Our bejeweled recaps of Netflix’s The Crown continues with the sixth episode of season two, “Vergangenheit.” With a German language title that simply means “the past,” you’ve probably correctly guessed that there’s a whole lot of historical information in this episode. (If you need to catch up on any of our previous recaps, head over here!)
We begin in Germany in 1945. American soldiers, with the help of a translator who worked for Hitler, have discovered a trove of important documents buried in the forest. They’re taken to Marburg Castle in Hesse.
As the government processes the documents, one translator notices that some of the files reference the Duke of Windsor. He heads straight for his supervisor…
…and the documents very quickly make it to the very top of the information chain. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth are horrified by what they’ve read.
Churchill and Tommy Lascelles agree that the files should be kept secret from the British people because their contents are so potentially damaging.
The King can’t quite believe that his brother has betrayed him so thoroughly. Queen Elizabeth’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring, a symbol of their stable and long marriage, is front and center in this scene, emphasizing the reason that Bertie and Elizabeth were so much better suited for the roles than David was.
And we’re back in the “present,” though the timeline in this episode suffers from significant tampering in the interest of fictional narrative. The Queen and the Queen Mother are watching the American evangelist Billy Graham on television. He’s in the United Kingdom on one of his “crusade” tours. (The tour in question took place in the spring of 1955.)
Both royal women are wearing their everyday pearl uniform. The Queen Mum isn’t too impressed with Graham, but Elizabeth finds him very interesting.
Meanwhile, in Paris, the Windsors are up to their usual vapid hijinks. They throw a birthday party for their pug, Trooper…
…and they go to a shooting party, where Wallis wears these fabulous mint-colored button earrings…
…and they play cards, with Wallis wearing a particularly spectacular floral necklace, which appears to be made of something like lucite.
They also play dress up, choosing costumes for an upcoming party. They veto the pirate look. (Also, this necklace on Wallis seems to be a cousin to Queen Maxima’s lobster necklace, no?)
They also veto the undersea-royalty look, though Wallis quips that wearing this pearl and shell crown is the closest she’ll ever be to being queen. (You are correct, lady.)
In the end, they ditch the elaborate costumes in favor of something simpler — and more sinister.
Wallis clutches her own coronet as she sits in the garden, sipping champagne.
Note that she’s chosen the actual jewelry wardrobe of the Queen and the Queen Mother — pearls and more pearls — to masquerade as royalty. As she sits, unable to place even a costume crown atop her head, David complains about his life of leisure, wishing he could have a real job in Britain again.
Back in the UK, the real Queen plays with her pearls as she works.
Adeane arrives to tell her that Uncle David is requesting permission to come to Britain, intending to work on a book. (Mm-hm.) Over Philip’s objections, she allows it. She also tells Adeane that she wants to meet with Billy Graham. He agrees to schedule him to preach privately at Windsor, followed by a luncheon with the royal family.
At the Captured German War Documents Publication Unit, a staffer accidentally unearths the suppressed Marburg files, and historians push to have them published. They remind their supervisor that the Americans have a duplicate of the files, and if the Brits won’t publish them, they will. This plot places us in 1957; the files were released in July.
The subject of said files is merrily chugging along on his journey back to England. He’s staying with the Metcalfes in Sussex. (David went back and forth between Paris and the UK fairly often. He did make a prominent visit at the end of 1957, when he attended a memorial for Fruity Metcalfe, performed his first public royal engagement since the abdication, and had a publicly announced visit with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.)
Edward Dudley Metcalfe, who went by the rather vivid nickname “Fruity,” was one of David’s former equerries and served as best man at his wedding in 1937. He’s been helping behind the scenes to try to lay the groundwork for David to get a new job in the UK. (The real Fruity Metcalfe died in November 1957.)
Also present (and wearing pearls), is Fruity’s wife, Lady Alexandra (aka “Baba”). She was the third daughter of Lord Curzon, a viceroy of India, and his American heiress wife, Mary Leiter. Baba had numerous affairs; her lovers included her sister’s husband, Oswald Mosley, as well as Walter Monckton (whom we’ll meet later in the episode). Her appearance makes the historical timeline of the episode even more confusing, because Fruity and Baba divorced in 1955.
At Windsor, Billy Graham is preaching about what makes a person a Christian. (This took place on May 22, 1955. Graham told the Associated Press, “I can only say it was a great privilege to be at Windsor today and that the Queen was very charming and gracious to us.”)
Philip is visibly annoyed, and the Queen Mother (brooch and all) is polite but disinterested, but the Queen herself is intrigued by Graham’s sermon.
After lunch, she has a private conversation with Graham about what it means to be both a Christian and the leader (and face) of a religious organization. (I’m not sure whether this completely private moment did happen — but if it did, it certainly violated the famous “Billy Graham rule.” Maybe it doesn’t count if the woman in question is the Queen?)
David is the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Sir Walter Monckton, who became Viscount Monckton of Brenchley in 1957.
Monckton was a lawyer and one of the Duke of Windsor’s advisors during the abdication crisis of 1936. (Relevant to this episode: he was also reportedly the person who convinced David to reject a German plan to make him a puppet monarch in 1940 and to go to the Bahamas as planned instead.) Royal watchers might recognize the Monckton surname for other reasons: one of Walter Monckton’s granddaughters is Rosa Monckton, close friend of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Various prominent Britons are also present at the dinner, including Lord Salisbury (the infamous “Bobbety,” whom you’ll remember from season one), Lord Beaverbrook (owner of the Daily Express), and Selwyn Lloyd (who was Foreign Secretary from 1955 until 1960). The woman portrayed wearing the bright red jewelry here is much more interesting than her brief appearance suggests; she’s Vita Sackville-West, the British writer who was famous for both her publications and her affairs. (Her lovers included Virginia Woolf and Violet Keppel, daughter of Alice Keppel and, therefore, great-aunt of the Duchess of Cornwall.)
Monckton has several job proposals for David, who smokes with his two rings, signet and wedding, visible to the audience. (The show sometimes seems to use these a visual reminder of the central conflict in David’s life, between the crown and Wallis.) He dismisses several of these prospects, but he’s especially interested in a diplomatic post.
But he doesn’t know that the Marburg files are circulating quickly; they’ve reached Harold Macmillan, who has been warned that the Americans will publish them if the Brits won’t.
The PM has an audience with the Queen and tells her about the wartime files.
Elizabeth is wary but displeased.
Adeane and the Queen Mother arrive to fill in the blanks for Elizabeth regarding Uncle David and the controversial papers.
The pearl-clad Queen Mum, who played a role in deciding to hide the documents from public view, is irritated by the entire enterprise, but says she knew they’d never be able to suppress the files.
Elizabeth, in pearls and a pearl-studded brooch, reads the confidential file for herself.
Back in Paris, Wallis does some happier reading: David has written from Paris, and he tells her that the Foreign Secretary has greenlit a new job. All that’s left is to get approval from HM.
(With all the emphasis on storytelling and biographical pasts in this episode, I would have loved some discussion of the memoir that Wallis published in 1956.)
Uncle David arrives for an official audience at the palace, his first time back in “the room.” He tells Elizabeth that he’s ready for a job. Wearing pearls and another of the production-invented brooches, she basically tells him to hold his horses.
After the meeting, Elizabeth talks to Philip about forgiveness, wondering if it’s her Christian duty to forgive her uncle, even after reading the files. It clearly pains him to say it, but Philip suggests that it’s time to talk to the man who was private secretary to King Edward VIII: Tommy Lascelles.
Elizabeth surprises Tommy at home, where he’s waging the Napoleonic Wars in miniature.
Tommy sits her down and tells her everything.
He talks about David’s carelessness with state papers, which he often shared with Wallis…
…who then passed them off to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador and future Nazi Foreign Minister, who also happened to be one of her lovers.
And then there’s the description of Uncle David’s “semi-state” visit to Germany after the abdication, where he was treated like a once and future king.
But Elizabeth, wearing the production’s ribbon brooch, is most visibly disturbed by news that Uncle David reportedly advised the Germans to continue bombing the Brits during the Blitz, believing that continued attacks would make them give up and achieve “peace.” She takes some time to process what Tommy has told her.
He returns to the palace for her final decision on the job, and she tells him where he can shove it. She wonders how he can ever forgive himself for what he did to his country — and to his brother.
He insults her, and then storms out. But Elizabeth maintains steely determination throughout the encounter.
But she feels guilty afterward, and she talks again to Billy Graham, who advises her that, when you can’t forgive someone, all you can do is pray for them.
She’s in the middle of prayers when she’s interrupted by Philip, who is tipsy and jubilant following a celebratory drink with the Queen Mum and Tommy. They’re all proud of how she handled Uncle David. And he’s very interested in celebrating with a spontaneous drunken canoodle.
The atmosphere back in Paris is mournful. The Duke of Windsor is officially alone again with his duchess. (This isn’t exactly what happened. After the papers were published in 1957, David was still welcomed back into the royal fold from time to time, even participating in official functions.)
This show loves a soapy look in the mirror to remind us that a character is both literally and figuratively reflecting, and that’s precisely what David does at the end of the episode. But the show doesn’t let him off the hook that easily — the installment draws to a close with pictures of the real Duke and Duchess consorting with Nazis during the war. The past will always come back to haunt you.