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The Crown: Ritz

Princess Margaret: For the chapel, I want roses and tulips, and I want the finale to Swan Lake playing on the organ as people arrive. And one more thing. Very important.
Queen Elizabeth: Yes, of course.
Princess Margaret: Promise me that I will actually be dead when they close the coffin.

Episode description: "After a series of strokes, a declining Margaret recalls a wild night with her sister at the Ritz in 1945, and later celebrates her 70th birthday there."

This episode is about the decline and death of Princess Margaret, who died at 71 in February of 2002. Although the terror attack of 9-11 is in the background, this episode has little political substance.

Still, as someone who is getting older, I found value in the episode. People who are experiencing strokes, if they are conscious, must feel so much alarm when their brains stop working properly. I liked the alarm in Princess Margaret’s expression as she realizes something is terribly wrong, more than once, and how well the actor portrayed the pain and humiliation and the struggle with speech.

She’s told to adopt better habits, but she refuses. For much of this, I don’t blame her. If you’re not going to live much longer, why not spend your time doing the things you love? She still wants to drink and carouse. She refuses to exercise. OK. But what I don’t understand is why she did not adopt the practice of having someone nearby at all times. After one attack, which happened while she was running a bath, her feet were so scalded that she couldn’t walk afterwards.

This episode also relies on Princess Margaret's favorite memories, and The Crown chooses to show a time when the princesses went out on the town, going out dancing at the Ritz to celebrate the end of World War II (at least in Europe). Princess Elizabeth wears her uniform as a sort of disguise. She sneaks into the basement and – gasp, at least for the time – dances the doodlebug with black people!

Princess Margaret, who is celebrating her birthday at the Ritz, wants to talk about their little adventure, but Queen Elizabeth forestalls her and takes over. Queen Elizabeth delivers a sweet – and humorous – tribute to her sister, and especially commends Margaret for her dedication to duty. Although I enjoyed the humor, which really helps the character of Queen Elizabeth, several bits felt wrong. Queen Elizabeth was not ashamed of her foray to the Ritz. Also, the "sacrifice" that Queen Elizabeth made in not to be able to go to the Ritz again and dance the doodlebug was not really a repression of her true self as Princess Margaret makes out, but a choice to grow in a different manner.

Title musings. “Ritz” usually refers to hotels or crackers, both fancy. It can also mean an ostentatious display, which certainly characterized Princess Margaret in her younger days. It’s a pretty good title.

Bits and pieces

Apparently the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret did go out to celebrate the end of World War II in Europe. And they did go to the Ritz. However, the excursion was not a secret; Queen Elizabeth spoke about it. Danced the conga, not the doodlebug, but that was risqué enough.

Kind of strange that Margaret’s children never showed up and showed any concern about their ill mother. I don’t think they were even mentioned.

Also wonder if the structure of the episode was selected because they found, Viola Prettejohn, a young actor who resembled a young Imelda Staunton (I’m not so sure she looks that much like Princess Elizabeth) and who could really dance.

Little habits – not smoking, not drinking too much, getting some exercise – these make a huge difference at the end. Princess Margaret died at 71. Queen Elizabeth made it to 96. That’s 25 years!

It was sweet of Queen Elizabeth to bring her sister her favorite food, jam tarts, in order to get her to eat.


Anne Tennant (reading aloud): A San Francisco husband slept through his wife's call from the World Trade Center. She left her last message to him on the answering machine. There was really only one thing left for her to say. 'I love you.' She said it over and over before the line went dead. And then oblivion.

Anne Tennant: I thought perhaps a gentle stroll, nice siesta, and then dinner on the terrace, just the two of us.
Princess Margaret: Stroll, yes. But then I'd like a picnic on the beach with the whole gang, cocktails at the Cotton Club, and dinner, followed by general bacchanalia at Basil's. I'm only here for two weeks. I intend to make the most of it.

Princess Margaret: My body's deserting me, one limb at a time.
Queen Elizabeth: The doctors tell me you aren't eating.
Princess Margaret: I'm really not hungry.
Queen Elizabeth: Well, I brought you these. Your favorite. Jam tarts.
Princess Margaret: Now you're talking.

Queen Elizabeth: And whenever we got into trouble, Margaret would blame everything on her imaginary friend, Cousin Halifax.
Princess Margaret: Oh, yes, I would.
Queen Elizabeth: No, there really wasn't anything Cousin Halifax wouldn't do. Sounding the air raid bell to wake the guards. Hiding the gardener's tools. He really was very mischievous.

Overall rating

I thought showing the decline and death were well done. Still, there was not really a lot to this episode, although I’m sure the death of her dear sister was a great blow for Queen Elizabeth. Two and a half out of four jam tarts.

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


  1. Viola Prettejohn actually resembles a young Claire Foy, I kept seeing people how much she looks like Claire!

  2. I found this episode very moving. Having to watch someone you love so much decline is tough and I thought the writing and the acting captured the emotion of it all beautifully.

    Like lisam, I thought Prettejohn looked a great deal like Foy which really made the flashbacks work for me.


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