Sunday, December 15, 2019

December Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman: THE CROWN, SEASON 3 -- 1964-1977

There was a young lady from Dallas 
Who used a dynamite stick as a phallus. 
They found her vagina in North Carolina 
and her asshole in Buckingham Palace. 

Imagined not real, the limerick, above, that the screenwriter put in the mouth of Princess Margaret at a White House party in 1965 did the trick: At a lavish dinner party hosted by the Johnson’s for the Snowdon’s, Margaret wooed our president in vernacular they both enjoyed, getting Lyndon to agree to the British government’s plea for a U.S. bailout during an urgent financial crisis. Johnson had been refusing PM Harold Wilson’s calls (the Brit’s weren’t backing his war in Vietnam). But following Margaret and Tony’s visit, the ‘special relationship’ went from cool back to sure-footed. Her thrilling success didn’t widen Margaret’s sphere of influence at home as she was regarded as a bomb-thrower best kept on the down-low. Peter Morgan says he made up what happened at that dinner, but it was so like the principals, one can only wish it did, and pity poor Margaret — the little ‘vice queen’ with an applause deficit.

Morgan’s marvelous Netflix series continues with vignettes that are smaller than the drama of the world war era but absorbing. Here is Britain during the middle years of the Queen (now played by Olivia Colman of The Favourite), the young adulthood of Prince Charles and Princess Anne and the Snowdon scandals. One feels a tad sorry for the Windsors— the ruthless scrutiny and humiliations visited on this ordinary family living under glass.

The royal porn may pay for itself despite the schadenfreude and outright rejection it brings on itself, fed by the soap-opera tales of their private lives. The Windsors function with great success as a soft-touch but powerful PR firm — the outcome of the Crown’s search for meaning as it evolved from ruling monarchy to figurehead. Many royals work full time dutifully promoting civic and social causes. The self-imposed rules they live by assure that duty and kindness are quite, if not perfectly, constant; the Crown ‘firm’ functions as parent archetype, committed to useful work and maintenance of the public image. (Prince Andrew, having embarrassed himself in an unapologetic interview about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, has just been cut from the firm’s public face upon the intervention of Prince Charles, it is reported, asserting himself as monarch-to-be.) Maybe the US could profit from more do-good, apolitical authority.

The salacious chapters have some nuggets. We learn new about the origins of Charles (Josh O’Connor, Only You) and Camilla (Emerald Fennell, below). Camilla’s relationship with Andrew Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan) was more passionate than imagined in which they used others to make each other jealous, involving Charles and an acerbic Princess Anne (well-acted by Erin Doherty) who joined the quadrangle “for a bit of fun”. Lord Mountbatten and the Queen mother then broke up the party, instigating Camilla’s marriage to Parker-Bowles while Charles was on Naval duty. (No wonder he would later defiantly flout his marriage to Diana.) Much more domestic nastiness appears in the chapter about the affairs of Tony Snowdon (he who winsomely charmed the Queen to secure her favor) and Princess Margaret precipitating the deterioration of their marriage — splashy tabloid fodder then, soap-opera now.

It’s not all soap. A KGB spy is discovered living in the Palace and there are labor troubles. Prince Philip, splendidly acted by Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones, Outlander; click here to read a fine interview with the actor), has a mid-life crisis coinciding with the US moon landing and visit of the astronauts to the palace. The Prince, a pilot himself, unhappily sidelined from adventure, waxes in awe of the young astronauts until he meets them, drippy with colds, having nothing of awe to report beyond the lists they had to tick off as they worked through their mission. Philip doesn’t get that ‘meaning’ is all in the doing — the action of climbing the mountain not getting to the top. Menzies (below, l; Prince Philip, r) conveys Philip’s emotions with such self-restraint, he has made himself the stealth star of this ensemble.

A chapter is devoted to the passing of David, Duke of Windsor (Derek Jacobi) living in exile in France and shunned with his notorious wife Wallis (Geraldine Chaplin), for whom he abdicated the throne. Again, Morgan ignores the elephant in the room — the pair’s unholy infatuation with the Nazi’s that led to their non-grata status, making government quietly grateful that divorced American Wallis kept David from the throne. Perhaps a different screenwriter at a different time will dramatize that juicy story.

Crown - 3’s most memorable episode may be the mining incident at Aberfan in 1966, a tiny Welch town that suffered a tragic coal-debris slide. After days of rain, a tip (little hill) of coal debris sank, sliding downward and across the street, burying the town elementary school. It killed 144 people, most of them kids. PM Harold Wilson, Prince Phillip, and camera-slung Tony Snowdon went to the scene at once but their description of the horror and the PM’s urgings could not convince the Queen to go — it fell to rogue Labour party members to induce her late visit. Labour threatened to blame the Queen and prior Tory governments who had ignored reported dangers at the mine site. Several lines of copy on the screen report that the Queen’s failure to go at once to Aberfan remains a matter of deep regret to Elizabeth, and that she has visited the town often in intervening years.

Another chapter shows us the character of the monarch-in-waiting — that is the story of Charles’s Welsh language and history instruction prior to his investiture as the Prince of Wales. The Welsh, especially his local university tutor, anticipate the chore with derision, only for Charles to win them over with sincere, earnest effort. Charles is well-conveyed by O’Connor, who conjures him quite completely (O'Connor below r, Prince Charles l)

At end, Crown 3 was as entertaining as earlier series, supporting Morgan’s stated goal to use the monarchy as a canvas for this decade or so of the latter 20th century, all the while laying out a good gossip. Full cast replacement helps his case, as you focus less on individuals and more on the unfolding stories of the era.

At left, screenwriter, Peter Morgan and his partner, Gillian Anderson, who will appear in the next edition of The Crown as Margaret Thatcher.

The above post was written by 
our monthly correspondent, Lee Liberman

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