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The Crown: 48:1

Queen Elizabeth: “But isn’t that all I am, Prime Minister? A tribal leader in an eccentric costume? ... To me, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi are all great sovereign nations with great histories.”

Episode description: "As many nations condemn apartheid in South Africa, tensions mounts between Thatcher and Elizabeth about their clashing opinions on applying sanctions."

The episode opens with a wonderful bit showing Claire Foy, the actor who played the younger version of the Queen, reading the speech the then-princess gave on her 21st birthday, in which she dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth. Foy brings a youthful vitality to the role. I also loved how the episode showed so many people listening to the wireless in so many countries. Princess Elizabeth’s speech is interspersed with snippets of a young Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher), showing her active in conservative politics and graduating from Oxford.

We also get some very purple prose from Michael Shea, who is the palace press secretary, as he types up a manuscript about Greek heroes and gods. He brings this over to his agent, who tells him, given his day job, to consider writing political thrillers.

The episode’s controversy is about whether or not the UK should impose sanctions on South Africa for its practice of apartheid. We can understand why the Queen is committed to the Commonwealth; its existence is what makes her an empress, although that term is out of fashion (Parliament declared Queen Victoria the Empress of India; I don’t think today’s Parliament would ever do anything so insensitive, and possibly it's not even legal anymore). Mrs. Thatcher, however, is no fan of the alliance, and dismisses most of the member countries with scorn. She was also against the European Union, and would probably approve of Brexit, despite the lousy deal made by Boris Johnson.

Anyway, many scenes are brilliantly done. I loved the back-and-forth regarding the sanctions against South Africa, and how Mrs. Thatcher kept striking out words with her red pen. After many rejections, they decided they needed a writer and not a politician (something that the writers working on The Crown must have enjoyed). The palace press secretary finally comes up with le mot juste, “signals.”

The statement may have been unanimously produced by the Commonwealth, but the Queen and the Prime Minister are still at odds. The Queen decides – against the advice of the palace press secretary – to make her displeasure known. Both Buckingham and Downing send their emissaries to the tube to fetch The Sunday Times (the flunkies are first embarrassed then decide to acknowledge each other). Then there is another great collage of scenes, going from one reader to another, and then finally settling on the husbands reading the article aloud. And suddenly the Prime Minister wants to see the Queen, to give her a talking to.

The Prime Minister is firm but starts with a pleasant spin, saying that one bad meeting after so many successful audiences should not be considered consequential. After that, however, Thatcher is terribly rude. She interrupts Her Majesty and ends their meeting abruptly. Mrs. Thatcher makes it clear she has all the power.

We see several people insisting on keeping their power. The Prime Minister will not yield on this matter, even if it’s the only thing the Queen has ever requested. The Queen will not take the fall, even though it was her fault. Even Prince Charles, passed over as Prince Andrew’s best man, dismisses his younger siblings as fringe royals further away from the throne each day.

I don’t know how much of this happened as claimed. Certainly it seems unlikely that the palace press secretary would leak a negative opinion of Mrs. Thatcher to The Sunday Times without its being approved. Nevertheless the palace, according to The Crown, still maintains that the Queen never uttered such words about Mrs. Thatcher. My money is on The Sunday Times.

Title musings. “48:1” is the title of the episode; it represents the ratio of the rest of the Commonwealth countries in opposition to the United Kingdom with respect to the implementation of sanctions against South Africa due to its practice of Apartheid. Basically, the 48 to 1 shows the ganging up of many on the one – but the one often wins, or appears to win.

Bits and pieces

This is not the first time we’ve seen the prime minister insist on cooking for the guys. She makes kedgeree, a dish consisting of cooked, flaked fish, boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream, and occasionally sultanas (raisins made from green grapes).

I appreciated Gillian Anderson much more in this episode. Perhaps the real Mrs. Thatcher spoke very slowly, but we all move faster these days.

Although I am no great fan of Thatcher, she makes a good point in that economic sanctions often hurt those at the bottom far more than those at the top. Look at the suffering of North Koreans! On the other hand, Nelson Mandela said economic sanctions were key in ending South Africa’s apartheid. Probably every situation is different.

We may have established that Prince Andrew is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite child. At least he tries to be.

I was a great fan of a miniseries, The Jewel in the Crown, and this is the second time I’ve noticed an actor from that series making an appearance in The Crown. Before we had Charles Dance, who played Guy Perron in the first and Lord Mountbatten in the second; this time it was Nicholas Farrell, who was Teddy Bingham in the first and Michael Shea in the second.

I was glad to see that the unjustly fired press secretary had a soft landing, writing the political thrillers he originally dismissed as grubby.

My research indicates Mark Thatcher was not working in South Africa at the time of this; that may have been added for effect.


Young Elizabeth: There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors. A noble motto. ‘I serve.’

Prime Minister Thatcher: The Commonwealth. Ridiculous waste of time. Ridiculous organization. Worse. Morally offensive.

Prince Andrew: You, him, and his own precious bloodline. To hell with the rest of us. Insecure, jealous fool.

Prime Minister Thatcher: The question is, did one person move to 48, or did 48 move to one?

Michael Shea: But sadly, I’m old-fashioned and would never betray the confidences of those I’m proud to serve. (Note this attitude changes after he is fired unjustly.)

Queen Elizabeth: You know how seriously I take my constitutional responsibility to remain silent, but each of us has our line in the sand.

Prime Minister Thatcher: I checked with the cabinet secretary, and it turns out in the seven years I have been prime minister, we have had 164 audiences, always the model of cordiality, productivity, and mutual respect. So perhaps it is not unreasonable to expect an isolated hiccup.

Prince Charles: She did what she’s spent her life telling me I cannot do. She opened her mouth and expressed an opinion.

Martin Charteris: And I think now we’re going to have to give them something.
Queen Elizabeth: What?
Martin Charteris: A culprit.

Overall Rating

I thought this episode was terrific, with the subject matter and how it was treated. Four out of four outstretched dactyls, Shea’s phrase for outstretched fingers. Interestingly the word dactyl also has a meaning with respect to poetry.

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

1 comment:

  1. I liked this episode a lot, too. It was interesting to see where the Queen would draw a line, and where she did actually made sense. She's in an awkward spot because she's not supposed to interfere in the U.K.'s politics constitutionally but she's also the head of state for all the other countries in the Commonwealth.


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