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The Crown: Imbroglio

Duchess of Windsor: “Watch out for your family.”
Prince Charles: “They mean well.”
Duchess of Windsor: “No they don’t.”

Love has a hard time in the royal family.

This episode opens directly after the last episode ended, as we watch the coffin containing the Duke of Windsor's remains being brought back to the United Kingdom for burial at Frogmore. This is one of the few occasions when the Duchess of Windsor is also permitted to visit, but her estrangement from the rest of the royals is palpable. The only one with whom there's any spark of warmth is Prince Charles, and she warns him about his family. Note that in reality, this conversation could not have taken place, as Charles and Camilla were probably not yet in love with each other. However, in this case, poetic license is fair, as the interference in the love affairs of both King Edward VIII and Prince Charles have similarities.

The episode shifts to a poor house in 1925, in Kent, with a young boy receiving a piano, and then back to the present. It took me a while to figure out that the pianist in question was Edward Heath, the current prime minister. Queen Elizabeth doesn’t really like him – not surprising; she needs time to warm up to most prime ministers – and Prince Philip points out that Heath hasn't had a real relationship with a woman in years. Apparently Heath chickened out in his youth and failed to propose to the woman he loved.

Coal miners are striking in the present day. It lasts throughout the episode, evidently for many months, including during the winter, causing great hardship for the nation. The miners’ strike causes severe hardships – people are suffering the most ever since the war – and the pain is being caused by other members of the United Kingdom. The holier-than-thou unfeelingness of the Prime Minister is disgusting; his claim that the miners are rebelling against democracy is completely wrong. He says, “If the government is defeated, then the country is defeated.” But that is not true. In a democracy, the government is often defeated, and replaced by a newly elected government. At any rate, the strike keeps on going and the Queen, near the end of the episode, gives Heath a strong hint that it is time to end it.

The miners’ strike and the lack of electricity allows a return of candlelight in Buckingham Palace. This is appropriate because some of the attitudes – personified by two of the few remaining powers from the previous generation, Lord Mountbatten and the Queen Mother – are also nineteenth century. The main objections to Camilla Shand as a wife for Prince Charles are that she is not of the right class and she is “not intact” (i.e., not a virgin). Finding virgins in the 1970s was becoming increasingly difficult. Even sassy Princess Anne makes it clear she’s not a virgin.

Queen Elizabeth actually likes how Camilla makes Prince Charles more confident, yet she yields to the pressure from her mother and Lord Mountbatten and lets those two interfere to break up the young lovers. I don’t think this is just making Queen Elizabeth appear better for the sake of The Crown, because I vaguely remember seeing articles long ago, that Elizabeth rather liked Camilla. The question then becomes, why did she let her mother and Mountbatten get away with breaking up the pair? I mean, Camilla had sex with another man, but she wasn’t in the same category as King Edward VIII's and Princess Margaret's first choices, both of whom had been married before.

Perhaps Queen Elizabeth had a difficult time standing up to her own mother. Perhaps she wasn’t sure about the wisdom of the Charles-Camilla relationship. Perhaps she felt that it would throw a shadow on her own reign, as her father only became king because King Edward VIII was compelled to abdicate so he could marry Wallis. These are all just speculations on my part, as The Crown doesn’t go into why Queen Elizabeth permits her mother and her husband’s uncle to interfere – I wish it did. Maybe she thinks they do know best, although she realizes that she was allowed to marry for love. Of course, Prince Philip has royal blood, and apparently Camilla Shand does not.

Charles is banished to the navy. It’s kind of fun, watching him be called “Windsor” and doing the training. He receives a posting, however, sooner than expected, and goes home to ask his mother why: was it to separate him and Camilla Shand? He lets her know he loves Camilla.

Camilla is conflicted. She is obviously attracted to Parker-Bowles, but her feelings for Prince Charles are increasing. Her statement, “Wasn’t supposed to fall in love with you,” makes us wonder if she was in on Mountbatten’s ploy from the start – that she was supposed to be Charles’s wild oats, not the love of his life.

Some of us needed to see this. Many of us lived through the tabloid triangle from perspective of Princess Diana, but Camilla was always first in Prince Charles’s heart. The Crown helps us have sympathy for the lonely prince, forced to marry the wrong woman.

Queen Elizabeth’s speech at the end reminds me of the marriage scene of Pride & Prejudice miniseries (the BBC/A&E version) with her words occurring at the same time as music and different scenes of what is going on at the time. We see, as in Pride and Prejudice, a wedding taking place, but this time it’s between Andrew Parker-Bowles and Camilla Shand, not two people who are supposed to marry (although Parker-Bowles and Shand are attracted to each other). We also see poor banished Prince Charles, squinting in the harsh light of the sunny Caribbean.

Title musings. “Imbroglio” is the title of the episode. The definition is "an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation," and is the term used by the Queen Mother. It’s a fair title for the episode, and I admit I learned a word. What is interesting is that both imbroglios – the sundered romance and the coal strike – could and should have been avoided by more reasonable people. I think it’s a black mark on the Queen, who could and should have done more to stop these disasters before they went as far as they did.

Bits and pieces

I liked how the Queen’s corgis went after Prime Minister Heath. During the episode I wanted to snap at his ankles too!

Ah, the era of having to have enough coins for a phone call, and the desperation when the coins ran out! Nowadays it’s batteries and signal strength.

I get a kick out of thinking that the Duchess of Windsor is being played by Geraldine Chaplin, the youngest daughter of Charlie Chaplin. Nowadays, Charlie Chaplin’s era seems so very long ago!

I noticed how the Shands and the Parker-Bowles addressed the Queen Mother as “Your Majesty.” Very well done.


Duchess of Windsor: Never turn your back on true love. Despite all the sacrifices and all the pain, David and I never once regretted it.

Lord Mountbatten: My fault entirely. The Shand girl was only supposed to be an opportunity for an inexperienced boy to sow his wild oats. That’s why I encouraged it. Indulged it. I never expected him to develop feelings.

Queen Elizabeth (to Heath): I think we can safely say there has been stubbornness on both sides.

Overall Rating

I wanted to see more on the miners and and how the strike ends. Still, an entertaining and compelling episode. Three out of four attack corgis.

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


  1. Yay for attack corgis!

    This episode again made me feel a lot of sympathy for Charles. He seems to keep getting the worst of it. And with 20 20 hindsight, what a mistake.

  2. The Windsors just can't get it right when it comes to love. It inevitably makes me think about the current royal situation (if you're reading this in the future, Harry and Meghan have just announced they're "stepping back" from being senior royals). I wonder if there was pressure from any sector to not let Harry marry Meghan, who, despite her many accomplishments is not, let's say a traditional choice, for a Duchess. She's a divorcée, a former actor, of mixed race, and -gasp- AN AMERICAN.

    If this episode is in ANY way accurate, I wonder if Charles applied the hard learned lesson of "DON'T MESS WITH YOUR CHILDREN'S LOVE LIVES" when it came time for Harry and William to get married. I remember in the episode where he was a kid in the first or second season, the one where he was so miserable at boarding school and his father bullied him into staying, that when it came time for his boys to be educated he went with something a lot more sympathetic. (Was it Eton? Probably but I can't remember).

    The Harry and Meghan thing also made me think about Prince Philip's speech earlier in the season about the two headed monster. One kid that does what they're told and one that doesn't. Although I don't hold it against Harry and Meghan for a second, given the kind of treatment she's received from the press.


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