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The Crown: Gunpowder

Martin Bashir: “This is quite normal, and to be honest, I was expecting a last-minute wobble. I think you chose the date for the interview, November 5th, bonfire night, deliberately.”
Princess Diana: “Only because I knew everyone would be busy. Not symbolically.”
Martin Bashir: “The 13 members of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 also almost pulled out at the last minute, and it took the ringleader to encourage them to stick with it.”
Princess Diana: “Well, maybe he shouldn't have. They were unsuccessful, hung, drawn, and quartered.”

Episode description: “The Queen spends quality time with Prince William. On Guy Fawkes Night, fireworks make for a perfect distraction from Diana's BBC interview.”

This episode shows the tensions at the BBC, a natural subject for the creators of The Crown, who must be completely versed in the politics of putting on television shows. At the BBC we have both the old guard, trying to keep things the same, represented by Dukey, and those trying to modernize, represented by John Birt, in charge of programming selections. Both viewpoints have some validity. The BBC’s existence is guaranteed by a royal charter. Those trying to insert some modern programming are trying to compete in the modern world, another necessary condition for existence.

These scenes are mirrored by scenes with Prince William and Queen Elizabeth. He’s trying to talk her into getting modern satellite and television: something a favorite grandchild can best manage. This relationship is a pleasure to watch, and to me feels realistic. In The Crown, Prince William is happy to spend time with his granny. Queen Elizabeth gives him affection and structure without being the burden of parents – usually there’s some baggage there – and certainly Prince William’s parents were difficult. Spending time with Queen Elizabeth must have been a relief.

Then, of course, there’s “the” interview on Panorama, with the build-up and then the actual showing. Doubts appear to be everywhere, even before it airs. Charles Spencer noticed discrepancies in Bashir’s claims, mixing up MI5 and MI6. Princess Diana has cold feet. Bashir’s boss decides they absolutely must inform those above them in the pecking order about the interview with the Princess of Wales. Apparently these doubts and these hesitations are based upon reality, although I wonder if some of them have been exaggerated with time. The person fighting most to get the interview aired is, naturally, Martin Bashir, and he gets all the blame, especially with hindsight.

The conversation Princess Diana has with Queen Elizabeth, warning her about the interview, is something that strikes me as something The Crown is giving to the audience, as a conversation many wished could have happened. However, although there’s indication that Princess Diana informed Queen Elizabeth about the interview, the conversation itself does not feel real to me. I do believe Queen Elizabeth probably did hold her tongue when asked about Diana, because she generally held her tongue, and so that much is true. Anyway, it's too little and way too late.

The Crown shows snips from the actual interview on Panorama – well, not with Diana herself, but Elizabeth Debicki speaking the words – and with the horrified reactions from members of the royal family, especially Prince Charles. And although the interview shocked everyone at the time – it was the nail in the coffin in the illusion that this was ever a fairy-tale marriage – most of Princess Diana’s words strike me as true. Prince Charles was in love with someone else during the entire marriage. Princess Diana’s popularity did make her a threat. As for Prince Charles being conflicted about taking on the kingship, that would be perfectly natural for anyone.

Moreover, I think Bashir was also right that Princess Diana would have gone public in some interview eventually. Although the Panorama interview was the straw that broke the camel’s back, that camel was already loaded with a lot of straws, not put there by him. We have only one timeline, so we cannot know what would have happened if the interview had never been aired. I am not defending Bashir – what he did to get the interview was utterly despicable – but I am saying his actions probably did not matter, at least not with respect to Princess Diana and her future.

Title musings. “Gunpowder” is the title of the episode. They overexplain it in the episode, so I don’t need to bring it up here. Other than having its meaning pounded into us, it’s a good title.

Bits and pieces

Dukey, the chair of the Board of Governors of the BBC, is called that not because he was a duke but because his name was Marmaduke. His name was actually Marmaduke Hussey, and he was a the Baron of North Bradley.

MI5 investigates national security matters in the UK while MI6 (now SIS) gathers international information for the UK. I confess I get them mixed up with each other and with the motorways, which are labeled M1, M2, etc.

Gunpowder in the time of Guy Fawkes was probably not as reliable as gunpowder today. Not that I know much about it!

The BBC is still so ashamed of what was done to get that interview that they have vowed never to show it in public again. Also, they have paid out sums to the people who were slandered by Bashir, people who were truly innocent, including some of Princess Diana's staff. Those people really did suffer terrible consequences. For more information, see this piece in Vanity Fair.

Of course, the BBC also wants to stay in the good graces of the royals, and King Charles III and the current Prince of Wales don’t like that interview. So that's another reason for the self-censorship.

I liked how the excuse of bringing in a new TV set to Princess Diana justified the equipment for the interview.


Prince William: Why don't you just buy a big new one?
Queen Elizabeth: I don't want a big new one.
Prince William: But it would come with the right sockets and jacks. You could get satellite TV as well. With hundreds of channels from all over the world.
Queen Elizabeth: What? And abandon the BBC? I can't do that.
Prince William: You wouldn't be abandoning the BBC, Granny.
Queen Elizabeth: Switching to satellite would be seen as a betrayal of the national broadcaster by the head of state. It would be treason. Like me becoming a Catholic. Just imagine this place with a huge, horrid dish on the roof. Like a spaceship. ...
Prince William: I'll see if we could get you that specialist racing channel.
Queen Elizabeth: You mean, like at the betting shops? With night races from America? Oh. I'd never do any work.

Dukey Hussey: I'd like us to do something for the Queen. Some sort of tribute. About how hard she works and how bloody lucky we are to have her. ... Because whatever one may think of the royal family, she has been remarkable and doesn't, in my view, get the credit or the gratitude she deserves. And isn't that one of the many things that the BBC's for? To kiss the ring? If you like. I can see it's an unfashionable line to take, but for better or worse, I believe it is part of the British character to have a monarchy. Take that away, huh, what are you left with?
John Birt: An egalitarian, modern republic?
Dukey Hussey: But not Britain.
John Birt: A new Britain. A different Britain.
Dukey Hussey: Not Great Britain. It's the same with the BBC. Take away the BBC, and what are you left with? A country, but not Britain. In that way, the two institutions, Crown and BBC, are inherently intertwined. Reflected, incidentally, in the fact that we exist thanks to a royal charter.

Princess Diana: On numerous occasions over the years. I've asked to see you so that we might talk face-to-face. And on every occasion, you refused or were unavailable.
Queen Elizabeth: I accept it's not easy navigating this family. And I can understand why you might think we're all a bit remote. But there is another word for "remote." Busy. We are all busy people with busy diaries, rarely under the same roof for two nights at a time. And none of us, not one senior member of the royal family, has a spare ten minutes to think about themselves, let alone you or how we might best make your life miserable. On the contrary. It might surprise you to learn we all spend a great deal of time doing the opposite. 'Cause when people, armies... of people say to me, "What has that girl done now? Who does she think she is?" What do you imagine I say? "Oh, Lord, yes, Diana's awful." "A nightmare. What a mistake that was." Not once. Not a single time. You're wife to my eldest son, mother to my grandsons, and a valued senior member of this family, so I defend you each and every time. Loyally. Emphatically. To the hilt. The enemy you imagine I am, the... hostility you imagine we all feel is a figment of your imagination.
Princess Diana: Is it?
Queen Elizabeth: Yes. All... any of us want, Diana, is for you to be happy. And one day, to be our next Queen.

Overall rating

Despite my feeling that the conversation between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana was an invention, it was necessary. I liked the controversy at the BBC and I loved the bits with Prince William and Granny. Three and a half out of four satellite dishes.

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


  1. The final scene between the Queen and William was wonderfully done. Both are hurt; both are in shock. Yet, they sit on the sofa next to each other in silence (except for the BBC's playing of a hymn -- genius choice) gaining comfort from each other. I loved it.

  2. I love how you pick an item from the episode to include in your ratings. Makes me smile every time.


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