WELL! Now we are truly into the nitty-gritty of Charles and Diana’s marriage, and the truth is that it’s very juicy and also very much a disaster. This was quite a compelling episode — almost everyone gets a lot of meaty emotional material, and there are several Feelings-packed speeches, and tons of people staring at things with yearning/dismay, which of course are my favorite bits of any kind of media. Additionally, we’ve got a LOT of good outfits in this episode, and ever so many throw pillows. Let’s get into it:
MARGARET THATCHER: Is presumably off on a silent retreat to heal her persistently hoarse voice, as she does not even appear on screen. Someone mentions her on Charles’s car radio at some point, so we’re aware that she has not been spirited away by a UFO.
CHARLES AND DIANA:
First of all, how did I never know that Charles was ACTUALLY caught in an avalanche? This is both true, and very dramatic, although in real life, it doesn’t seem as if his safety was ever in question. (Also, I never thought about this prior to watching this episode, but the word “avalanche” sounds so elegant with a British accent.) Regardless: It’s an absolutely tragic story, as said avalanche killed Charles’s friend Hugh Lindsay, and broke Tara Palmer-Tompkinson’s leg. (I didn’t know this about poor Tara P-T, either, as it is not on her Wikipedia page.) (EDIT: whoops, also I didn’t know this about her because I got this bit wrong; TPT’s MOTHER broke her leg and nearly died.)
But let’s rewind a bit. The moment that kicks off this episode — wherein Diana dances to “Uptown Girl” on stage for Charles’s birthday — did famously happen, and per Tina Brown, Charles was distinctly not-thrilled by the entire thing. This episode does a very good job at showing rather than telling us how very wrong Diana and Charles are for each other; they consistently err in anticipating what the other person wants, and how they will react to basically anything. At this point, Diana should know that Charles does not want her to dance to Billy Joel — or, as the Queen refers to him in a moment that sincerely made me laugh out loud, “Billy Joelle” — in a surprise public display for his birthday. He wants, like, a first edition of some famous ancient book about botany. And Charles, who later gifts Diana some fusty old book about Althorp, should have known that she’d rather get (for example) voice lessons from Andrew Lloyd Webber as a gift. The difference is that Diana pretends to be jazzed about her book, and Charles acts like a total jerk, calling Diana’s dance a “grotesque, mortifying display.” (He does hold it together rather better later — to her face, anyway — when she gives him a VHS tape of herself in full costume singing “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera, a moment which was almost unbearable to watch. This ALSO more-or-less actually happened, a fact about which I…cannot think anymore because it’s so cringey. Oh DIANA.) They have a TERRIBLE fight in the car after the Billy Joel Pas de Deux, and he’s SO mean. (I always think about the driver in this situation. Don’t you think he came home every night and told his wife that Charles and Di had a real howler of a fight and Chaz was being a total jackass? At the very least, I feel like all the staff at Kensington Palace were Exchanging Looks behind people’s backs basically constantly. This is where Downton got it right. Daisy would have had some THOUGHTS about all of this!)
At some point after the Billy Joelle Incident, Charles and Diana head off to Klosters, and the avalanche happens — giving us a lot of the Queen and Philip being agonized about Charles maybe being dead, which is primarily expressed by them staring out the windows looking pained, and a conversation where the Queen tells Philip something he surely already knows, namely that all the logistical plans for what happens when one of them dies are codenamed after bridges, to “suggest a link between this life and the next.” This is all true; if you haven’t read this lengthy piece from The Guardian about what is meant to happen when the Queen herself eventually dies, it’s quite fascinating. (And hopefully will not need to be utilized for a bit yet.)
But although Charles is obviously not dead, he has had the realization that he wants to be married to Camilla instead of Diana, a revelation that seems extremely believable on the heels of a brush with death — and, in fact, the Charles/Diana relationship has gotten to such a breaking point that the press is about to publish a variety of incredibly negative stories about it, and only Charles’s possible death pushed that gossip out of the tabloids. And only temporarily.
So the Queen goes to Anne’s house to get the scoop on the state of her eldest child’s marriage, and Anne gives her a fairly succinct speech about the whole scenario (which includes news items that you’d think the Queen would know and which felt a bit like a “LAST WEEK, ON THE CROWN,” but was still enjoyable). She notes that “at some point in a failing marriage, about which I speak with some experience, it’s easier to just let the current take you away.” (At this moment in history, Anne is about a year away from separating from her first husband due to the fact that The Sun found out she was carrying on with Vice Admiral Tim, her current husband.) Anne also tells her mother, and the audience, that once Harry was born, Diana started having affairs (with her bodyguard, and her riding instructor, and I do thank god that this show made it clear that the rumor that Harry is illegitimate is not true), and Charles kept seeing Camilla. She also notes that Diana’s “suitors” park outside Margaret’s office when they head into KP for their assignations because it’s the only place with no security cameras, and this is also true (I read in either the Tina Brown Diana book or the Andrew Morton Diana book that Diana used to complain that Margaret was spying on her and I must confess, I too would have gone all Gladys Kravitz in this scenario). Margaret’s not loving it. Margaret’s one to talk!
So! Her Majesty calls Charles and Diana in to see her and Philip at Windsor, where she counsels them to pull it together, because their marriage — all the royal marriages — is “a reflection on the integrity of the crown,” and if those marriages fail, that failure pokes a hole in the myth that the monarchy is a source of constancy and stability. When she asks them if they want this marriage to work or what, Charles responds by taking out a BUNCH OF WRITTEN NOTES — I shudder to think why that question requires five pages of notes — but Diana jumps in before he can begin his speech and says that she does. The Queen is ICE COLD when she then wonders why Diana has “broken [her] vows, as [the Queen] understands [she] has.” This. Is. Juicy!! Diana explains she didn’t realize she wanted the marriage to work until Charles was nearly killed in the avalanche. This is ALSO believable, and also probably something she should have told him when he returned from being in said avalanche, but this is not a family that places a lot of stock in actual direct communication. (It’s possible that Diana is also lying because she’s scared of the Queen, but I tend to think that Diana always had at least mostly good intentions, and she meant this when she said it.) At this, the Queen sternly tells them that they’re going to have to come to an agreement about fucking around and looking the other way, and stick to it (I paraphrase). Diana says she’ll do anything, and apologizes to Charles and the Queen is like, “WELL THAT’S THAT,” as if she’s crossing an irritating errand off her list, and, Reader, I laughed. Charles actually does NOT think that is that, but he doesn’t actually say ANYTHING. Chaz! This is what your notes are for! Instead, he just storms over to see Camilla and is in tizzy about the whole thing and announces that he’s going to have his PPOs spy on Diana and if she steps out of line, it is ON. Friends, this is not a healthy relationship!
In fact, while Diana is recommitting to their relationship, Charles is making plans….to go to Scotland…with Camilla…on his wedding anniversary. This is very bad form! And once he’s reminded of that blessed date, Charles does instead spend said anniversary with his bride in a very tortured and very low-energy weekend at Highgrove, where Tiny Wills and Tiny Harry are Big Cute, and Diana presents Chaz with her mega-cringey Christine Daae video. Truly, I do not often relate to Charles — although I do like gardens? And, uh, pocket squares? — but this is….hard to watch. Both of their gifts are ultimately pretty selfish — Charles wants Diana to care about old buildings because he does, and so he gives her a book about them; Diana wants to perform, so she does and pretends it’s a gift for someone else. Neither one of them are thinking about the other as an actual, real person.
Anyway, after this VERY awkward gift exchange, Chaz goes over to talk to Anne, and they laugh about Diana’s tape, which is unkind but also pretty realistic. If I were in a disintegrating relationship and the person made me a VHS tape of himself in costume as the Phantom, singing “The Music of the Night,” I would need to talk to someone about it. Anyway, Anne eventually stops laughing to give Charles a GREAT Get-a-Grip speech where she flatly informs him that NO ONE wants him to get divorced, INCLUDING CAMILLA, per Andrew Parker-Bowles. This is a tremendously juicy scene that gives both actors a ton of material to work with, and it’s really satisfying to see Erin Doherty get to hand Charles some harsh truths — which he’s not at all interested in hearing. Charles foot-stampingly wonders what he has to do to get some “kindness” in his family, and Anne clearly thinks that being honest with him is kindness, so they end at a bit of an impasse; it’s interesting to me how hardcore The Crown leans into self-pity as being Charles’s primary emotion, and how much that self-pity has gone from being reasonable and even sympathetic (like when he was a miserable child at boarding school) to being somewhat monstrous.
Of course, Charles then goes right to Camilla and asks her if she has “special feelings” for Andrew. Her husband. The father of her children. It’s a good piece of character work in this episode to make it so clear that Charles is, in his own way, every bit as as naive about the primary romantic relationship in his life as Diana is. Camilla and her bangs VERY diplomatically answer that Andrew is not as nice to her as Charles is and doesn’t need her the way Charles does — which neatly sidesteps the question of how SHE feels about Charles, and he does not notice this and I’m actually not sure she does either. She ALSO adeptly side-steps the question of possibly leaving Andrew if Charles leaves Diana by pointing out that this isn’t a realistic scenario, but she does swear to him that her love for him is real. (Which I also think is true!) And as easy as that, Charles simply cruelly stops taking Diana’s calls. And Diana goes back to sleeping with Major Hewitt. And the PPOs report this back to Charles. And NOW SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL.
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