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The Crown: Two Photographs

Mario Brenna: I am a professional photographer. I work in advertising and fashion, but the market has gone crazy for society work. Everyone wants pictures of celebrities. Pictures that show famous people. They are no different. They are human beings, just like us. Making mistakes, just like us. The old rules have changed. Now there are no rules. It's every guy for himself.

I have problems with this episode.

The episode, "Two Photographs," is shorter than other episodes. Now, streaming services are not bound by the rigid formats of scheduled TV shows, where they have to fill the hour and – depending on where you are – create breaks in the action for commercials. A show can be as long or as short as the story requires. On the other hand, the fact that this episode clocks in at 38 minutes – and others were 50 minutes or more – makes me think that some of the story was discarded as "not good enough." What remains, alas, is also questionable.

The episode considers two very different photographers. The first is Duncan Muir, a Scotsman who does portraits but who also hangs around the Queen and snaps some shots when she visits Balmoral. We even get some of Duncan Muir’s modest homelife, meeting his wife. Basically, all his photos are taken with the permission, or at least the acquiescence, of the subjects.

The other photographer is Mario Brenna, a paparazzo who chases down shots of celebrities. The episode has him talking about this the same way hunters stalk their prey, and it must be similar. Identifying someone who might be worth money, locating them, getting into position, then taking the shot.

The Crown makes it out that Mohammed Al-Fayed sent the paparazzo to the yacht, which would be a complete betrayal of Diana and which led to the deaths of Dodi and Diana, but this has not been confirmed. In fact, the real Mario Brenna denies it. Besides, given the amount of money Brenna raked in by taking photos – especially the amount he made from the kiss between Dodi and Diana – it makes sense that he, and many others, would be looking for such a shot. There were plenty of Diana watchers at the time, and people would be tracking her staff as well.

Although Brenna denies that the pictures were arranged by Dodi’s dad, some things in the episode are true. Mohammed Al-Fayed wanted British citizenship but was denied, twice, about this time. And could he be asking whether or not Dodi and Diana were sleeping together? He would certainly want to know, so that does not seem unlikely. I expect, to have risen so high from his humble beginnings, he must have been willing to do things that would make some of us cringe. But, violating the privacy by sending a paparazzo seems illogical. One thing he and his son have to offer Diana is a sense of security, and the arrival of a paparazzo destroys that.

In other parts of the episode, I get the sense that Peter Morgan – the creator of this series – is buttering up the current King Charles. For example, in the scene in which Prince Charles picks up the boys, he is trying to have a good relationship with Diana. I expect the conversation is completely invented but it does make the current monarch look reasonable – always good if you want access.

One thing that strikes me as fair in the episode is how Prince Charles' publicist manipulates him into doing a photograph of his own. From what I understand, the staff of each royal often try to create conflict between the different parties.

It does feel unfair. Diana is doing all she can do to be discreet. She is also trying to bring attention to a serious problem. But, ugh, comparing her wedding to landmines is just too on the nose. The Crown is rarely subtle.


Title musings. "Two Photographs" is the title of the episode, and one of the photographs – or one set of photographs – is clearly Diana and Dodi kissing. But which is the other? Given the fact that we follow the staid Duncan Muir about, we may assume that it's the photograph of Prince Charles with his sons. Another contender, however, is the photograph of Diana clearing the land mines. It's an OK title.

Bits and pieces

Mohammed Al-Fayed died in 2023 at the age of 94, so it’s easier to tell bigger lies about him now. Or maybe just bigger but unsavory truths.

I enjoyed watching how the royals were introduced to the royal website, such a new-fangled idea at the time. And yet that computer looks so old-fashioned!

Kind of hypocritical of Peter Morgan to be knocking down the paparazzi, because he is doing something so similar. At least Netflix isn’t sending their camera folk to harass celebrities as they go out to get the paper.

Kind of hypocritical, too, for the royals to complain about the media attention, when it is what keeps them in power. In fact, they are often jealous when another royal gets more attention from the photographers, as we see from Prince Charles in his attempts to get more attention for himself and Camilla.

I complain about the portrayal of Mohammed Al-Fayed as arranging the photos, but although it does not appear to be true, he was certainly a man who schemed. On the other hand, Mohammed Al-Fayed will engage in some serious conspiracy theory stuff later, so perhaps this episode, though probably not true is in keeping with his character?

I think we need to understand that real privacy is a thing of the past. Cameras are everywhere; our own phones track us; our browsers know which websites we visit. Yes, there are ways around it, but most of us don’t have the energy or the expertise to stay undetected. Perhaps being uninteresting is the best protection.

The parents mention seatbelts to the boys when in the car. Something to remember.

Quotes

Duncan: My bread and butter work is traditional portraiture. Weddings, graduations, that sort of thing. But my passion, and what I'm best known for, is photographs of the royal family.

Charles: Can I make a request? Even though we weren't brilliant at being married, can we – can we be brilliant at all this?
Diana: I think so.
Charles: And not just for them, but for us, too.
Diana: She didn't get to keep the man of her dreams, but the friend of her dreams. Charles, I mean, it's much more than a friend. Partner.

Diana: It was a man called Ken Rutherford who drew my attention to it. He started the Landmine Survivors Network. Well, after his Jeep hit a landmine in Somalia, he lost both his legs. He said to me, "Every survivor has a date." "The day they stepped on the landmine." He said, "Mine was December 16th, 1993." And I said, "Mine was the 29th of July, 1981, my wedding day."

Charles: I owe it to her to be onside.
Bolland: I assume you haven't seen today's Daily Mail.
Charles: Why?
Bolland: There may be a truce between you and the Princess of Wales, but that didn't stop her letting her favorite journalist know that you spent last weekend alone with Mrs. PB. And didn't want to take the boys when they came back from holiday.

Bolland: But, in a strange way, this does also present us with an opportunity. Coming here today, I couldn't help being struck by the two very different cultures at play here. St. Tropez. Scotland. Scandal. Dignity. Irresponsibility. Duty. Selfishness. Principle. A tabloid princess as opposed to a broadsheet prince.

Overall rating

Like I said, I have difficulty with this episode. Part is missing. Some parts are too obvious. Some parts seem to be designed to flatter the current monarch (no matter how much they pretend to object). On the other hand, Peter Morgan, when putting together his stories, is mostly hemmed in by reality, and publicity is a genuine issue for the royals, especially given what happens in the next episode. Two out of four old-fashioned computers?

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

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