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The Crown: Decommissioned

John Major: “One day, you're prime minister, arguably the most – well, the second-most important person in the country, and the next, you lose your job, your car, and you're evicted from your home.”

Episode description: "After heightened public scrutiny, Charles forges a new alliance in Hong Kong. Mohamed Al-Fayed offers his support to a newly-divorced Diana."

This episode starts with a television show in which people are invited to call in and say whether or not Britain should have a monarchy. Princess Diana is seen calling repeatedly to vote on the “No” line, which I am not sure if she did, but which probably reflected her feelings. Many reasons to vote no were given: the expense of the royals, the dislike many have for Camilla at that point in time, and whether or not people should be citizens or subjects.

Then we see the royals – at least those in good standing – celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. Most of her family give her silly presents, including a fake singing fish. Well, I suppose the Queen has to deal with serious stuff all the time, and she already has everything, so that’s all right (although Prince Charles gives her a real present). The family shows some concern for the possibly waning popularity of the monarchy, especially as two events are looming: the election of Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister, after many years of conservative (pro monarchy) politicians being in the majority. There’s also the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese, something that had been worked out a long time before, but which means that one more colony is being lost to the British empire. I liked the policy of never sending a reigning monarch to take part in the ceremonies in which the British empire loses a member, which is why Prince Charles, not yet His Majesty, goes instead. By the way, apparently he really did fly business class to Hong Kong.

Someone who does get to fly first class, or rather better than first class, is the eldest son of Mohamad Al-Fayed. Dodi gets his father to send a very expensive, gas-guzzling plane to the US to pick up him and his girlfriend and to fly her to the UK so he can introduce her to his father. These scenes were interesting to me because they covered, for me at least, new material. I have never run lines before – either of cocaine or from a script. Then, the scenes in which Dodi and Mohamad were speaking in Arabic in front of their female companions were fascinating. Mohamad is one of those people I can’t figure out where to put on the good / evil scale. He can be such a jerk, but he can also be kind, at least if you help with his social climbing. For example, in another scene, Mohamad, along with his wife, extend an invitation to Princess Diana to join them in St Tropez. This is well done and shows Mohamad’s attention to detail. Well, he does own Harrods, so he knows how to please when he wants to. We can assume that this is where Diana will start her ill-fated relationship with Dodi.

But back to the crown proper. Prince Charles wonders how to keep make the monarchy relevant. He’s constantly talking about it, because The Crown is not subtle in presenting issues, and this is a core issue. His Royal Highness tries speaking with Tony Blair, which is considered a faux pas, because only the reigning monarch is supposed to have private conversations with the prime minister. He also ends up exaggerating what Blair says to him in a conversation with his mother.

The conversation between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles near the end of the episode, certainly invented, but one The Crown is gifting us because it should have taken place, is where they blame each other for the perceived irrelevancy of the monarchy. Prince Charles accuses his mother of being bound by Victorian traditions, while Mummy talks about Prince Charles cheating on his wife.

Neither is reaching the point that should be obvious, which is that a hereditary monarchy these days is really problematic, as it elevates, for no discernibly good reason, one person over everyone else. This reminded me of the Upton Sinclair quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This blindness, however, is not covered by The Crown. Or maybe some of them do understand it, but they want to retain their money and their privilege.

The season ends with the decommissioning of the royal yacht, Britannia, evidently an argument having lasted over the entire season. The royals – who could certainly afford the upkeep if they were really interested – lose and the ship is decommissioned.

Title musings. “Decommissioned” is the title of the episode and it refers to the fact that Britannia is no longer serving as the royal yacht. However, there are several other ways the title is applied. The conservatives lose the election, meaning that John Major is no longer Prime Minister. Hong Kong is no longer a British colony but goes back to China. A decent title.

Bits and pieces

Michael Sheen is finally too old to play Tony Blair, despite having played him in three other pieces. Now we get Bertie Carvel.

Although Prince Charles chafes at flying business class, it’s much more fuel efficient than using a private plane. Something an ecologically minded monarch in waiting should remember! And take pride in! Although flying from London to Hong Kong is a really long flight, and would become uncomfortable, even in business class.

Alas, I have never even seen a line of coke, except on TV.

If I were married to Mohamad Al-Fayed, I would learn a few words of Arabic. I might not let him know. But marriage with Mohamad Al-Fayed is not a possibility, as I am neither a model nor a socialite.

Hong Kong was “handed over” on July 1, 1997.

There’s a scene in which Queen Elizabeth is studying stamps with her own face on them. Now I understand why her grandfather, King George V, was a philatelist. He was probably collecting pictures of himself.

To his credit, I believe King Charles III announced he would retire at age 80.

Quotes

Dodi: If I bring her to London next week, would you have time to meet her?
Mohamad: Sure.
Dodi: Will you... send the plane?
Mohamad: Are you crazy? To Los Angeles? That's 50 thousand just in gas.

Prince Charles: Might it not also be an opportunity for me to meet with Mr. Blair?
Mark Bolland: Why would he be in Hong Kong?
Prince Charles: As British prime minister.
Mark Bolland: He's got to win the election first.
Prince Charles: I know, but... surely that's just a question of how big his majority will be.
Mark Bolland: True.
Prince Charles: And I've always felt there could be a productive alliance there. Two men of a similar age. Both committed and impatient for change.

Mohamad: And you bring home a swimwear model, expecting it to make me happy!
Dodi: I think the point is she will make me happy.
Mohamad: Making your father happy should make you happy. Bringing honor to the name "Fayed" should make you happy.

Mark Bolland: The only thing I haven't been able to change is, um... business class seats. The politicians, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, and former prime minister Edward Heath, are all going first class.
Prince Charles: And the heir to the throne is in business?

Mohamad: Why don't you come to Saint-Tropez with us?
Heini: Please.
Princess Diana: No, I wouldn't inflict all this on you.
Security guards: Clear off. Get out! Go on, get out of here!
Mohamad: My bodyguards are all special forces, so you will be fine. For the boys, there will be speedboats and jet skis and movies and burgers and French fries. For you, there will be sunshine and shopping and a big, new yacht. And a helicopter and a plane to get you there. You will think it's all very Egyptian and vulgar. But you will love it!

Prince Charles: Prime Minister, I'm so grateful to you for making the time.
Tony Blair: Your Royal Highness.
Prince Charles: Look at you. The first prime minister young enough to be the Queen's son.

Tony Blair: It would be like being trapped for eternity in opposition. I mean, we had 18 years. That was bad enough. He's already had 50.

Robert Fellowes: The Princess of Wales has asked permission to take the princes with her on a holiday in the South of France, as guests of Mohamed Al-Fayed. Should we go back with a "no"?
Queen Elizabeth: That would be my preference, but it is Diana's turn with the boys this year. Which is what I'm told divorced couples call "parenting." So it's none of my business.

Queen Elizabeth: I must say, I was surprised to hear of the trip. And that you would use the royal yacht as a place to conduct your affair with Mrs. Parker-Bowles.
Prince Charles: My affair, Mummy? I'm an unmarried man.
Queen Elizabeth: Divorced man whose wife is still alive.
Prince Charles: Are we really having this conversation? Camilla and I are mature, willing adults.

Queen Elizabeth: You should know the answer better than anyone because, God willing, you will one day take the oath yourself. This job is for life.
Prince Charles: Let's hope there's still an institution for me to take the oath for.
Queen Elizabeth: I don't think it's my behavior that's threatening its survival.

Prince Charles: I'm just worried, Mummy, that... if we continue to hold onto these Victorian notions of how the monarchy should look, how it should feel, then the world will move on. And those who come after you will be... will be left with nothing.

Overall rating

And that winds up this season. How do I feel about it and the season? The acting was well done. Still, and perhaps this is because I am more aware of this history than I was of the history of prior seasons, it seems as if The Crown has gone from showing us inspirational acts to petty bickering. Furthermore, a lot of it seems to be telling instead of showing, especially for Prince Charles. Although The Crown is well done, the subject itself is wanting. Two and a half out of four decommissioned stamps.

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

4 comments:

  1. Victoria, congratulations on completing reviews of yet another season of The Crown! I've been reading them, even though I stopped watching awhile back, and it's interesting to hear what they're doing.

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  2. I also found that I liked the crown less in the final season and even the second last season than in earlier ones. And I think you've hit upon it when you say it went from showing inspirational acts to petty bickering. The first seasons seemed to portray the changes in Great Britain as well as the monarchy as it adapted to its changing place in the world. On the personal side the show showed thematically the sacrifices to personal happiness that seemed forced upon the royal family.

    But that theme was beating a dead horse by season 5, and I feel that focusing so much on Charles & Di in the last two seasons didn't show us anything new. Frankly, I was bored of them. The political side of the show seemed to atrophy and Elizabeth herself seemed a bit of a secondary character.

    Worse, I felt the characterization of the Queen was not entirely consistent with the previous seasons. Would the people around her really have tried to stop her from learning about the newspaper poll by this point in her career? I could see them being worried about how to discuss the subject with her but to try and hide it from her? And the rift with Philip seemed to be to generate drama out of nowhere. The incurious Elizabeth he complains about seemed at odds with the Elizabeth who was much more interested than Philip in understanding the history and culture of the countries they visited on their world tour.

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  3. I am also influenced by the current bickering among the royals, which has made me less interested in them. Also, the attempt by The Crown to improve Prince, I mean, King Charles's image was another problem.

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  4. I was really into The Crown the first two seasons, and I usually like Olivia Colman, but the show stopped working for me. I think you both put your finger on why.

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