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The Crown: Act of God

“Fog is fog. It comes and it goes away.”


This episode of The Crown takes a break from the politics of the palace and gives us The Great Smog, a crisis of pollution settling on London. The fog, which included some poisonous chemicals in it, killed thousands of people and made many more ill.


First, I want to give props for the visuals of some of this episode. It was not only fun to watch the lesson in the bi plane, in an atmosphere so clean (won’t last), it was beautiful. I also thought the filming of the smog scenes were well done, from the outside scenes to the sense that the evil stuff was seeping through the windows. I liked how Queen Elizabeth’s odd excursion – only 200 yards! - to go visit her grandmother.

Prince Philip’s crisis is that he wants to learn to fly. Fortunately this is not as big a deal as earlier crises.

I liked this episode in the sense that I liked the material quite a bit; I found it more interesting than the previous one, which was making a deal out of Philip’s not wanting to move to Buckingham Palace. The execution of the story, however, was uneven.

Several bits felt completely in character. The weather department realized what was going to happen and covered their backsides by sending a stern warning. Churchill’s initial attitude was that it was just some bad weather, even an Act of God – what was he supposed to do about it? Of course today we – or at least most of us – acknowledge that much can be done about the weather, but I can empathize with the attitude of someone brought up in the Victorian era.

Venetia Scott – I’m of two minds about Venetia Scott. Her hero worship of Churchill is over the top – and yet part of me admires someone who can so earnestly admire another human being. (The part of me that is weary of cynicism, I suppose.) We get to know her better so that her death can make us sad later in the episode. I was not saddened by her loss, but rather by the frustration that she would not be bringing her message about the needs of the hospital to Churchill. But her death helped spur him to action.

I appreciated how so many were concerned about Churchill’s priorities in general, and how frustrating it can be to have someone you believe completely incompetent at the helm, supported by toadies who refuse to do anything about it (gosh, that seems relevant).

The term Act of God refers to the weather – and we know today that the poisonous part was due to us mortals – but it also refers to Queen Elizabeth and her situation, who has to be struggling with her position as sovereign, divinely ordained. She has been warned that Churchill is not performing adequately, not taking action in a major crisis, and people are literally dying. It may no longer be the custom for the crown to interfere – but the situation is so severe that she feels compelled to act and is considering asking Churchill to step down. In a sense, this would be an Act of God. But Churchill, either because he is inspired by the death of his secretary or because he wants to keep his position, finally does take action to relieve the suffering, and the young Queen Elizabeth says nothing.

Bits and pieces

Queen Mary tells the nurse taking care of her how to differentiate between the three queens in terms of address; I suspect this explanation was meant for us.

Venetia Scott seems very clumsy; I believe this is the second time for her to drop papers. I suppose The Crown is trying to emphasize how startling Churchill is.

At the end some information is given about the Great Smog of 1952. I object to white letters on a light background. How difficult would it have been to change the colors of the letters, or to move them to an area with a darker background? Why doesn't something automatic control for this?


Philip: My in-laws made me marshal of the Royal Air Force. As a result, I’m the most senior airman in the country and I can’t bloody well fly.

Functionary at Meteorological Office: We must send a warning. To cover our backs. Kenneth, it should probably come from you, as chief scientist. Address it to the PM. He’ll never read it, of course. But the important thing is, we sent it.

Doctor: What are they rehearsing?
Queen Mary: My funeral.

Mr. Thurman: Mr. Attlee, I entered the civil service to serve the public and to serve government, any government. But I am also a responsible citizen and I cannot stand by while chaos reigns around me. This is not a government. Mr. Attlee, this is a collection of hesitant, frightened old men unable to unseat a tyrannical, delusional even older one.

Venetia Scott: You mean going to the Lamb and Flag with you and sitting at the bar and twinkling our ankles at every unremarkable young man in the room?

Churchill: Take up the mantle of change, for this is your time.

Nurse: Thought you was all queens. They gave me a sheet.

Queen Mary: Forget death by lung disease. It’s death by bad conversation.

Queen Mary: Monarchy is a calling from God.

Venetia Scott: All I do is bring you things to sign, and then take them away again.

Churchill: Only God can lift the fog. But I, as Prime Minister, am in a position to ease the suffering.

Overall rating

I liked the topic quite a bit, even though I didn’t always like its handling. So I’m giving this three coughs out of four.

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


  1. I'd never heard of the great fog event of 1952 before I saw this episode, and I thought it was fascinating. Not just as a human tragedy, with all of those thousands dead, but as a political problem. In all truth, what could Churchill have done about it? The problem needed to be addressed long before it happened, it needed to be prevented, but once it was actually happening, it wasn't surprising that he was screaming at everyone that it was weather, it would change.

    Victoria, I think you're right about the act of God also applying to Elizabeth. But while I was re-watching this episode earlier this evening, I was thinking that it could also apply to age. Venetia Scott had been reading about what Churchill had said when he was her age and young and enthusiastic, but now he is not. He nearly lost his job here because he was old and set in his ways, and the only reason he didn't was because Venetia's death brought him to the hospital and the results of the smog were in front of his face. Churchill got lucky. (I've been thinking a lot about age lately.)

  2. This smoggy history lesson was very interesting; I love learning about events like this. I live in a valley where pollution does get trapped in the winter, so instead of mountain vistas, we get to peer through murk. I wasn't fond of Old Churchill being so set in his ways. He was a great leader once, but if his ego is all he cares about, he is just in the way of progress.

  3. As I shelter at home from another type of miasma sweeping the country, this episode felt very of the moment. 12,000 deaths? My goodness!

  4. I knew what the episode was going to be about as soon as they made the Donora reference at the beginning. I thought the episode was quite well done though the whole Venetia Scott thing was way too obvious. After seeing the episode, I did some fact checking on it and from what I've seen, the smog itself was realistically portrayed but the chaos at the hospitals was exaggerated. They cancelled concerts and film screenings because visibility was too poor, even indoors.

    But while Churchill's attitude seems incredible to us, from what I've read, not only did he do nothing at all IRL, there really wasn't any political fallout to speak of. The seriousness of the health consequences wasn't fully recognized until weeks afterward.


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