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The Crown: The Balmoral Test

Prince Charles. “She’s a triumph. In the history of Balmoral, no one has ever passed the test with such flying colors.”
Camilla Parker-Bowles: “Well, well, well.”
Prince Charles: “Rave reviews from the whole ghastly Politburo.”

Both Margaret Thatcher and Diana Spencer are invited up to Balmoral Castle to be examined by the royal family.

The episode opens in Scotland with a Japanese tourist taking a shot at a magnificent stag. The animal is wounded, but manages to cross a stream. The tourist wants to pursue it, but the Scottish guide explains that they cannot. The stream marks the border with the Crown lands.

The royal family is excited to learn there’s a wounded stag wandering on the property. It’s unsettling to see how bloodthirsty they all are, although it’s understandable. They were all brought up to hunting, and hunting, of course, has been part of humanity for hundreds of thousands of years. And in this case the stalking is sanctioned. The stag has been wounded, and is probably suffering. Putting it out of its misery is considered charitable.

Nevertheless, they gloat at the idea of putting another stag head on the wall of the dining room (so full of symbolism), and it did turn my stomach a bit.

Let’s start with the Margaret Thatcher storyline. She meets with her cabinet, and tells them she plans to decimate spending and cut social programs. I don’t care for her economics, which confounds fiscal and monetary policy and makes everyone suffer, something even her conservative cabinet acknowledges, and so I may be prejudiced against her scenes.

As a Prime Minister, she and her spouse are invited up to Balmoral. At first it is kind of fun to see how ill-at-ease she and Denis are at the Queen’s Scottish estate, such as the separate bedrooms for them, and the staff offering to put everything away. Then it grows painful, with the Thatchers doing everything wrong, far more so than one can imagine could happen in real life.

It’s especially awkward when you believe you’re supposed to treat the royal family like porcelain, and they’re either covered in mud or saying “Ibble-dibble.” Thatcher goes stalking and then comes back, sits in Queen Victoria’s chair, which is a no-no, but how can a stranger know all this? And how can the protocol instructions left for them be so wrong? It’s hard to take these scenes seriously. Could the royal family be so blatantly rude and Margaret Thatcher so clueless about how to behave? Although I am no Thatcher fan, I did appreciate how she and Denis departed early.

Thatcher has also seen what her cabinet members – of her own party – have been saying about her on the telly (all very negative). Shortly afterwards she fires many of them (at least she does it personally, instead of via Twitter, although of course that wasn’t an option). Again, I have mixed feelings. I have no objection to a leader firing people; sometimes they need firing, but Thatcher’s policies were causing unemployment and hardship for the people of the U.K.

Let’s move to the other storyline: Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Their first scene is at an opera, where Diana is aware of the romance and Charles is more attuned to the politics. Because of the chaperone, there’s no kissing, only a “princely” handshake when they part. Given Prince Charles’s ambivalence, I’m not sure there would have been much sex.

The prince goes up to Balmoral, where we see him speaking to Camilla, the real love of his life. She is now a wife and a mother, and she advises him to invite Diana to Scotland. Apparently he takes her advice and does, so after Thatcher leaves, Lady Diana arrives (this juxtaposition is poetic license; each woman did go to Balmoral, but their visits were not one right after the other).

Prince Philip does the fatherly thing and takes out Diana in order to get to know her better. Normally a mother would do this, but as Charles’s mother is the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh takes over (besides, Queen Elizabeth already sacrificed herself by driving around with Margaret Thatcher). They get along very well, and Diana even spots the stag. Basically, Diana passes the Balmoral Test – which will be a disaster for her. She should have bolted, the way the Prime Minister did.

When Diana departs, Charles talks again with Camilla. He needs to take a bride, and Diana meets all the requirements. He makes some very reasonable objections, that he hardly knows her, and that she is so very young. He feels like the stag that everyone has been hunting, and the episode ends with the new head being hung on the wall. But we also see Diana being stalked by paparazzi.

Title musings. “The Balmoral Test” is the title of the episode, and in this case, we get an explanation very early on of its meaning: a test to see how well you get on with the royals. I see no hidden meanings.

Bits and pieces

The stag head they show near the beginning almost seems to have a tear coming out of its marble eye.

In case you’re not up on drinking games (I was not), Ibble-dibble is real. You can find out more about it here.

Log throwing is also a thing. It’s called the caber toss, and is an event at the Highland games. It’s said to have originated from lumberjacks needing to position logs in order to cross streams, but I imagine machismo, boredom and alcohol were the true originators.

Gillian Anderson’s delivery of Margaret Thatcher may be spot on, but the slow, deliberate manner of speaking drives me batty.

Diana calls the woman chaperoning her and Charles “Granny.” If so, this must be her mother’s mother, as her father’s mother died in 1972. Her mother’s mother was Ruth Sylvia Roche, Baroness Fermoy, a dear friend of the Queen Mother, so not exactly an improbable choice. Baroness Fermoy died in 1993.

Diana complained about the paparazzi but she also made the most of them. In all the shots of her leaving the kindergarten where she taught – and there are many of them – her eyes are always carefully, elaborately made up. Not that I blame her for that.


Scottish guide: Where the neighboring estate begins. We never cross that line, ever.

Diana: But perfectly gentlemanly…
Charles: Princely.

Margaret Thatcher: We are the conservative party. We stand for conservatism, caution.
First cabinet member: Moderation.
Second cabinet member: Stability.

Margaret Thatcher: We don’t want to catch any upperclass habits.

Margaret Thatcher: What am I doing here...
Denis Thatcher: ...in some half-Scottish, half-Germanic cuckoo land?

Prince Charles: But is she the right one? Is anyone asking themselves that? She’s a child.

Queen Elizabeth: Dangerous to make enemies right, left and center.
Margaret Thatcher: Not if one is comfortable with having enemies.

Overall Rating

I am having a difficult time rating this; I think that may because of my dislike for Mrs. Thatcher and my knowledge of what is to come for Charles and Diana. However, I wasn’t riveted as in other episodes and I felt so little sympathy for everyone. Two out of four cabers in a caber toss.

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


  1. Victoria, I think I felt the way you did about this one. I was so appalled about that poor stag staggering about the estate wounded, eventually becoming that ugly trophy on the wall of the dining room.

    Were the royals -- or are the royals -- really that rude to their guests? I suppose there is no one to dress them down if they were. I dislike Mrs. Thatcher, too, but I actually rather felt some sympathy for her in that situation. Although it seems odd that Thatcher didn't ask anyone or do any research about what would be expected of her at Balmoral. But maybe that's just me.

    At the end, I was wondering if I even liked any of these characters anymore. I did, initially. This time, I sort of felt bad for both Charles and Diana, mostly because I know what's coming for them.

    So, symbolically -- is Diana the stag?

  2. yes..Especially if you consider Lord Spencers remarks at Lady DI'S funeral about her being hunted.Niced parallell, Diana and the Stag..


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