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The Crown: Marionettes

Robin Day: “She’s our head of state, loved respected and admired throughout the world – so why do you hate her so very much?”

A fascinating episode, in which Queen Elizabeth’s relevance is challenged by a journalist.

I enjoyed this episode a great deal, as it centered on politics instead of romantic developments. The question of the point of the monarchy was extremely interesting, and as an hour of television it entertained and informed on several levels.

The episode managed to shock me a couple of times, always welcome and particularly unexpected in a docudrama. The first was when Lord Altrincham was assaulted (by the late 1950’s equivalent of today’s white supremacist). The second occasion was when Altrincham turned around in that pokey office at the top of the palace to discover that he was meeting with Queen Elizabeth and not the assistant private secretary. The latter was especially well red-herringed by Charteris’s initial objections to that dreadful speech.

Another point that I appreciated was the focus on the role of the monarchy, with the shades of gray as to its utility. Lord Altrincham’s attitude was interesting; he gave an excellent defense of constitutional monarchy, not something I was expecting from him given the original article. Having a family appointed to safeguard something is not such a bad idea, especially a family with a sense of history and duty. Of course, you can’t guarantee that the next in line will have that sense of history and duty, but it’s worth considering that republics are rather new and that they can be abused as well.

Naturally the Queen Mother has the most old-fashioned view, and resents yielding power in order to survive, but the Queen is more realistic. But Altrincham’s suggestions are sensible, from televising the Christmas speech to inviting ordinary people to meet with the sovereign.

One aspect of the episodes of The Crown is that the episodes are actually full hours, or thereabouts, about fifteen to twenty minutes longer than “hour-long” shows from commercial ridden TV. This means that they have the time to fill in with charming scenes showing us the Queen getting her hair done, what it was like to wait in a dentist’s office of that period, or even the banality of a newspaper office alternating between the topics of story ideas and toffees.

Title musings: “Marionettes,” the title of the episode, is only referred to at the episode’s end, when the Queen Mother is complaining that this is what they have become. But Queen Elizabeth was certainly behaving like a marionette beforehand during that speech at the Jaguar factory, with the strings pulled by her wooden courtiers.

Bits and pieces

Tommy Lascelles, no longer officially employed at the Palace, was able to retain his mustache, unlike the functionaries such as Michael Adeane.

Peter Morgan (the creator of The Crown) used the death of another stag at Balmoral in his movie, The Queen.

I believe that the hairstylist Margaret and Philip are discussing must be Vidal Sassoon (certainly not baboon!).

We learn during the credits at the end that Lord Altrincham proved to be a true egalitarian, renouncing his title in 1963.


Tommy Lascelles: It’s a long way from apathy to insurrection.

Elizabeth the Queen Mother: It’s an irrelevant article written by an irrelevant man for an irrelevant publication.

Lord Altrincham: She has to be ordinary and extraordinary, touched by divinity and yet one of us, but being ordinary doesn’t have to mean bland or ineffectual. Or forgettable.

Lord Altrincham: Because the age of deference is over.

Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The stings and bites we suffer as it slips away. Bit by bit, piece by piece. Our authority, our absolutism, our divine rights. The history of the monarchy in this country is a one-way street of humiliation, sacrifices and concessions in order to survive. First the barons came for us, then the merchants, now the journalists.

Overall Rating

The most interesting episode of the season so far, although I wish they could have given Philip something more interesting to talk about than his wife’s hair. Four Pembroke Welsh corgis out of four.

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


  1. An excellent episode. I've gotten into The Crown to the point where I was a bit angry at Altrincham for being so rude to Elizabeth, and rather pleased that he broke a tooth, even if he was right. I also liked the bit about her hair.

  2. If Altrincham had not been as rude as he was, his criticisms would have been ignored instead of being picked up by the rest of the press (although I expect part of the reason for the insulting manner was simply to sell papers).


  3. John Grigg did not renounce his title because he was an egalitarian. Having lost (by law) his permanent seat at the House of Lords, he decided to try for a seat at the Commons so he got rid of his (then) cumbersome title, but he lost the election.

  4. Thanks for that information, Mallena! Still, he was willing to give it up. Not everyone would be.

  5. Yes, Mallena, hope you bring in the booze!
    Victoria,ohhh, I did not mean to belittle the man. He was a patriot and a monarchist. If he gave up his title was not because he thought it was wrong to hold one, or because lordships were obsolete. It’s just he wanted to remain in politics because he felt it helped him serve his country better.
    It bothers me though that the series grants us that bit of unfinished information precisely because they want us to get the wrong impression. Peter Morgan hates monarchy and, I’m afraid, doesn’t like the Queen, that makes his scripts to be terribly ambiguous in an annoying way that confuses the public. I love the series, but I’m not the only one that feels that this ambiguity ends up in lazy (and sometimes boring) storytelling. Philip’s character that jumps from one end to the other, heavy exposition when we could have a nice show versus tell scene, and all those unnecessary tidbits of info. For example, I would prefer the epilogue to the Altrincham affair to contain information such as that John Grigg did eventually marry sweet Patricia (the Gemma Whelan character) than hearing about him surrendering his birthright.


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