Plenty of Spoilers for Season 2 of The Crown ahead.
This past Friday saw the release of Season 2 of The Crown, and while it was focused less intently on Queen Elizabeth (with almost two entire episodes focused mostly on Prince Philip, who is still a huge dick despite his tragic backstory), but that doesn’t mean it was focused less on women. If you blasted through the entire season in one day like I did, the episodes can start to meld together and become one giant story with a few overarching themes. In Season 2, the concept of forgiveness was certainly one of those themes, and I found the importance of female relationships to be another. Even interactions between smaller characters, like the one between Eileen Parker and the waitress at Prince Philip’s lunch club made a large impact; a young woman who is consistently preyed upon at her job decides to clandestinely help a stranger procure the evidence she needs to seek a divorce from her dirtbag husband. Since that dirtbag husband happens to be the best friend and personal secretary to the Queen’s husband, their actions send shockwaves through the most consequential family in England. Teamwork makes the dream work, ladies.
I’ll freely admit that I can not stand Princess Margaret. She’s nasty to the palace staff, she’s immature, and petulant. Her story line this season revolves around a man, Tony Armstrong-Jones, who is so spectacularly terrible that he makes me long for the total bore that was Peter Townsend. (What the hell was with him banging that wrench around when he should have just been taking Margaret’s damn picture? Is that part of his unconventional artist process? Feel free to imagine whichever eyeroll gif you like at this point.) It’s already clear by the last episode of the season that their marriage is not going to be a happy one. Which is a shame, but not at all surprising considering every single interaction they had pointed to that being the case. But despite all of that, Margaret and Elizabeth’s relationship as sisters is fantastic. Siblings can get under your skin the way other people can’t. My favorite moment between them this season, unsurprisingly, was when Elizabeth owned her sister by remarking that if Margaret really had as much contempt for the trapping of royal life that she claimed to, then she would have given them up for the man that she claimed she wanted more than anything. My thoughts exactly Liz.
Vanessa Kirby does a great job of showing how intimately Margaret understands her sister, despite how hard Elizabeth tries to keep everything in check. Margaret gives the slightest look, and you know that she can tell exactly what’s going through her sister’s mind.
Episode 8, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” veered into soapy territory in some ways, but I think they pulled it off, due in large part to the fact that Claire Foy can pull off anything. Having a bit of an insecure moment after catching what she considers to be an unflattering look at herself in the mirror and, the Queen feels even worse after seeing a news story about the new First Lady of the United States, Jackie Kennedy. It’s going to get even worse for her, because they Kennedys are coming to London for an informal dinner at Buckingham Palace. (No “informal” dinner I’ve ever been to has required a gown and jewels.) Already feeling nervous about her dress, Prince Phillip certainly doesn’t help Elizabeth by practically salivating at the thought of sitting next to Jackie. The Queen takes Jackie on a tour of the Palace, and much to the her chagrin she finds herself disarmed by the First Lady. The two bond over being naturally shy people that have been thrust into very public roles, and about the difficulties of being surrounded by more dominating personalities. There’s even a nice moment with the corgis, and Elizabeth comes away from the meeting thinking that she may have found a kindred spirit in Jackie.
Some time later, Margaret tells her sister that a family friend overheard Jackie saying some deeply unkind things about her visit to Buckingham Palace. Margaret won’t say more, because she doesn’t miss a single opportunity to be the worst, so Elizabeth is forced to ask their friend herself exactly what was said. He’s reluctant to share, but finally relents; he heard Jackie say that Buckingham Palace was “second rate, dilapidated, and sad.” Not cool. But her comments about Elizabeth personally are downright cruel, calling her “a middle-aged woman, so incurious, unintelligent, and unremarkable that Britain’s new reduced place in the world was not a surprise but an inevitability.” All the worst things Elizabeth’s ever thought about herself.
When Lord Altrincham had some pointed criticisms for her in Episode 5, Elizabeth certainly wasn’t happy, but there was a certain amount of defiance in the way she confronted him. One episode later, when she discovers that her dirtbag Uncle David was BFFs with Hitler and he has the audacity to accuse her of “inhumanity,” the Elizabeth pointedly tells that Nazi asshole where he can shove it. But this time is different. They were men, and she’s been Queen (and a woman) long enough to know that men are going to talk down to her and try to push her around any chance they get. Comments that unkind coming not only from another woman, but a woman she felt she had made some kind of personal connection with, are going to hurt worse.
Partly inspired by the success of Jackie Kennedy’s diplomatic trip in Europe, and partly inspired by the need to lick her wounds, Elizabeth insists on going to Ghana, which has been slowly drifting away from the British Empire toward Russia. It’s a rousing success, so hooray for continued colonialism I guess? After delivering a big speech at an event, a drunken and literally-fifteen-minutes-away-from-philandering JFK lets it slip to Jackie that her hurtful words got back to the Queen and Jackie understandably feels incredibly guilty. When she’s next in London, she asks to have a private audience with the Queen.
When Jackie broaches the subject of her insult, Elizabeth pretends to not know what she’s talking about and passive aggressively tears into her scone like a boss. Jackie acknowledges that she can’t give an excuse but offers an explanation, that she was having “post-natal” problems after the recent birth of her son, and the Kennedy’s doctor plied them with drugs. “Vitamins” but also “other substances” to help them get by. Bottom line: postpartum depression, alcohol, and uppers don’t mix. She even confides in Elizabeth that their are some real problems in the Kennedy marriage, and while it seems like a bit of a stretch that she would share something like that with someone she barely knows, perhaps she thinks that as a woman in with a similar personality and role in the world that Elizabeth will understand. She apologizes for the offense and says how much she admires the Queen, bringing up what she did in Ghana.
Elizabeth is obviously moved, but she chooses not to say anything, and feels guilty about it later. Being a woman in the world isn’t easy, being a woman in a position of immense power even less so. A Queen and a First Lady are always going to put their best foot forward, but they’re still real women with frailties just like the rest of us. They’re going to feel like they need to compete with other women even when they know they shouldn’t, they’re going to feel jealous and vulnerable and tear other women down to compensate even when they know they shouldn’t, and they’re going to be wounded by men who treat them horribly even though they try to stay strong. Queen Elizabeth and Jackie Kennedy are both such iconic figures, and I thought this episode showcased the human side of each of them in a lovely way.
We all know what happens next. JFK is assassinated, and Elizabeth tells her private secretary that the bells in Westminster Abbey are to be rung, something that usually only occurs when a member of the royal family dies. She goes to her desk and writes a letter that begins, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy.”
The female relationships this season were so good that it got me excited for scenes in future seasons between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. What was your favorite part of Season 2?