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The Crown: Couple 31

Princess Diana: “What caring mother would? Watch him suffer this madness? Just waiting for it to happen. The expectation. Look how miserable it's made you.”
Prince Charles: “It's not the waiting that made me miserable! It was years spent rotting in a marriage to someone trying to destroy me!”

Episode description: "The Princess of Wales contends with the repercussions of her statements. The Queen asks the Prime Minister for his help in a delicate family matter."

The Panorama interview – see "Gunpowder," the previous episode – has pounded the last nail in the coffin in the marriage. At last Queen Elizabeth and her religious advisers agree that the Prince and Princess of Wales must divorce. She sends identical letters to Charles and Diana, informing them of her decision. She even signs both letters, “Love, Mama.” I tried to find out whether or not this was how she really was, but could not. However, there was a scene in another episode in which Diana called her mother-in-law “Mama”, so perhaps it was true; certainly this could have been determined by those researching the royal family. At any rate, this evenhandedness from the Queen is consistent with her portrayal in The Crown.

I really appreciated the scenes in which they are trying to improve Camilla’s position in the public. She is under siege from paparazzi, a condition that Princess Diana endured for years. I liked the young spin doctor – Mark Bolland – and his attitudes a lot. Everyone agrees: the divorce needs to be quick, and Prince Charles needs to be generous. Note that this is not Prince Charles’s first impulse, and he’s lucky in that Mama apparently foots the bill. I suppose that makes sense, as, according to him, he would never have married Diana had it not been for the monarchy.

The Queen asks the Prime Minister to negotiate as well – saying he did such a great job with Northern Island. I don’t know if Sir John Major was actually much involved, although certainly the government sent out one or more official statements regarding the matter. However, it’s always good to see Jonny Lee Miller. I would like to have seen him in those negotiations with respect to Northern Island, but hey, that’s a different show.

Despite it feeling like it took forever, the divorce negotiations, once started, apparently moved rather quickly. And at last the unhappy couple is no longer wed.

And then The Crown gives us a very long, very artistic scene, something which I am sure never took place, but which is intended to give satisfaction and resolution to the viewers. After the divorce is announced, Prince Charles makes a surprise visit to Diana. They almost get on for a bit. They both admit some faults – she needed too much attention, he was in love with someone else – but in the end their discussion sours. Prince Charles resents how she said that he wasn’t fit to be king – the very thing he was born to do.

And this is where I have trouble understanding the British system, with the divine right of kings, and so on. In my opinion, these days, putting one human above all others in your society is completely absurd.

Anyway, I think the quote above hits the nail on the head (more nails for that marriage coffin). Prince Charles was unhappy in his role as monarch-in-waiting. Diana was right, too, that she was more popular than he was. On the other hand, he only married her because he had to, and she only married him because she was starstruck at the idea of marrying an actual prince (something that was not addressed).

Title musings. “Couple 31” is the title of the episode and it refers to the number the Prince and Princess of Wales are assigned in their divorce proceedings. I like how it reminds us that they are just one of many couples dissolving their marriage. It’s a good title.

Bits and pieces

This episode uses a technique that was used in the movie When Harry Met Sally. In the movie, various couples tell how they got together. In this episode, the technique is used to show why many couples are breaking apart.

Note that the episode is inaccurate with respect to Hasnat Khan. In the episode, Diana says he left her as a result of the interview, but he did not. They did not break up until 1997, and according to him, it was due to the pressure of the media; he, as a heart surgeon, did not have the means to protect their relationship.

It is an obvious metaphor when Diana tries to make Charles an omelet but ends up having to make scrambled eggs instead.


Queen Elizabeth: Dearest Charles. Dearest Diana. I am writing to let you know that everyone is now of one mind. That the termination of your marriage is not only inevitable but preferable. When you made your vows to each other on your wedding day, it was an occasion that warmed millions of hearts around the world. Fourteen years later, those vows lie shattered all around us. To approve a divorce, let alone request it, goes against every one of my convictions as a wife, mother, sovereign, and Head of the Church of England. But the present situation has become intolerable and is causing great pain and anguish to the whole family. In particular to your sons, William and Harry. My fervent wish is that by reaching an agreement swiftly, you will restore a dignity that in recent years has so regrettably been lost. With love from Mama.

Camilla: I have to creep around like a criminal under house arrest. Mrs. Campbell has to deliver all my food, and I can't even take the dogs for a walk. I'm literally under siege. Literally.
I don't feel sorry for her.

Prince Charles: Everywhere I go, a deafening chorus is telling me to engage you immediately and what an enormous difference you could make to both our lives. Mrs. Parker Bowles couldn't have been more effusive. And this morning, John Wakeham telephoned me to tell me how indispensable you've been at the Press Complaints Commission.
Mark Bolland (young spin doctor): That's very kind. I don't have any special powers. I just... you know, read the newspapers, watch TV, like everyone else. But I... I do now sense a tipping point where the Princess of Wales's perceived disloyalty with regard to the Panorama interview might actually help the two of you.
Prince Charles: How?
Mark Bolland: If you appear to be the complete opposite. The reasonable party. Stable, settled, mature. But first, sir, you must resolve this divorce.

Princess Diana: Why are you here? Come to take away more furniture? Inform me of some nasty last-minute change to the settlement?
Prince Charles: Honestly, I'm not quite sure why I'm here. All I know is, I... got in the car this morning, and it just sort of drove itself here.
Princess Diana: Had I known, I would've put on a revenge dress.
Prince Charles: Haven't you been wearing one every day since our separation? It certainly seemed like it, reading the newspapers. For what it's worth, I think you look even more beautiful like that.
Princess Diana: A mess?
Prince Charles: Natural.
Princess Diana: Stop it.
Prince Charles: And you still blush.

Overall rating

This was a compelling hour of television. Artistically, it was well done, and the – very long! – scene between Charles and Diana gives viewers satisfaction. I don’t know how real all of it is, though. I sense the creators of The Crown, wanting access to the living, especially the ruling members of the royal family, ignored Princess Diana’s independence and charity work, making her out to be much more unstable than she was. The actors did really well, and the way the scene goes from civility to insults was masterful, so I’m adding back some. So three for representation of reality, four for art and acting, which leaves us with three and a half out of four scrambled eggs. On the other hand, as Prince Charles says in the episode, why don’t we eat scrambled eggs all the time?

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

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the scene between Charles and Diana a great deal. While I am sure it is a work of fiction, I have found in my life that many couples, freshly divorced, go through an "autopsy" discussion as they realize that their marriage is indeed really over. I found this one especially intriguing as I think Diana was speaking the truth (which Charles specifically asked her to do), but Charles was unable to accept it. Interesting characterization.


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