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The Crown: Queen Victoria Syndrome

Queen Elizabeth: “I’m aware the comparison between me and Queen Victoria has been made recently in the newspapers and is intended as criticism. What people fail to understand is, I see any similarity with Queen Victoria as a compliment. Attributes people use to describe her, constancy, stability, calm, duty, I would be proud to have describe me.”

An article in The Sunday Times, based on a poll that shows nearly half the population would like Queen Elizabeth to resign and for Prince Charles to take the reins and reign, causes division in the royal family.

The episode starts in black and white, with a younger version of the Queen naming the new royal yacht, Britannia. We then return to color and we learn that it’s falling apart, an in-your-face metaphor for the Queen herself, who has progressed from a youthful monarch to a gray-haired grandmother. The Crown cleverly tells us her age – 65 – as she’s getting a physical and the doctor enters the number into the electronic file.

The actors for the show have been for the most part replaced by older actors. And this is a bit difficult to watch, because I lived through the period when photos of the actual people were on magazine covers every week. You could not avoid them. I’m trying to suspend disbelief, because I understand that actors can only change how they look by so much. Charles and Diana, so photographed, don’t really look like the real Charles and Diana. Well, Dominic West, the actor playing Charles, doesn’t look like Charles – except maybe from the back – and Elizabeth Debicki, the actress playing Diana, is something like 6’3”, which is simply hard to ignore.

Anyway, back to the story. The Queen is 65, which is an age at which people often think of retirement. Prince Charles is 42, and chafing at still being a monarch-in-waiting. This is a valid conflict. Much of the episode revolves around a particular poll that appears in The Sunday Times, when the British are polled as to whether or not the Queen should abdicate in favor of Prince Charles. About half say, yes, she should.

Now, I don’t remember this particular poll, but it appears that it did happen. In this episode, it was supported by Prince Charles, who’s quite keen on it, of course. It must be frustrating to be in your prime but not to be allowed to work. Prince Charles even approaches the Prime Minister – now John Major – on the issue. John Major has to respond with tact, but we assume he is not inclined to recommend retirement to the Queen.

The episode also follows two related threads. One concerns Charles, where he and Diana go on a cruise off the shore of Italy. It is supposed to be a second honeymoon, but it has problems from the launch. Charles has a bunch of his friends along for support; Diana only has the young princes. Charles has decided what everyone is going to do, and although he opens it up for suggestions – Diana wants beaches, water sports and shopping – it is a sign of marriage in serious trouble that this was not discussed before.

Although Elizabeth Debicki’s towering height is distracting, her relative youth and looks and, I assume, make-up, make her practically glow whenever she enters a scene. Which is what Princess Diana did. That is well done.

The other thread concerns the Britannia, which, after decades, badly needs refurbishment. Queen Elizabeth puts a request for the government to pay for these repairs. And then she makes an argument about how difficult life is for her because all the palaces she inherited, well, she inherited, so they’re not really hers, unlike the Britannia. I’m sorry, this to me – as someone who does not support the principle of monarchies – was absolutely ridiculous. She only names three of the palaces she inherited, but there are actually many, many more. Most of us would feel privileged to inherit a single palace or yacht or even a modest-sized house.

Nevertheless the Queen persists in arguing with the Prime Minister, and I guess, monarchs wouldn’t be monarchs if they didn’t get everything they could from their governments, would they? The principle of monarchy seems to assume keeping the monarch rich. Queen Elizabeth argues that she has given the kingdom many years of service, and in return, the government ought to support her. Nevertheless, John Major pushes back, which I was pleased to see. It was the time of a worldwide recession, and the royal family is filthy rich.

Prince Charles, of course, is younger and theoretically more in touch with the people. But John Major sees it correctly. Prince Charles’s main asset was his wife – at this point in time, many people had no idea how bad the marriage was – and despite the second honeymoon, they’re not getting on.

My favorite scenes had to do with the Ghillies Ball, when the royals all donned red sashes. That was fun.

My favorite character in the episode was John Major, who found himself dealing with a dysfunctional family about to explode.

The episode raises interesting questions, about monarchy and retirement. Nevertheless, this episode felt very slow to me, possibly because I’ve been watching stuff full of action and wit. A series following actual events (or at least pretending to) is naturally hampered by what it can and cannot include.

Title musings. "Queen Victoria Syndrome" is the title of the episode, and of course my interest was piqued as my own name is Victoria! It refers to how an aging monarch can outlive her relevance to the throne. In the end, Queen Elizabeth says she is pleased to be compared with her ancestor, and it turns out, as everyone knows, her judgment in what qualities a monarch should have, was pretty good. The title was excellent.

Bits and pieces

The Queen Elizabeth role is now played by Imelda Staunton who was the nasty, cruel Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies. It’s hard for me not to see that.

Polls used to be more reliable when people actually answered their phones. But even in the time when this was set – Queen Elizabeth was 65, so it’s 1991 – it was still possible to conduct a highly biased poll. All you have to do is to ask questions in a certain manner.

When in a lighthouse, Princess Anne looks down and sees a cute guy, Timothy Laurence. In 1992 she will divorce Mark Phillips and marry Timothy Laurence.

Several societies, e.g. Roman emperors, have had co-rulers, in order to make the transition smooth. Queen Elizabeth could have shared more duties with Prince Charles.


Speaking of minke whales:.
Princess Anne: Their blows smell of rotten cabbages.
Queen Elizabeth: A stinky minke.

Princess Anne: At our age, the weight does not stay off by itself.
Don’t I know it!

John Major: Polls come and go.
Prince Charles: Dangerous to ignore them.
John Major: Equally dangerous to be guided by them.

John Major: I’m just mindful that, before she left office, Mrs. Thatcher bequeathed the Palace an extremely generous civil list settlement. A deal that leaves the royal family richer than ever before. Given that this deal was designed precisely to forestall any awkward debate on royal spending, I feel bound to at least raise the question of whether you might consider bearing the expense yourselves. ...
Queen Elizabeth: When I came to this throne, all my palaces were inherited. Windsor, Sandringham, Balmoral. They all bear the stamp of my predecessors. Only Britannia have I been able to truly make my own.

John Major: The Prince of Wales, impatient for a bigger role in public life, fails to appreciate that his one great asset is his wife.

Overall rating

In reviewing this episode, I tried to consider it from two perspectives: entertainment value and depiction of reality. As entertainment goes, it was slow, so I would rate it two; while the depiction of what was going on – using metaphors to show the situation – I would give it a little less than three. Final rating: two and a half out of four stinky minkes.

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


  1. I loved reading your review, Victoria, as I agreed with quite a lot of what you said. While you are absolutely right that the actors really do not look like the people they are meant to portray, I was astonished at the caliber of actors for this latest iteration. I kept fangirl squealing every time a new actor entered a scene. For me, Johnny Lee Miller is the best by far. He not only kind of looks like Major, his facial expressions during both his meeting with Prince Charles and the Queen were perfect.

    What I find the most fun is watching people predict the future. When Diana tells Major that the three royal marriages will all be over within six months, she was very close to what ended up happening.

    Finally, as we begin to come to the end of this series, it was fun to revisit the Claire Foy years again. I loved the juxtaposition of her shyness and inexperience of being queen with Imelda Staunton taking on Major.

  2. Thanks for reading, ChrisB! And although Diana may have made that prediction, certainly what is true is that hindsight is 20-20.
    Note that King Charles III recently stated he will retire when he hits 80 - at least I saw a headline go by on that matter. We will see if he keeps his word.

  3. I have followed your reviews since the beginning of the series; I find your comments to be informative, and more importantly entertaining. Thank you.


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