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The Crown: Gold Stick

Prince Philip: “That’s the last thing this country needs, two women running the shop.”
Queen Elizabeth: “Perhaps that’s precisely what this country needs.”

The episode in which we watch Lord Mountbatten being blown up, Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister, and Diana Spencer’s manipulative meetings with Prince Charles.

The Crown has moved into an era which I remember (I’m one of the older contributors to Doux Reviews). Moreover, I was especially aware of the events in this episode, because my mother was a great fan of Lord Mountbatten and my next-door neighbor, a girl my age, was absolutely nutty for all things royal and especially Prince Charles. Anyway, awareness of impending events certainly impacted my reaction to the episode.

The episode opens with a ceremony, with the royals wearing red and saluting the troops. The focus is on Queen Elizabeth, of course, but we see the fellows who accompany her: Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, and Lord Mountbatten. The scene informs us of most of the episode’s main characters.

At lunch, the family is wondering about Prince Charles (who is skipping lunch) and his love life. They shake their heads at the fact that he still loves Camilla, but nod with approval at the fact that he’s currently seeing Sarah Spencer, one of Diana’s older sisters. We get a glimpse of young Diana Spencer, dressed up as a mad tree (she is currently in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and flitting behind the hall shrubbery. I have no idea if this is how Charles and Diana originally met; I assume it is not. The episode – and I think The Crown tends to be more supportive of Charles than of Diana in the whole Charles v. Diana fiasco – makes it clear that Diana is extremely manipulative. As Sarah says, Diana could have easily avoided Prince Charles by taking an outside route.

Another important character is Margaret Thatcher, who becomes Prime Minister during this episode. I was never a great fan of the Iron Lady, but she was certainly someone to be respected. Anyway, the Queen has to meet her, and this is unusual – a female sovereign and a female Prime Minister – a first. It is amazing how striking it was at the time, and how strange it feels now, to note that it was strange. How far we have come! Anyway, it was fun to see the Queen get nearly all of her bets on the projected cabinet positions correct.

The husbands, however, don’t come off especially well. Dennis Thatcher remarks on “two menopausal women” and Prince Philip is petty. This is yet another episode in which the Duke of Edinburgh comes off badly. Prince Philip is a good father to Anne but he falls short in his paternal duties toward Prince Charles. Prince Philip is jealous – in that his son outranks him, and in that Charles usurped his position with Lord Mountbatten (Dickie, although also related to Queen Elizabeth, was Philip’s uncle, the younger brother of his mother). He reproaches Charles – “You have a father! You have a father!” – while not considering that a bad father may be worse than none.

Now I’ve skipped ahead in the story, and we have to backtrack to the bomb that killed Mountbatten. All along, I was apprehensive about the fact that Lord Mountbatten was about to be blown up, especially when I saw him meeting with the young boys on the boat. I thought they did that really well, as well as how they showed the royals receiving the news. Queen Elizabeth, already with decades of experience behind her, knows that the arrival of so many official vehicles at once is a BAD SIGN. Prince Charles, salmon fishing with friends in Iceland (we never see the friends, but it’s nice to think that he had some), is alone when he learns the news.

Prime Minister Thatcher – the Iron Lady – calls the bombing criminal, and of course it was, but the episode gives a more nuanced view, reminding us a little of the crimes the British inflicted on those in Northern Ireland.

Anyway, Lord Mountbatten’s last letter to Prince Charles – arriving after his death – advises him to find a nice, uncomplicated young lady and marry. Although Charles may think it is unfair that he is being held to a higher standard than others – even Dickie’s own marriage has problems – the Prince of Wales is also reminded that the last problematic marriage of a king nearly brought down the monarchy (which none of them wants). So when Diana greets him after a sporting event and offers sympathy, it must seem like a match made in heaven, or at least a match blessed by his favorite uncle.

Title musings. “Gold Stick” is the title of the episode and it is also the title given to a particular bodyguard of the English monarch. In this case the expression refers to Lord Mountbatten, as we see him accompanying Her Majesty – along with her husband and son – for a ceremonial review of the troops on horseback. I like to look for second and third meanings in my titles, and I suppose that you could interpret “a stick of gold” as being the pressure to make Prince Charles marry a suitable young lady and to avoid a repeat of the events of King Edward VIII who then abdicated to become the Duke of Windsor. But I think I am stretching and the title is really just about Lord Mountbatten.

Bits and pieces

I really liked how Charles called Sarah Spencer and asked her for the details on Diana. Sarah explains her little sister has few qualifications; after all, she is only 19, but Dickie had recommended someone young.

Here’s a little background for the ignorant (like me!) about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Catholic Ireland was occupied by the protestant English for centuries. The Irish were mostly not happy with this, and often for good reason. In 1922, the Irish island was partitioned, with the southern section becoming its own independent country and Northern Ireland remaining as part of the United Kingdom. However, some people in Northern Ireland wanted to be part of the Republic of Ireland. The incident referenced in “Gold Stick” was “Bloody Sunday,” also known as the “Bogside Massacre.” Here’s what Wikipedia reports on that matter:

Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre, was a massacre on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march against internment without trial. Fourteen people died: 13 were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers, and some were shot while trying to help the wounded... The soldiers were from the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment. This battalion was involved in two other massacres: the Ballymurphy massacre several months before and the killing of Protestant civilians in the Shankill several months after.

Two investigations were held by the British government.The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame. It described the soldiers' shooting as "bordering on the reckless", but accepted their claims that they shot at gunmen and bomb-throwers. The report was widely criticised as a "whitewash". The Saville Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the incident. Following a 12-year investigation, Saville's report was made public in 2010 and concluded that the killings were both "unjustified" and "unjustifiable". It found that all of those shot were unarmed, that none were posing a serious threat, that no bombs were thrown and that soldiers "knowingly put forward false accounts" to justify their firing. The soldiers denied shooting the named victims but also denied shooting anyone by mistake. On publication of the report, the British prime minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom. Following this, police began a murder investigation into the killings.
The opening credits are just beautiful. As are many of the scenes, especially in Ireland and Scotland and even Iceland.

I liked how Thatcher removed her earring to take a phone call. Bulky clip-on earrings were in style in the 1970s, especially for the women who refused to pierce their ears. I don’t know much about Margaret Thatcher, but she strikes me as someone who would not have pierced her ears.

We never see the younger princes; they are not even mentioned!


Unknown Irish: “…spill more blood, so that the Crown retreats, and leaves Ireland forever!”

Margaret Thatcher: “We don’t count our chickens before they’re hatched, and we don’t count 10 Downing Street before it’s thatched.”

Margaret Thatcher: “I have found women in general not suitable for high office.”
Queen Elizabeth: “Oh really, why is that?”
Margaret Thatcher: “They become too emotional.”

Prince Charles: “You make a great show of being my ally in this family, but when the chips are down, you’re just a quisling.”

Thatcher: “There is only criminal murder.”

Prince Philip: “It’s irrelevant what I want or think. It’s only what matters to Dickie.”

Overall Rating

A simple episode that was beautifully done; the scenery is just gorgeous. Nevertheless, it did not capture me the way other episodes captured me. Perhaps the problem is that I already knew so much of the plot, and was dreading the explosion and the ill-fated meeting between Charles and Diana. Three out of four bulky, clip-on earrings.

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


  1. Victoria, an excellent review.

    I was also impressed with how they introduced Diana (dressed as a mad tree, hiding behind potted plants, and what that says about her) and Thatcher (drowning out the media report as she rehearsed her own off the cuff lines, and what that says about *her*).

    And I was a bit freaked at the multiple scenes of the royal family killing things -- fish, birds, lobster -- just as Mountbatten was being killed himself. An interesting way to stage that assassination.

  2. Great point about how the Royal Family was targeting animals while one of their own was being targeted; I am annoyed that I missed that! Apparently the mad tree meeting with Prince Charles was an invention, but most of the rest seems to have been true, or true enough to capture the essence of their relationship.


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