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The Crown: Dangling Man

Queen Elizabeth: “Former kings are usually dead.”

By the end of this short episode, which focuses on the former king and the king in waiting, the former king is dead.

The episode begins in France, with the Duke of Windsor discovering that he is coughing up blood. The doctors tell him that it is time to stop attempting cures and to focus on being comfortable. He’s warned, too, that he can expect that the morphine will also knock him out, so that he should make every moment count.

Hirohito comes calling on the former king, and I found the portrayal of the Japanese emperor – despite its being so brief – inconsistent. He doesn’t want to be photographed making the visit, not to a king who couldn’t keep his throne, but isn’t the photograph the entire point? I suppose emperors may be as inconsistent as they like.

Then Prince Charles also calls on his great-uncle, but that encounter – using the same storytelling technique in “Margaretology” earlier in this season, in which a scene involving the young princesses was saved for the end of the episode – is not shown to us until the end. We see that the Duke of Windsor may have given up the throne, but it still matters to him. His most prize possession, on display, is a red box that is used to transport papers to important officials, such as the Prime Minister or the monarch. His has the word King on it.

This is the early 1970s, when skirts were very short and sexuality norms were changing and people were very confused. I admit I had no idea that Princess Anne had a fling with Andrew Parker Bowles, but that’s attested and I enjoyed their scenes. We also see Prince Charles meeting Camilla and the director hints at – or rather, slaps us in the face with – some awkward quadrangle. This supplies some great dialogue for the Royal Princess but it doesn’t match up with real life. Princess Anne’s fling with Parker-Bowles was over before Camilla and Prince Charles met.

Still, it’s nice to see Prince Charles enjoying himself. He really does like Camilla, and he speaks to her without reservation. I very much enjoyed the trick Charles played on her, with the exploding envelope.

Let’s get back to the former king. The Duke of Windsor, in his last interview with the BBC, claims that he was mostly forced out due to his progressive, forward-thinking attitude, and those claims appear to have been made in reality (although the date of the interview was moved for the convenience of the script). However, King Edward VIII's real reason for abdication was so he could be allowed to marry an American divorcée. Perhaps that was forward-thinking; these days it can be hard to appreciate how scandalous that was. The episode gives us the frowning reaction of the Duke of Windsor’s sister-in-law, who is now the Queen mother. Apparently she always hated him for the abdication and blamed him for her husband’s early death (which was caused more by cigarettes than by the strain of being king). We see the sneer of Prince Philip and the calm reaction of Queen Elizabeth – who, as the Windsors had no children, would have still inherited the throne, but much later in her life. The interview is also watched by Prince Charles, who is intrigued by his wayward great-uncle.

Queen Elizabeth, when visiting France, decides to visit her dying uncle, who is lying in bed and not expected to leave it. When he learns the queen is coming – when he struggles to get out of bed and then to rise from his chair so that he can bow to her – my eyes teared up. They say to each other the things that you always wanted them to say to each other. He tells her that the crown has a way of finding the right head, and that she was made to wear it. She tells him that she is less resentful than she used to be, and that sometimes she rather enjoys being the monarch. Then, in a scene that’s reminiscent of her last visit to Winston Churchill, her favorite uncle falls asleep while they’re talking.

I don’t know if the Duke of Windsor gave Queen Elizabeth the letters of Prince Charles. Given his apparent affection for his great-nephew, such an act seems a betrayal, although perhaps they would be safer with Charles’s mother than with anyone else, who might have been tempted to sell them. However, even if she did see the correspondence, it seems unlikely that they could have contained much about Camilla Shand, as Charles probably hadn’t met Camilla at that point.

My eyes teared up again when the dog darted away at the moment the king died, and at the terrible grief of the Duchess of Windsor. Those people made many unwise decisions (such as being pro-Nazi) but they did love each other.

Title musings. “Dangling Man” is the title of the episode. As many viewers may not know the novel by Saul Bellow, Prince Charles tells us. Dangling Man is the story of an unemployed American living in Chicago in 1942. The American is waiting to be drafted, something he both dreads (because he might be killed) and wants (because he needs something to give his life meaning). Prince Charles uses the title to describe himself, but it can be applied just as well to the Duke of Windsor. It’s a fair choice for the title, but not nearly as inspired as “Moondust,” the title of the previous episode.

Bits and pieces

When the episode opened with Derek Jacobi coughing, I recalled other roles – in I, Claudius and Dead Again – where I also saw him cough.

We finally get to see part of a polo match!

Camilla Shand must have really been something special to both of these men! And I guess Andrew Parker-Bowles had something to him as well.


Médecin: My advice would be to make the most of the time that remains.

Emperor Hirohito: I don’t want people to see me visit a man who could not hold on to his throne.

Lord Mountbatten (of the Duchess of Windsor): I’ve heard she consumes nothing but whiskey and has had so many facelifts she can barely speak.

Prince Charles: I am both free – and imprisoned. Utterly superfluous and quite indispensable.

Duke of Windsor: The crown always finds its way to the right head.

Overall Rating

When tears come, I have to bump it up a bit. Three and a half out of four red boxes.

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


  1. I HATED this episode. So much. They take this guy, this former King who sympathized with NAZIS. FREAKING NAZIS, man. And yet Charles looks up to this man (although, perhaps, he's in the dark about that bit of sordid family history). Elizabeth FORGIVES this man when earlier it was "There is no question of being forgiven" I hated it. Hated it. Hated it. Hated it. It really bothers me when someone does something villainous and is forgiven on their death bed, lest we speak ill of the dead. Some people deserve censure, even if they're dead.

    The love quadrangle was interesting, a little confusing, and a bit weird to watch knowing how it all turns out. Also! (fun fact) Andrew Parker-Bowles is the godfather to one of Princess Anne's kids. SO AWKWARD.

    I liked the next episode and LOVED the finale so I'm very excited to read your reviews of those. Thanks, Victoria!

    Oh, also I didn't really understand the point of the Emperor's visit, narratively. Was it just to put pressure on Elizabeth to go?

  2. I didn't understand the point of the Emperor's visit, either.

    I don't care for Nazi sympathizers, either! However, when the real Duke of Windsor met Hitler - defying the British government to do so - it was only 1937, so he may have not grasped how evil Hitler was. For years the deeds of the Nazis were not known; in fact, even during the most active years of the war, reports of the atrocities were often dismissed as British propaganda.

    But the Duke of Windsor may have behaved reprehensibly during WWII. He was rescued by Mountbatten and brought back to Britain in 1939; he may have even leaked army plans to the Germans. In 1940 the Windsors were banished to the Bahamas. However, in later life, he denied being pro Nazi.

    Yes, I researched the relationship between Anne and Parker-Bowles. Evidently they're still friends.

  3. I thought this episode successfully showed the end of a life that could have been spectacular but was instead wasted.

    Maybe it was just implied, but I got the feeling that the Duke gave the Queen the letters so that the Duchess wouldn't sell or publish them.

    For some reason, Prince Philip kept making me laugh. Maybe it's just the contrast to the villainous character Tobias Menzies played on Outlander.

  4. My favorite part of the episode - Martin finally got to be head secretary! Though the cast changes do seem to take a bit away from things. Same with the the Duke of Windsor - it was hard to see him as the same oily snake from the previous seasons since he's played by a different actor. I was pondering earlier today about Matt Smith's character turning into Tobias Menzies and Peter Capaldi (would be a fun Jeopardy question) and now another actor with ties to Doctor Who shows up.

    I didn't take any of the conversation between the Queen and the Duke as Elizabeth forgiving him for his Nazi betrayal of Great Britain. She forgave him for abdicating and putting her in a role years earlier than she would have otherwise (or ever, if he'd married someone else and actually had children).

    As much as I love the UK, I've never really followed the royal family, so it's quite interesting as this show pieces together the scant bits I've come across with the wider context of history (the bit about the EU was interesting post-Brexit) and in a narrative story. It definitely pushes me to do research into the actual facts and the timeline tweaks that were made.

  5. A thoughtful review of a fine episode. The Duke of Windsor's apparent sympathies with fascism seem intolerable from a contemporary perspective. But at the time, they were not far out of the mainstream. A lot of intellectuals in the 1930's, perhaps most famously Ezra Pound, were attracted to fascism. I highly recommend the film (haven't read the book it's based on), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie . If he actually passed army movements on to the Germans during the war, that's just plain treason. But wanting to make peace with the monstrous regime was understandable, if horribly misguided from our perspective. The British Empire was almost alone in fighting Germany and Japan for a year between the fall of France and the invasion of the Soviet Union. Britain's survival was by no means assured.

    I do wonder if he might have been correct that he was forced out as much because they didn't want him as King for other reasons, in addition to the divorcee marriage. But that proved well-judged, given the risk that he might have undermined Churchill's commitment to fighting to the end. A world where Britain accepted some sort of peace with Germany in the winter of 1940 is a more plausible dystopian scenario than the German-Japanese occupation of the U.S. envisioned by The Man in the High Castle.


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