The second season of The Crown comes to the small screen on Dec. 8.
As with the first season, Netflix has kept its details under close guard, revealing little except that it picks up where the first season ends, with Princess Margaret’s love life in tatters and the marriage of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband strained. Philip was seen driving out of Buckingham Palace, feeling unwanted by his wife-monarch. The date is a bit vague—to improve the dramatic effect of his series, Peter Morgan conflates royal events that can be years apart—but Philip was off to Australia to open the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
‘The Crown‘ teaser is released
This week, Netflix pulled back the silk damask curtains on its production with the release of a one-minute-23-second teaser for the second season. “An empire in ruins. A marriage in tatters. A queen fighting for survival,” is the trailer’s tagline. It promises to have more of the romantic angst and political intrigue that made the first 10 episodes enlightening as well as entertaining, as more than a few viewers rushed to bookstores and the library to read more about the post-war era.
Don’t say you weren’t warned
Which brings us to a very crucial reminder. Peter Morgan has an excellent track record in writing royal dramas. His film, The Queen, made a star of Helen Mirren, while his play, The Audience, won virtually every award it was nominated for. But, and it’s a big but, Morgan creates dramas, not documentaries. His works are fact-based fiction. Sure, they are meticulously researched and lushly produced but, in the end, they are still fictionalized versions of the past.
As I explained in my review in Maclean’s of the first season:
Real events don’t slot neatly into 10 episodes. Some are conflated for greater emotional impact. In the series, a grieving Queen Mother flees the 1953 London unveiling of a statue of her husband for northern Scotland. In fact, the statue was installed in 1955, and that Scottish trip occurred in 1952.
Other events have been ignored, or invented, to add needed tension. In The Crown, Philip is portrayed as a foreign outsider—from a “family of parvenues and carpetbaggers,” Mary sniffs—rather than a distant relation whose mother and grandmother were born in Windsor Castle. He’s seen resisting having to pledge allegiance to Elizabeth at her coronation, something not hinted at by biographers. Royal historian Hugo Vickers blasted in the Daily Mail, “It is marred by a series of sensationalist errors and some quite remarkable lapses into vulgarity, including historically inaccurate scenes of confrontation.”
Now back to the teaser.
‘Some spirits cannot be tamed.’
In the video, Philip is travelling far away from Britain, and his dutiful wife. He’s grown a heavy beard, watching performances of scantily-clad South Pacific dancers and seemingly enjoying the life of a Royal Navy officer away from house and home. He’s even sending home to his wife and children videos of him in Antarctica holding tiny penguins.
He’s on the new royal yacht christened Britannia. As its site states:
“On 28 August 1956, Britannia left Portsmouth to begin her first world tour. Over the next 110 days she would steam a total of 39,549 miles. The Duke of Edinburgh joined Britannia at Mombasa where he embarked on his four-month world tour visiting the Seychelles Islands, Ceylon, Malaya, New Guinea, Australia (where he opened the Olympic Games in Melbourne), New Zealand, Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island and The Gambia.”
‘Some marriages are more equal than others’
Meanwhile Elizabeth looks lonely and miserable back in Britain.
The political situation is tense. The British Empire is collapsing as more and more colonies achieve independence. The disastrous Suez Crisis reveals the dangerously weakened state of Britain’s military power. The domestic situation is no better. There’s still post-war rationing, the economy is struggling and politicians are squabbling.
“There is no love without pain. There is no power without sacrifice.”
At one point in the trailer, there’s a distant shot of a woman praying in a church (it’s likely the Queen, though perhaps her mother.) If it’s Elizabeth II, then it could be her reaction to the rumours flying around the world—that her marriage to Philip is over. The prolonged absence of Philip at the other side of the world spawned an avalanche of speculation that he’d been unfaithful.
As Vanity Fair explained last year, the gossip was traced back to a paper in Baltimore, Maryland:
In putting together his 2004 book Philip & Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage,author Gyles Brandreth traced some reports of Philip’s alleged affairs—one of which stemmed from The Baltimore Sun, which reported Philip was “romantically involved with an unnamed woman whom he met on a regular basis in the West End apartment of a society photographer.” According to a source close to the family, Philip “was incandescent”—“very, very angry”—and the Queen was so “dismayed” that they offered a rare denial to the claims: “It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the queen and the Duke.”
It will be interesting to see if The Crown adopts Brandreth’s conclusion at the end of his exhaustively researched book: the rumours were untrue; Philip had never been unfaithful.
‘Can hearts be unbroken?’
While the first season ended in tears and heartache for Princess Margaret as she gave up her first big love, Group Captain Peter Townsend, the new season promises a new, even more dramatic love, one who more than matches her mercurial nature: the dashingly handsome, radically bohemian and distinctly unconventional royal husband, society photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones.
‘Lives will be created. Lives will be destroyed.’
The photograph of an obviously pregnant Queen Elizabeth II with her seemly devoted husband, Philip, wasn’t in the teaser, but rather tweeted by the show with the caption: “Lives will be created. Lives will be destroyed.” The pregnancy helps refine the dates being explored in the second season as the Queen’s third child was conceived in 1959; Prince Andrew was born on Feb. 19, 1960.
Will Canada make an appearance in The Crown?
Elizabeth II found out she was pregnant in the middle of her 45-day visit of Canada in 1959. It was the longest royal tour in Canadian history, encompassing some 24,000 km as well as “17 military parades, 21 formal dinners, 64 guards of honour, 193 bouquets, 381 platform appearances, and well over 7,000 handshakes,” according to the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust.
Aside from frantically asking London to ship larger dresses, she barely altered her schedule.
Two unexplained mysteries in The Crown teaser
1. A Nazi plane flying near Balmoral
There’s a brief glimpse of a plane in what looks to be the mountains of Scotland, perhaps near the monarch’s personal Highland estate of Balmoral. The logo on the fuselage seems to identify it as a Luftwaffe plane from the wartime era.(I’m not an expert in plane markings, so let me know if this is incorrect.) Could it be a flashback to Rudolf Hess’s mysterious flight to Britain in 1941 to reportedly negotiate peace between Nazi Germany and Britain. After landing in Scotland, Hitler’s deputy was immediately arrested and imprisoned, most famously in the Tower of London.
2. Queen placing the Duke of Edinburgh’s coronet on his head
Philip wore this coronet at the coronation of his wife in 1953, in his role as HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. So why is she placing it on his head in the teaser? The scene seems to take place inside a palace. She’s not wearing her coronation gown.
The only event that seems to fit, however clumsily, is that, in 1957, she bestowed him with the title Prince of the United Kingdom. (Note: do read an exchange of official letters and missives from 1954 to 1957 that shows how long and how complex a process it was to give him the title. Even two prime ministers—Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan–get involved. Also, there was considerable debate as to whether he already had the title. (Most experts today believe he was always Prince Philip by right of being a great-great grandson of Queen Victoria).
But none of those facts explain why Elizabeth is putting that coronet on his head in yet another Twitter photo. He already had the title of Duke of Edinburgh.
If this initial analysis of the teaser and a few photos is any indication, The Crown is going to have to answer a lot of questions amid the pomp, circumstance and angst.