Time for the last bejeweled Crown recap of the season, everyone! We’ve got a sex scandal, political intrigue, and a major brooch finale. (Before you dig in to “Mystery Man,” you can always catch up with previous recaps over here!)
It’s April 1962, and Prince Philip is Feeling Old. His neck is bothering him, so he goes to an osteopath, Stephen Ward, who magically fixes things — and then invites him to a weekend house party with his pals “Christine” and “Mandy.”
Cut to 1963. Ward’s “friend,” Christine Keeler, is being interviewed by the police about her relationships with two men: Yevgeny Ivanov (a naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London — and, more importantly, a Soviet spy) and John Profumo (the Secretary of State for War). In the midst of the Cold War — the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in October 1962 — this is obviously not a good combination.
Meanwhile, Profumo goes to see Macmillan. (This is the second time we’ve encountered him in the series — he was a guest at the party where Margaret met Tony.) Profumo denies any improper relationship with Keeler. The press has identified him as a “mystery man” in a photo from one of Ward’s parties, but Profumo claims it’s someone else.
Dorothy doesn’t believe him, but Macmillan does, and he defends Profumo in front of the press.
The show tries to handle the Profumo affair in a largely private context — showing people mostly in their homes, behind the scenes, talking about the scandal — but they missed out on some pretty spectacular real-life drama. Ward wasn’t just a friend of Christine; he was accused of basically acting as her pimp. (He may have been something closer to a sexual matchmaker for willing participants.) In March 1963, Profumo publicly defended himself against the accusations in the House of Commons, with Macmillan at his side, detectives from Scotland Yard were trying to find Keeler, who had gone missing. (She had fled to Spain and was found a few days later.) Although the show puts a “mystery man,” photographed only from the back, at the center of the story, the real Profumo affair included a mystery “masked man,” who wore only a mask as he worked as a waiter at Ward’s parties. Rumor had it that he might have been a member of the royal family. (He wasn’t.)
I mean, the show went for full graphic nudity in the royal wedding episode — but they didn’t go for the scandalous gold on Profumo, of all things?
At the palace, there’s drama of a more domestic sort happening. Elizabeth’s aunt, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, visits to complain about one of her fellow royal residents at Kensington Palace. Margaret and Tony won’t stop renovating their apartment, and the noise is driving her mad. She complains stylishly in pearls and a brooch.
Margaret was indeed renovating her apartment in early 1963, and Marina was her next-door neighbor. The press asked plenty of questions about why the construction was over budget (and who was paying for it). During the renovations, a fire broke out in the palace roof, causing slight damage to Margaret’s under-construction apartment and to the roof above Marina’s apartment as well.
After Marina departs, pearl-clad Elizabeth gets happier news: she’s pregnant again! But she’s also dealing with low iron levels, and her doctor wants her to rest. (She would have gotten this news in the summer of 1963.)
Elizabeth rushes to tell Philip the good news, but finds only a member of his staff. He tells the Queen that Philip is away at yet another house party. (Does anyone else feel like we’ve seen this exact storyline on the show about three times already?)
Stephen Ward is brought in to police headquarters for questioning. (This happened in April 1963.)
We cut to the offices of the News Chronicle, the same fictional paper that broke the story of the Townsend affair in season one. They’ve heard that Ward is spilling the truth about Profumo’s relationship with Keeler to the police.
Sidenote: can we start a petition that the show not film basically every scene in darkened rooms in front of bright windows next season?
Also sitting in the News Chronicle offices: Tony, who is now the Earl of Snowdon. He and Margaret have just learned that they’re expecting their second child, but he’s looking for a foreign assignment to get him out of town. He tells the editor that “absence” is the key to his marriage.
(Still mad we didn’t get a Mustique honeymoon episode. You love soapy drama, show! Mustique IS soapy drama.)
Margaret, who is firmly in renovation mode, shares her own happy news with Elizabeth. (Margaret gave birth to Lady Sarah Chatto about five weeks after Elizabeth had Prince Edward.)
(Historical trivia: Margaret lived in Apartment 1A, which is now occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.)
Margaret’s snippy about Aunt Marina’s noise complaints, and because she never misses an opportunity for an insult, she sniffs about Marina and Philip coming from the same “refugee” family.
Elizabeth, wearing one of the production-created brooches, chides her sister for her comments.
But Margaret takes the chance to point out that there’s a rumor going around: that the “mystery man” in the party photo is actually Philip.
So we’re right back to where we were at the beginning of the season: the Queen is queasy about the possibility of her husband’s flagrant infidelity. Not a lot of emotional progress (or plot development) happening on this show.
Profumo has admitted that he did have an affair with Keeler, and the news of his subsequent resignation rocks Macmillan’s government. (This happened in June 1963.) Macmillan goes to the Queen to hand in his own resignation, but she stops him cold.
It’s just not a convenient time: she’s pregnant, and it’s not an uncomplicated pregnancy, and she needs to take a leave of absence. Macmillan has to stay to hold down the fort. In the meantime, she’ll deputize the Queen Mother to help out with ceremonial duties.
(I got all excited in this moment, thinking we’d see the Queen Mum actually do something. How naive I was! She gets one non-speaking cameo at the very end of the episode. Ugh.)
Elizabeth goes to talk to Philip, but he’s packing again to leave, this time for Switzerland.
And we get yet another scene of the two of them silently simmering in their own resentments.
On the train to Balmoral, still in her pearly uniform, the Queen is thoroughly downtrodden.
Macmillan isn’t having a good time, either. After his wife talks about seeing him parodied in Beyond the Fringe, a comedy revue that played in London in the early 1960s, he goes to see it himself. Stars of the show included the actor Dudley Moore and the playwright Alan Bennett. Including it here is fudging the timeline just a bit: the show premiered in the UK in 1960, and by 1963, the original cast was performing the show on Broadway in New York.
Already made a fool of by Profumo, Macmillan has trouble seeing himself parodied on stage.
(In 1962, the Queen herself went to see Beyond the Fringe, and the Andrew Marr biography reports that “she was much amused by its acidly satiric portrait of Macmillan.”)
The trio of shame is completed by Stephen Ward, who is on trial for vice charges stemming from his house parties and his alleged prostitution activities. The closing statement, describing Ward as filthy and depraved, was scathing. The show follows the actual wording of the prosecution.
Before the verdict can be given, abandoned by his friends and facing public shame, Ward overdoses on sleeping pills. (This happened on July 30, 1963.) In real life, he died a few days later; the court found him guilty of some charges in absentia.
An interesting note: the Profumo files are still classified. They’re not due to be released until 2064, a full hundred years after the scandal. Some have speculated that the files remain secret to avoid embarrassment for people mentioned within the pages — including, possibly, Prince Philip. Rumors? Reality? We won’t know until almost half a century from now.
When the police search Ward’s apartment, they find drawings of Prince Philip, making a public link between the scandal and the royal family.
The drawings were real, but the show leaves out a few details. In 1961, Ward was commissioned by the Illustrated London News to create portraits of members of the royal family, including Philip, Margaret, and the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester. He made the drawings at Buckingham Palace, and they were on public display during Ward’s trial, not hidden away in his home.
But in the show, these are Top Secret Evidence. Michael Adeane gets a call about the portraits, and he has to go wake the Queen — who is napping in her pearls — to break the news that Philip has been linked to scandal.
Adeane tells her about the drawings as tactfully as possible, and tells her that they’ll take care of the situation.
In reality, one of Ward’s friends tipped off Sir Anthony Blunt (who was serving as the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures — until she learned in 1964 that he was a Soviet spy), who tipped off Adeane about the exhibited portraits. A few days later, an unnamed man bought up every royal portrait in the exhibition, apparently eager to help avoid the royal embarrassment that could come from further association with Ward. Copies of the portraits have survived.
In Show World, though, this is one more piece of damning evidence about Philip’s character. Adeane says they were at a loss to link Philip to Ward — until they realized that they were both members of Baron’s lunch club. (This was apparently true — but since Ward had already visited the palace to draw several royal family members, it wouldn’t have been a revelation.)
And then things get even more complicated, because Elizabeth is summoned to London by Macmillan, who is recovering from the removal of a benign tumor.
Just like Eden, Macmillan uses his health problems as a convenient reason to resign. He also “advises” the Queen to appoint a specific person as his successor: Lord Home, a longtime friend of the royal family. (This puts us in October 1963.)
What the show only briefly acknowledges is this: Macmillan used the Queen to help pull off a piece of political maneuvering. Many thought Rab Butler was the natural person to follow Macmillan as PM, but Macmillan and others in the Conservative Party preferred Home. He advised the Queen to summon Home before the party could form a collective final opinion about their choice for the next prime minister. Following Macmillan’s advice, the Queen met with Home, asking him to try to form a government. It took a few days to then convince everyone in the party to fall in line behind Home.
Marr writes that the Queen’s bedside visit to Macmillan (who lived until 1986) “was a clear and obvious ‘bounce,’ which gave Home a royal stamp of approval before full or systematic advice had been taken from the party.” He also notes that Macmillan’s maneuver was “the final example of a still relatively young Queen being used by her politicians rather than protected by them,” and argues that “the Queen would grow wilier” as a result of her experience.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to see this as part of the Queen’s emotional journey in this season, rather than yet another episode of her mopily wondering whether Philip is philandering?
Claire Foy does get a final moment of steeliness in the face of government pressure in this scene. Wearing the production’s created ribbon brooch, Elizabeth calls out Macmillan on abandoning her when she’d asked him to stay, and then calls him a quitter.
Philip returns to Buckingham Palace in the midst of protests following the Home succession.
He finds Margaret and Tony hanging out inside the palace. Tony’s so avant-garde now, apparently, that he’s sworn off furniture. Chairs are so normal.
Margaret, who wears some of her golden jewelry, is pregnant and ticked off. She and Tony had come to offer support to the Queen in the wake of the Home controversy, but she’s already headed back to Balmoral. And, she wonders, where was Philip when his wife needed support?
Chastened, Philip goes to Scotland, where the Queen ignores him in favor of her roses.
Eventually, the two of them have it out. Philip claims he’s been there for her.
She disagrees. They fight about Ward and the portrait. (Note that the pearl necklace is gone here, which usually means Elizabeth is at her most vulnerable.)
He denies being the “mystery man,” but she presses him further, even getting out the ballerina portrait from the beginning of the season.
He doesn’t fully deny her accusations, but he tells her that he is dependable, and he’s always known that his duty is to support her. He even echoes his coronation oath on his knees. She gives in and embraces him.
We skip forward to March 1964. The Queen is giving birth again, but this time Philip is in the room. He stays at a distance, but at least he’s not playing squash? (This is accurate; unlike the previous three, Philip attended Edward’s birth.)
On May 2, 1964, Edward is christened at Windsor. (The show places the christening in St. George’s Chapel, but he was actually christened in the castle’s private chapel.)
Cecil Beaton, reciting the “scepter’d isle” speech from Richard II, takes a family portrait after the christening.
The whole rowdy Windsor gang is present, and Philip tries to stage manage. (He is apparently notoriously impatient with these kinds of family photos.) The Gloucesters are on the left, Tony and Margaret (with baby Sarah) in the middle, and the Kents are on the right.
1964 was the royal baby boom year: Princess Alexandra had James Ogilvy in February (on leap day!), the Queen had Prince Edward in March, the Duchess of Kent had Lady Helen in April, and Princess Margaret had Lady Sarah in May. Not all of the people depicted here were really present. Princess Margaret gave birth to Lady Sarah one day before the christening, and Katharine Kent had Lady Helen only a week before, so neither of them were there.
Katharine was one of Edward’s godparents, so she was represented at the christening by her mother-in-law, Princess Marina; Philip’s sister, Princess Sophie, was Edward’s other godmother. Edward’s three godfathers were Tony Snowdon, Prince Richard of Gloucester, and Prince Ludwig of Hesse (whose family died so tragically in the ninth episode’s flashback sequences). Edward’s middle names, Antony Richard Louis, come from his godfathers.
Not sure what the Queen’s expression in the midst of all this chaos is supposed to mean. She and Philip are reconciled, apparently, and isn’t that supposed to be the barometer of her happiness in this show? In the real christening photos, she’s smiling.
Anyway: JEWELS. The Queen wears pearls here with a rather good replica of the Emperor of Austria Brooch, which belonged to Queen Mary’s mother, the Duchess of Teck. The real brooch has links to another royal christening: Emperor Franz Josef gave the brooch to the Duchess when he served as godfather to her second son, Prince Francis, in 1870.
The Queen did wear the brooch (and a similar outfit) when Cecil Beaton took the first official photographs of Prince Edward after his birth. But for Edward’s christening, I believe she one of her emerald brooches.
As with season one, we end season two with an official portrait. Elizabeth isn’t Gloriana this time, though, standing remote and alone in her finest jewels. Here, she’s a more maternal goddess, head of a large, complicated, and unruly royal family.
And that’s it for this cast — next season, we’ll have different actors playing the royals. Olivia Colman will play the Queen, and it’s rumored that Helena Bonham Carter will play Princess Margaret. Who would you like to see in the other royal roles?