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The Crown: Coup

Lord Mountbatten: “Why would you protect a man like Wilson?”
Queen Elizabeth: “I am protecting the Prime Minister. I am protecting the constitution. I am protecting democracy.”

While Queen Elizabeth goes horse shopping, the elite try to get Lord Mountbatten to overthrow the government.

The episode begins with more back-of-the-head shots, which I guess is a way to show the point of view of the person inside the head. This time we’re starting with Cecil King, a newspaper baron. He’s disgusted with Harold Wilson, the current Prime Minister, because the economy is in the tank.

Wilson and the cabinet decide that they are going to have to devalue the pound sterling. Devaluation of a currency is a serious business. It makes a country look weak (because it is). If your debts are in pounds, however, it can help you repay your debts, which is why a country will do it, as your debts will shrink after a devaluation. Another reason for doing it – or rather for letting it happen – is because propping up a currency can be expensive for a country, for example, if they have to keep buying it to keep its value up. The Labour cabinet knows they have to do it, but they also know it's a big black stain on their time in office and will cost them their popularity.

So Labour comes up with the idea of firing Lord Mountbatten to get better headlines – even though Wilson warns this will be dangerous – and to blame him for some of the overruns. I must say that the firing was really well done by the episode. First we had Mountbatten’s disgust and disbelief as he discovered that this commoner, this nobody, was firing him. The actual departure was beautifully done, with taking down his portrait, the arrival of a box of cake with "Farewell" written on it, and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" (a far more appropriate use of the song than the New Year’s Eve tradition). He leaves his office, returns to his estate, and soaks in the bathtub.

Queen Elizabeth wants to be with her horses. We get to see her at Ascot and her disappointment when her horse, Apprentice, doesn’t win the race. She wants to win again! Porchey (whom she might have married if she hadn’t been heir to the throne) convinces her to make some trips in order to find out how others are doing it. They go to France and then to Kentucky. It’s wonderful to see her getting to not be queen for a bit. She says that this is who she should be, and would have been if her uncle hadn’t abdicated (or she would have been coronated much later, as her uncle never had children). Instead of being gone a week, she’s gone for a month, leaving Mummy in charge (but Mummy doesn’t seem to do anything).

Wilson announces the devaluation of the pound. We can see him panting hard afterwards. For some people it seems harder to accept a failure when they have the blame, as opposed to announcing a more dangerous threat, such as having to explain that German bombers are coming. Much of Wilson’s environment (the “modern” environment of the late 1960s) does have a gray, boxy, plebian feeling. This is very different from the rich pageantry of Lord Mountbatten’s milieu. He quotes a lot of poetry (Wilson, one feels, works in prose) and is very nostalgic.

The elite – bankers and newspaper barons – invite Mountbatten to lunch and try to get him to agree to a coup. Mountbatten does a lot of research into coups (all before the internet). He comes up with a fascinating list of what they would need for a coup to work, and tells them that they don’t have it. But he’s still interested (considering pissing into the tent, as Wilson might say), and says it might work if they have support of the Queen. He is, after all, her second cousin once removed and the uncle to her husband.

The coup fails, however. The Queen, after receiving an alarming phone call, leaves Kentucky and when back home gives some of the best speeches from her so far in The Crown. Not only are they pro democracy, which may seem strange for a monarch, but they also remind Lord Mountbatten what many people often dismiss, that the domestic side of things is important as well. She orders him to visit his sister (Princess Alice, the star of the last episode), which he does. This ends up being another great scene. He shows such tenderness as he tucks her bed, removes the cigarette.

Prince Philip seems surprised to see his wife, which doesn't quite make sense – they must have been in touch – but there’s a nice exchange between two of them and we know they’re planning to meet later.

Title musings. “Coup” comes from the French and is usually considered short for a coup d’état, which means an overthrow of the government. It’s a good title for the episode.

Bits and pieces

Lord Mountbatten was the brother of Princess Alice of the previous episode, “Bubbikins.” Mountbatten and his sister seemed to have little in common.

My mother had a crush from afar on Lord Mountbatten. She was devastated when he was murdered.

King, the newspaper editor, quotes Hamlet, beginning with “there is special providence in such a fall” and continuing with the actual words of Shakespeare: “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.”

Poor Porchey can’t touch his food until the queen takes a bite, and instead of eating she’s pouring her feelings out to him. Such is etiquette when you dine with the Queen.

Given how much Princess Alice smokes, it’s surprising that Buckingham Palace hasn’t burned down.


Wilson (of Mountbatten): But at least he’s busy, and inside the tent. You know, people like Mountbatten, meddlers, for want of a kinder word, well-connected, energetic meddlers – it’s better that they’re inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

Mountbatten: Are our enemies cutting back on military spending?

Mountbatten: If the only glories available to this nation are its past glories, then let us cherish them now.

Banker: It is, in effect, a declaration of war – on freedom, on democracy, and on capitalism.

Queen Elizabeth: You still have a role to play. A father to my husband. A guide to me. … A brother to your sister. When was the last time you even visited her? Cheered her up? That would be a greater service to the Crown than leading unconstitutional coups.

Princess Alice: There came a moment around the time I turned 70, when it dawned on me that I was no longer a participant, rather a spectator.

Overall Rating

I have mixed feelings about this episode. I understand that much of it may not be true; it may be based on a conspiracy theory. It also implies things about Lord Mountbatten that are hard to believe (for example, he did not neglect his sister after her return to England). On the other hand, it hung together better for me than the previous episode, where I could not accept the interpretation of Prince Philip. Three out of four thoroughbred horses.

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


  1. Victoria, another lovely review. One of the things I enjoy about The Crown is all this stuff I didn't know. I particularly liked the brother/sister scene at the end when they talked about how being old makes you into an observer instead of a participant.


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