The Crown: Mystery Man

Queen Elizabeth: “Do you know, I’ve been Queen barely ten years. And in that time I’ve had three Prime Ministers. All of them ambitious men, clever men, brilliant men. Not one has lasted the course.”

The second season ends with a photographic portrait of much of Queen Elizabeth’s family, giving us a last look at these actors, who will be replaced by older actors in the next season. Unfortunately much of the episode is a series of still shots as well.

Little happened in this episode. The beautiful shots and dramatic music are meant imply tense internal moments for the characters, and if that technique had been used once, it might have made a point. Instead, the technique is used repeatedly, to such extremes that I was bored and disappointed. And even when the snippet contained some dialogue, plenty of time was spent with the camera going around the room or locale. (Taking advantage of expensive sets?)

So, what actually did happen? First, Queen Elizabeth is pregnant with her fourth child and the pregnancy is difficult. The doctors tell her to rest, so she goes to Scotland. However, when you’re a reigning monarch, you can never completely take time off. Second, Prime Minister Macmillan’s government is embroiled in scandal due to an affair where a young lady is sleeping with both the (married) British minister of war and a Soviet diplomat. Third, we’re meant to wonder what Prince Philip has been up to. Has he been faithful or not?

The episode opens with Philip exercising and hurting his neck and then visiting an osteopath, Stephen Ward. Ward puts forth the idea that Prince Philip’s physical problems are caused by tension and stress and invites him to party. We don’t know for a fact if Philip does go.

Stephen Ward turns out to be a central figure in the Profumo affair, which we can assume was pretty serious despite the rubber stamp of “move along, nothing to see here” investigation that happened later. The Prime Minister resigned and Stephen Ward took his own life; these are the actions of men aware of deeper crimes. But I never cared for Macmillan and I did not know Ward, so these events did not add nearly as much as they should have to the episode.

We have Macmillan sitting in the audience watching a show where they mock him. We have Elizabeth standing in the snow for a while. We have the back of Philip and then the back of Elizabeth. We have Philip standing at a distance from Balmoral more than once. We have Elizabeth staring at Philip as he looks at the miniature of the ballerina (according to Vanity Fair Philip did not have an affair with her).

I wonder if some of the story was absent because Peter Morgan simply does not know what happened. There’s plenty of evidence that Prince Philip was exposed to temptation – Michael Parker, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, and Stephen Ward – but we don’t know if he yielded. The conversation between Philip and Elizabeth where Philip finally tells his wife that he loves her is supposed to give us some closure. It hearkens back to a conversation that Philip had with his father-in-law in "Wolferton Splash," a conversation and episode that worked much better than this.

I did like some bits. I liked the dressing-down that Elizabeth gave Macmillan. I liked her conversation with Margaret about the noise she was making doing renovations. Princess Margaret had some of the few good lines. And I did like the shot of Philip standing by while Elizabeth is in labor with Edward.

Title musings: "Mystery Man" has two meanings. The obvious one is when we don’t know who is in a particular photograph. The second is Philip. Queen Elizabeth says she doesn’t know who he is, either. But given the level of ambiguity, I wonder if Morgan has not made up his mind either.

Bits and pieces

Christine Keeler, the woman who had the affair with both John Profumo, the British minister, and a Soviet diplomat, died at the age of 75 on 4 December 2017 – four days before Netflix released its second season.

Stephen Ward actually practiced in Cavendish Square, a much posher location than we see when Philip goes to visit for the sake of the pain in his neck. Perhaps Philip is supposed to be calling at Ward’s home, which may have been in a less pretentious location.

Stephen Ward supplied portraits of national and international figures to The Illustrated London News, including Prince Philip and Princess Margaret.

I have never liked the way the medical profession has so often decided that stress/hysteria are the cause of physical problems. Of course, some people are under great stress, and it can have a physical impact, but so many medical problems that used to be attributed to psychology have turned out to have physical origins – such as ulcers being caused by H. pylori.

Can’t help but think of how Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. The Prime Ministers get to quit while Queen Elizabeth has to soldier on – even while producing new human beings.


Prime Minister Macmillan: The many achievements of this government are being overshadowed by scandal and rumor.

Dorothy Macmillan: Credulous, trusting fool.

Princess Margaret: Positively constipated with fury.

Prime Minister Macmillan: The integrity of your government has been compromised.

Prince Philip: The whole ghastly relentlessness of it all. The fact that it never stops, not for a minute. I understand all that.

Prince Philip: You’ve raised looking the other way into an art form.

Overall Rating

The episode was terribly slow. This was not at all the fault of the actors, who were great despite the disappointing script. And I cannot be as hard on the script as I would normally, as The Crown has to portray actual events and cannot employ the tools available to most dramas. Two and a half snowflakes out of four.

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


Billie Doux said...

While I was watching this, I came to a similar conclusion -- that the producers and writers simply don't know if Philip cheated or not, so they decided to give us ambiguity. I'm not sure it worked. It was a beautifully shot episode, and I liked that final scene of the two of them holding each other, but yeah.

Congratulations on finishing season two, Victoria!

Anonymous said...

I liked S1 better. This season was too tabloid-y for me.
Thanks for the reviews, Victoria!

Heather1 said...

I agree with Anonymous. The tabloid-style of this season just reinforced how much I don't care that Princess Margaret was unhappy. Boo hoo. And all I could think of when Elizabeth made the comment about none of the prime ministers staying the course was that prime ministers often don't have the choice. They sometimes get voted out of of office. An option that the public doesn't have with the Queen. The Queen Mother came off so poorly when they decided to open the palace to visitors. The only one who looked good was Prince Phillip (oddly enough... I didn't like his character in Season 1 for the same reasons cited above).

Mallena said...

Except for a few episodes, I was disappointed by the whole season, but especially irked by this episode. I actually started watching the ep for a while and then started it over, thinking that I had missed the beginning, somehow. I was totally lost and didn't know what was going on. I'd never heard of Ward, the newspaper man, or the scandal that they were giving us scant info on. This second season made Elizabeth seem so cold and emotionless that I felt sorry for Philip's marriage to her. They seemed like strangers until the very end.

Re: Philip...even Matt Smith can't make the guy likable. I've only seen pictures and video of the real Philip, but that man seems nicer than the character on screen seems. I'm sorry that Charles was forced from the comfort and warmth of home, so that his father could inflict on him the same horrible conditions of his own school days. Back then they thought that a sensitive boy could be toughened up. Seeing how Charles turned out, it didn't do him any favors.