to hold a party to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister, hopes his wife Dorothy will finally end her affair with fellow politician, Robert Boothby, a liaison that lasted something like three decades. But most of the episode concentrates on Princess Margaret.

Princess Margaret nearly becomes engaged to Billy Wallace. In fact she was planning to announce their engagement at the tenth anniversary celebration between Elizabeth and Philip, when, just before the announcement, Billy behaves in an intolerable manner, sexing it up with actresses and managing to get shot in a duel. Margaret is disgusted, breaks it off and goes to the party without him.

There’s some lovely cinematic work during the 10th wedding anniversary, as the camera showed the queen, whose marriage we are celebrating, and the queen mother, whose marriage is over, and Princess Margaret, who has never been married though on the verge of an engagement twice.

Princess Margaret has very little to do; nothing she is truly passionate about. We just see her drinking and smoking and having her photographic portrait done. She dances alone in her bedroom, either sadly, drunkenly, or gladly and full of hope. Both scenes work fairly well.

The hope appears in the form of Tony Armstrong-Jones, whom Margaret meets at a party given by a friend. Tony Armstrong-Jones is a photographer and invites Margaret to his studio for some work. She is intrigued by the encounter, and they return to the palace on a motorcycle.

The two portraits of Princess Margaret – the first done by Cecil, conjuring the illusion of the fairy-tale, and the second done by Tony, which shows her “naked” – are interesting. We’re supposed to prefer the latter, and certainly Margaret, who is tired of being portrayed as a Cinderella or a Sleeping Beauty – prefers Tony’s work. But I am not sure that I do.

Title musings: “Beryl,” the title of the episode, comes from the alias that Princess Margaret uses when she signs her “name” at Tony Armstrong-Jones’s studio. Royals are known to use aliases; Prince Charles used “Fred” and Camilla used “Gladys” in their secret correspondence (some of which was discovered by Princess Diana and led to that unhappiness). Beryl is also a gemstone that comes in many different colors, including a version that is so clear that it was originally used to make spectacles (and is the source of the word Brille in German).

Bits and pieces

Princess Margaret is at first convinced that Tony Armstrong-Jones is queer, then decides he is not. Perhaps this is a spoiler, but he certainly preferred men to women, and this led to their eventual divorce.

Tony Armstrong-Jones indicates that Sarah, the youngest child of Dorothy Macmillan, was sired by the politician Robert Boothby and not her mother’s husband, Harold Macmillan. According to Wikipedia this rumor is not true.

If you’re wondering whether the Macmillan name has anything to do with textbooks and publishing, yes, it’s the same Macmillan.

Everyone appears shocked by the photograph of Princess Margaret. But Tony Armstrong Jones (later the first Earl of Snowdon) was the court/royal family photographer for years.

Quotes

Princess Margaret: No one wants to take me on, apparently. I’m too daunting a prospect.

Billy: I’m your Old Faithful, after all.

Princess Margaret: You pathetic, weak, contemptible fool. I never even wanted to marry you. You were only an act of charity. Or of desperation.

Princess Margaret: He was decent and old-fashioned. Easy qualities to mock.

Overall Rating

I thought the episode was well done, given what it had to work with. I have trouble feeling pity for Margaret, and I actually disliked Tony Armstrong-Jones – although I could understand his appeal to Princess Margaret, who is perishing from boredom. Three out of four official portraits.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

Matthew Goode! I'm a fan. Everything is better if Matthew Goode is in it.

Not knowing much of what happened in Princess Margaret's life, I want him to be good for her. But it's pretty obvious that I won't be getting my wish.