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The Crown: Cri de Coeur

Princess Margaret: “The first royal divorce since Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.”

This long episode winds up Princess Margaret’s marriage and Queen Elizabeth’s first twenty-five years on the throne.

Although the episode lasts fifty-eight minutes and gives us the impression that all the events took place in fairly quick succession, the depicted events go from 1974 (when Prime Minister Heath was unable to form a government) to 1977, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. It opens with Queen Elizabeth going to call on Princess Margaret, who is still abed even though it is nearly noon. The floor is littered with broken objects from a recent fight between Princess Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon.

The episode spends a lot of time with the marriage that is falling apart. Lord Snowdon is in his house with his lover, and he goes off to shoot some documentary with her. During the time, Princess Margaret has a birthday and invites her family to be on her side. Just after asking them all to be on her side, they all start praising him – which I find very unlikely. The royals, who are in some ways clueless, wouldn’t be that clueless. On the other hand, I understand that many in the family liked Tony quite a bit, so perhaps the depiction is justifiable poetic license.

The episode devoted a lot of time to Princess Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn. I thought, given how he ran away when they encountered Lord Snowdon, that he couldn’t have been of much importance to her, but a little research shows that the relationship lasted eight (!) years, and Queen Elizabeth was grateful because Llewellyn made her sister happy. It was interesting to see how a middle-aged (43 at the time) princess chooses a young lover (he was 25). Did all the men who came to that party realize they were being offered as studs? Can Margaret just automatically assume that they are willing to service her? I thought two other things were fascinating – that Llewellyn was, in some ways, a younger version of Lord Snowdon – and how awkward some people, such as Roddy and the sales clerk, were when suddenly dealing with royalty.

Margaret tries to be discreet, by going with her young lover to the Caribbean, but paparazzi are persistent. One finally catches her with Roddy, and the jig is up. This is a chance to show some of the characters who otherwise have little to do in the episode as they react to various editions.

Most offended is the Queen Mother, and of course the hypocrite, Lord Snowdon. But Lord Snowdon and Margaret finally decide on a separation that eventually leads to a divorce.

Queen Elizabeth lends a steadying hand to people when they need it. One person is Prime Minister Wilson, who makes an appointment to inform Her Majesty that he has Alzheimer’s and will retire in consequence. Queen Elizabeth assures him that she had not noticed, and that he has done better than other prime ministers who have surely hidden worse afflictions. Wilson, however, is responsible and insists that he has to go. Obviously, the Queen can do nothing to stop Alzheimer’s (although in 2020, more effective treatment can be expected soon, this is more than forty years ago) but she lets him know how much she values him. The most touching moment is when Queen Elizabeth asks if the Wilsons would invite her and the Duke of Edinburgh over for dinner at 10 Downing Street, an honor she had, to this point, only conferred on Churchill. Churchill was her mentor, while Wilson has become, oddly enough, her friend – something that has surprised and pleased them both.

Queen Elizabeth also comes to her support her sister, after Margaret, in a fit of despair, takes a lot of drugs. Queen Elizabeth can’t fix her sister’s love life (even though she tried speaking to Tony earlier), but she can tell Margaret that she needs her sisterly support, that she in fact needs Margaret more than she needs anyone else. Elizabeth questions her own significance, wondering, as the Silver Jubilee is about to take place, what exactly she has achieved (besides outlasting six or seven prime ministers at this point). Margaret, who has been observing the monarchy her entire life, answers the question. She tells her older sister that the Crown papers over the flaws in the kingdoms, and that Queen Elizabeth has done it well. And although Queen Elizabeth may not feel as if she has done it well, I have to think that past monarchs were also assailed by self-doubt.

The episode and the season end with Queen Elizabeth climbing into her carriage, followed by her husband and the Prince of Wales on horseback.

Title musings. “Cri de Coeur” is the title of the episode and means cry of the heart in French. A cry for attention rather than genuine suicide attempt, as the Queen Mother says, and it is probably true (what a horrible thing to do to your children, but maybe they are better off with Nanny). However, it doesn’t really apply to the other two storylines of the episode – Wilson’s Alzheimer’s and Queen Elizabeth’s 25th year as monarch.

Bits and pieces

I loved the bathroom wallpapered with headlines. It reminds me of a bathroom I once visited entirely wallpapered with cartoons from The New Yorker.

It is attested that Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon left each other hate notes in books and other places.

I really liked the scene where Roddy gets a set of trunks.

Lord Snowdon will marry the Thing, but that marriage doesn’t last either, as he was an incorrigible cheat.

Notice how Queen Elizabeth, who wondered about her inability to feel emotion at the beginning of the season, wipes away a tear without thinking about it during her conversation with Margaret.


Margaret: My priapic little snapper.

Margaret: War is our love. A brutal fight to the death is our mating dance.

Queen Elizabeth: Mr. Heath came to me to tell me he was unable to form a coalition with the Ulster Unionists or the Liberals, which left him with no alternative but to resign, at which point, I don’t mind admitting, I let out an unconstitutional cheer.

Princess Margaret: Happiness is a fickle creature, a constant companion to some, hiding herself completely from others.

Lord Snowdon: You were wretched when I found you.

Prime Minister Wilson: No shock lasts more than 48 hours. There’s too much appetite for the next shock.

Overall Rating

This was entertaining but also edifying and touching. Four out of four slim bathing trunks.

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


  1. YES. The tear. Queen "I never cry" Elizabeth can't bear the thought of a life without her little sister. Kind of heartbreaking, really, given the decades she has outlived her. My favorite part of the season was probably Elizabeth's speech to Margaret. For a family known for not being lovey-dovey, it was pretty emotional.

  2. ALSO I thought it was real shitty of the Queen Mother to be all like "oh she just wants attention" when her daughter NEARLY DIED OF A DRUG OVERDOSE. CARE, WOMAN!

  3. My favorite scene was absolutely that one -- when Elizabeth told Margaret how important Margaret was to her. I think it was the first time in the series that Margaret acted like a mature, insightful adult, something Elizabeth has to do all the time. It was a good look for Margaret.

    The third season was definitely good. This is a quality series, very watchable, with outstanding actors in this iteration as well as the last. But I didn't connect to it this time, not like I did with the first two seasons. I'm not sure why. Was it the change in cast?

    Thank you for another season of excellent reviews, Victoria.

  4. I found myself tearing up a lot at the end of this episode. The scene with Wilson was wonderful. One of the joys of this season has been watching the friendship between the two blossom.

    Of course, the scene with Margaret was one of the best of all three seasons. These two damaged, conflicted women need and understand each other. It was moving to see them say some of these things out loud. And, to see the queen wipe away a tear.

    A great season of reviews, Victoria. Thank you.


    Something occurred to me watching this finale that made me grin -- an unexpected Downton Abbey connection. Martin Charteris. In the first two seasons, he was played by Harry Hadden-Paton who also played Bertie, Edith's eventual husband. This season, Martin is played by Charles Edwards who played Michael, Edith's baby daddy. Just another example of how the best UK actors keep turning up.

  5. Victoria, the scene where all Margaret's dinner guests begin praising her philandering husband reminded me a little of some of the behavior surrounding Jackie Kennedy in the episode where the Kennedy's visited the Queen. It was, indeed, hard to believe, but maybe if we are seeing this scene from Margaret's point of view rather than objectively, I can imagine it feeling that way to her. Though I do think if we're expected to see this as an unreliable point of view it should be signposted more clearly, like in Mr. Robot where we *know* nothing should be taken at face value. Alternatively, they may have wanted to emphasize the ingrained acceptance of the double standard in the culture of their class, but if so, they went overboard.

    One of the things I have really found striking about The Crown is how unlikable the Queen Mother is. It's curious because she was extremely popular with the public throughout her life. But honestly, on a personal level, I find her the most unpleasant member of the family on the show.


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