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The Crown: Margaretology

Reporter: “What’s the biggest difference between Britain and America?”
Princess Margaret: “My sister isn’t on all the banknotes.”

The study of Margaret.

This episode was beautifully constructed, beginning by showing younger versions of the princesses as Princess Elizabeth was promoted from “heir presumptive” to “heir apparent.” It is fascinating, too, that Margaret wanted to wear the crown while Elizabeth was full of self-doubt. That rings true, although the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I don’t know if they truly asked if they could be allowed to switch places, but even if they didn’t do it in such a formal manner to Tommy Lascelles, I’m sure it came up in one way or another.

It turns out that the United Kingdom is stony broke at the moment, something that I believe was an after-effect of the war (even though the United Kingdom actually received the largest contribution of the Marshall Plan). Britain’s best (only) bet is a bailout from the United States, but the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, doesn’t much like the British and is angry because the UK wasn’t supportive in the question of Vietnam (good call United Kingdom). So they have to find some way to make progress with LBJ.

I liked the depiction of LBJ – although perhaps showing him in the urinal was a bit much; certainly everyone urinates, but why show it? – but President Johnson was known for his vulgar moments. It was fascinating to see that LBJ had a sense of inferiority to JFK. I wonder how attested that is? Given his feelings, I can understand disinterest in the invitation to Balmoral. I mean, if you don’t much like the British, being offered more time with the British is something that should be easy to refuse.

So Princess Margaret, despite flying commercial (although the first class cabin is emptied for her and her husband) is tasked with going to the White House to beg for one thousand million pounds. She starts off by insulting the memory of JFK, engaging in a drinking contest, reciting dirty limericks, then dancing and singing. I loved the prudish recitation by the Prime Minister to the Queen with the counterpoint of the bawdy time at the White House. Despite breaking all the rules, Princess Margaret is a great success, and she gets the bailout for Britain out of LBJ.

Upon her return, Princess Margaret is met by a grateful Harold Wilson, and her older sister asks what she would like as a reward. Princess Margaret wants more to do, and Queen Elizabeth says she'll think about it. The end also works very well, as Queen Elizabeth is not going to divvy her duties. I don’t think this is just because of the “dull is better than dazzling” and "primogeniture is a fact of life" speech by Prince Philip, but because the duties cannot really be divided, and besides, she too has pride.

Title musings. "Margaretology," the title of the episode, means the study of Margaret and apparently this was a thing in the USA, as they went crazy for Princess Margaret. The episode, of course, is a study of Margaret and her always being number two. An excellent title.

Bits and pieces

All those cigarettes!

I could relate to Princess Margaret and her cold when she arrived in Arizona. Who hasn’t gotten sick on some journey?

I know they’re playing "God Save the Queen" but I can’t help hearing the words to "My Country, ’Tis of Thee."

The choice of “Anything you can do” as a duet shared by LBJ and Princess Margaret was absolutely inspired. It’s from the musical Annie Get Your Gun.


Tommy Lascelles: From this moment on, you will no longer be the heir presumptive, but the heir apparent, and your life will be quite different.

Lord Snowdon: A natural number one whose tragedy it is to have been born number two.
Princess Margaret: That is my burden.
Lord Snowdon: She knows it too.

LBJ: No, screw the Brits! I don’t like them. I never liked them. If they’re not looking down noses at you through their noses, they’re holding their hands out like beggars.

Queen Elizabeth: I’m a queen, not a saint.

Lord Snowdon: It’s not easy, sometimes, being second fiddle to a pygmy princess.
Princess Margaret: Don’t talk to me about being second fiddle.

Marvin Watson (chief of staff): The general view seems to be that if you have a quarrel with the Prime Minister, that’s one thing, but no one gets to insult the Crown, sir. It’s like treason, or something.

Queen Elizabeth: You have often lamented that you have nothing to do; that you are a wasted resources. Well, the task you are embarking on today could not be more crucial.

LBJ: Jack Kennedy would’ve killed his own mother just to take the skin off her ass to make a drum to beat his own praises.

Princess Margaret: There was a young lady from Dallas,
Who used a dynamite stick as a phallus.
They found her vagina
In North Carolina
And her arsehole in Buckingham Palace.

Prince Philip: You are dazzling. You’re a dazzling cabbage.

Prince Philip: You’re the queen. And she’s your dangerous baby sister.

Overall Rating

This episode was beautifully constructed, especially as it swung back at the end between the young Margaret and the old Margaret still in the same position. The only thing I would have liked is some follow-up to having to cancel or to postpone the visit to New York, where Lord Snowdon’s book was supposed to come out, as I expected more about the marriage. Still, this is The Crown, and it is fitting to examine everyone in relationship to it. Four out of four false eyelashes.

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


  1. Another good episode. This one made Elizabeth look pretty darned good because it's so obvious what an awful queen Margaret would have been -- especially if she found being a princess so tedious. And I particularly liked the scene where Philip was telling Elizabeth pretty much exactly that, and why.

  2. Almost done with the season (one episode to go) and I have to say I think this may have been my favorite episode of season three. Helena Bonham Carter SHINES as Princess Margaret. I also loved Vanessa Kirby's Margaret so maybe I just like Margaret. Philip's whole thing about the two headed monster really makes sense if you look at the non-fictional royal family.

  3. Loved this one. The scene between Wilson and Elizabeth had me laughing out loud. Talk about your awkward moments.

    The conversation between Philip and Elizabeth was inspired. Not only great acting, but the history was exciting as well. I gave old Wikipedia a workout as I looked up every name he mentioned to see where they fell in his line of succession. Pretty interesting stuff.

    As an aside, if you are interested in a good documentary about Margaret, I recommend Margaret: The Rebel Princess. As I write this, it is available on Amazon Prime for a small cost.

  4. I have to stick up for Margaret a bit here. I don't think she was lucky that her audience wasn't a disaster. She played against the staid British type that LBJ didn't like and correctly guessed (on the show at least) that he resented the hagiography of JFK after his death. While the crown itself can't be divided, there are hundreds of royal engagements every year and it's not uncommon for the Queen to deputize someone to do them. I don't think it's unreasonable for Margaret to feel that she isn't trusted. And I detected an unseemly wish on Elizabeth's part for her sister to fail.

    You'd want to be careful how you use Margaret, but there are lots of types of venues--say museum openings--where she'd be a natural. And while she seems a risky choice for international diplomacy, sometimes safe isn't the best choice, as we've seen with Elizabeth's Ghana trip for example. I can think of other politicians Princess Margaret would likely have hit it off with, like Pierre Trudeau.


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