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The Crown: Paterfamilias

Lord Mountbatten: “You may hate him now, but one day, God willing, you will be a father yourself. And you will fall short, as all parents do. And be hated. And you will know what it is to pray for the forgiveness of your own son.”

Prince Charles goes to boarding school, a school we know he’ll hate, but we also see young Prince Philip (then a Greek prince, not a British prince) at that school.

One of the things I like about The Crown is how it brings together threads from different stories and times and weaves them into an episode. In this we discover that Queen Elizabeth wants Prince Charles to go to Eton, and that Prince Charles wants to go to Eton, and even Lord Mountbatten approves of Eton, but that Prince Philip wants his son to attend his own alma mater, Gordonstoun in Scotland. Philip threatens to leave Elizabeth if he does not get his way, which may seem over the top, but he feels something is lacking in Charles and this is the chance to put some backbone in him. Elizabeth’s arguments could have been much better on Charles’s behalf – instead of arguing that the school may have changed, or delaying by suggesting that they visit and see if Charles likes it – instead she says that Charles is different, because he’s the heir to the Crown, and that naturally rubs Philip the wrong way.

Young Charles is as miserable at Gordonstoun as everyone feared, something which he has made clear. But the episode is less about Charles than it is about young Philip and his own time at the school – so we get an understanding of why Philip insisted that Charles attend his alma mater. Philip isn’t being a jerk; he has his own reasons.

First, the actor (Finn Elliot) playing the younger version of Philip was absolutely fantastic, and he carried a lot of the show. He displays strength and vulnerability and is also extremely easy on the eyes.

Philip may be a prince, but despite his rank, his family is as dysfunctional as they come. They are refugees from Greece; his mother has had a breakdown, and his father is living with a mistress in Monte Carlo. Philip depends most on one of his sisters, Cecile, but she has married a Nazi and cannot always be there for her brother. Cecile is terrified of flying – a charming moment happens when the young Philip takes her hand and attempts comfort her during turbulence.

In the meantime Philip has been sent to the school. He is teased, and the physical trials are a challenge, and he has fights with some of the other kids. Some words of wisdom are uttered by Dr. Hahn, the school’s founder. Hahn seems like a caring man and the words are wise, but I’m not sure about the school (we don’t see actual lessons, just running around in underwear).

Later in the episode Cecile dies in a plane crash, a flight in which she must have given birth as well (talk about THE flight from hell). Philip returns to Germany for the funeral, in which they are burying his sister, brother-in-law, and their two boys. He sees some other members of his family, including his barely-sane mother (who has to be reminded who he is) and a father who reproaches him for causing the death of his favorite child. I don’t know if Prince Andrew actually uttered those words, but if Cecile was on that plane in part to visit her brother, then Prince Philip would have internalized that thought and that guilt whether the words were uttered or not.

When Philip comes back from the funeral, he relieves his feelings through physical exertion, building a wall. He does this in the rain, the night, the cold and even some good weather – and it’s fun to see what a prewar cement mixer looked like. But Philip cannot, despite all his efforts, install the gates himself as they are simply too heavy. He has to go in and ask for help. It is this asking for help (and getting it) that is his real step for fitting in.

If this were fiction we would see that Philip has learned his lesson, about asking for help, and that he would pass it on to his own son. But it’s not fiction; it’s based on reality. The older Philip tries, but he cannot be as patient with Prince Charles as he was with his sister Cecile when it comes to turbulence and fear of flying. Charles leaves his father in the cockpit and we learn that Charles sent his own sons to Eton, where he wanted to go.

I keep returning to a quote from the previous episode, about how you may think you’re unhappy until something comes along and shows you what real unhappiness is. We also – as parents – try to give our kids the things that would have made us happy, but the little buggers seem to always have different dispositions, don’t they?

Title musings: “Paterfamilias” is more Latin, the father of the family, but more than that –the head of the household. In Roman times the oldest male in a household had absolute authority over everyone; his word was law. Philip usually doesn’t get to lay down the law, but in this episode he does.

Bits and pieces

Gosh, Scotland looks pretty. Chilly, but pretty.

Nazi Germany was completely unnerving.

Quite a bit of German was uttered in this episode, and I think without subtitles, but most of it was very simple. The most difficult phrase was when a German looked at Philip’s passport and said, “Sie sind Griescher?” (You are Greek?), which might have been a natural question given Philip’s blondness and the general reputation for Greeks being dark (and the tendency of the Nazis to stereotype).

My parents once told me that their ambition was to raise kids less crazy/dysfunctional than themselves. Not a bad goal.

Watching young Philip follow the coffin in the funeral procession reminds me of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Duke of Edinburgh followed that coffin too, along with Prince Charles, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Some of the information about the plane crash is incorrect, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Cecile did not give birth in the flight (the child was unborn). Also, if she was on her way to a wedding, then blaming Philip for her journey seems especially unfair, something for which The Crown has been severely criticized.

Princess Andrew (the mother of Prince Philip, also known as Princess Alice of Battenberg) was a very good woman despite her nervous breakdown. In Greece she told the Nazis to get out; she risked her life to distribute food to the starving, and she sheltered Jews during the war and was honored by Israel as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”


Prince Philip: Would you like me to let you in on a big secret?
Prince Charles: Please.
Prince Philip: This – is not the real world.

Prince Philip: Who we are is not what we wear – or what glitters.

Dr. Hahn: But on its current path, the world will be filled with anger and soon will be destroyed.

Dr. Hahn: All men must step into the unknown. There, only there, in the annihilation of hate and anger, and ego, is our salvation.

Prince Andrew: You’re the reason we’re all here burying my favorite child.

Overall Rating

The one thing I did not like about this is that it really does not involve the actual Crown, as we see little of Charles and mostly experience Philip before he was associated with the Crown. And I have doubts about the accuracy of one or two details. But the hour was riveting, and I’m still pondering it (as we can see from the length of this review). Four out of four cement blocks.

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


  1. Terrific review, Victoria, and again (unsurprisingly) I agree with pretty much everything you said. I thought this was another really interesting little piece of history, and the best part about it was Finn Elliot, who was really impressive as young Philip. I was especially impressed with that scene in Berlin with the funeral.

    Adult Philip made a mistake that many people make, assuming that their kids are just like themselves and will relate to the same things. Poor Charles ended up looking like a ninny, and that's unfair to him. Not everyone is up for succeeding in a school like that one.

  2. This was a hard episode to watch, with how Philip treated his son, but the backstory of his own experience at the school really helped.

    Oh, and to clarify, within the episode, the reason Philip's sister was going to the wedding was because she wasn't able to spend the time with her brother. Before his holiday was canceled due to his behavior, she planned to skip the wedding to spend time with him.


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