It’s time once again for a recap from the latest season of The Crown! Our series has arrived at episode seven, “Moondust,” which involves a whole lot of angst about aging and — sadly — very little jewelry at all. (Need to catch up on our previous recaps? They’re all here!)
We begin with a date stamp that helpfully tells us it’s July 5, 1969. Prince Philip is at Windsor Castle, watching a televised press conference with the astronauts who are about to head for the moon.
The Queen comes in, wearing pearls and no brooch, and tells Phil that she’s sent a goodwill message to travel to the moon along with the astronauts. She’s pretty excited about it.
The next morning, the whole family goes to church, and the Queen and the Queen Mother both wear little production-invented brooches. The Dean of Windsor gives a sermon that puts almost everyone to sleep, and Phil convinces Liz that it’s time to start shopping for a new priest to fill the office.
(Historical sidenote: this scene is supposed to be set in 1969, but it’s sort of based on events from 1962. That year, the longtime Dean of Windsor, Eric Hamilton, left the office — not because he was too boring, but because he died! Not quite the same, though the Guardian did once describe Hamilton’s tenure as dean as “sleepy.”)
Two weeks or so later, at Buckingham Palace, the entire royal family gathers to watch the Apollo 11 rocket lift off. The scene is kind of amusing, given Princess Margaret’s complaint in an earlier episode that they never watched television in the palace all together. I have no idea whether they really gathered to watch this part of the Apollo mission.
We get glimpses of the actors playing the minor members of the family, including the Duchess of Gloucester in a brooch.
We also see Tony Snowdon with some groovy new sideburns, and Princess Margaret in gold earrings and a rocket-themed party hat…
…which she and Princess Anne then start stacking on the sleeping Queen Mum, who is at least wearing a nice pearl bracelet.
Later, after everyone else has already left, Philip continues watching the Apollo coverage. He gets pretty obsessive about the whole thing.
The new Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods, interrupts Philip’s frantic consumption of moon-related news. He wants to know if he can start a new center on the castle grounds for priests having mid-career faith crises. Philip scoffs at the idea, but tells him to do what he wants.
(On The Crown, this scene takes place in July 1969, but in the real world, Robin Woods became Dean of Windsor in 1962. He even baptized Prince Edward in 1964 — a scene that was shown in the last episode of season two. He and Philip started the center in question, St. George’s House, together in 1966. It’s not just a retreat for clergy but also a residential conference center for thoughtful conversations between people from different areas of influence, including the arts, government, and business.)
Back at Windsor Castle, the royals gather to watch the lunar landing. Philip is in complete awe of the achievement of the astronauts. (This is accurate: the Queen really did watch the moon landing with her family at Windsor.)
The Apollo mission remains at the front of his mind, even after he returns to his regular slate of engagements. While flying home after a factory visit, he frightens his co-pilot by pushing the aircraft higher and higher, trying to capture some of the astronauts’ experience.
Meanwhile, Robin Woods is succeeding nicely as Dean. The Queen, wearing a little invented gold brooch, greets him happily after a Sunday service.
But Philip’s stopped going to church completely. Woods tracks him down at the castle and convinces him to visit St. George’s House. While there, he takes part in a therapy-like conversation about faith and middle age, and he says he thinks moments like the moon landing are how society now experiences spirituality.
Later, during dinner, the Queen (pearls, no brooch) tells Philip that the Apollo 11 astronauts will be visiting them during their victory tour. She says she hopes that the news will cheer Philip up. He seems surprised that she thinks he needs cheering up at all.
The Queen is still broochless during the planning meeting for the astronaut visit at Buckingham Palace. Philip asks during the meeting to have a private audience with the three astronauts, and Adeane agrees to make it happen.
We fast-forward to the day of the visit, which really took place in October 1969. The Queen, along with Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward, greets Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin, and their wives. In reality, Philip was present for the official welcome; also in reality, the Queen wore the Duchess of Cambridge’s Pearl Pendant Brooch. (That one would have been very easy to replicate! So frustrating.)
In the world of The Crown, though, Philip is alone with his signet ring, compiling a list of very existential questions to ask the astronauts.
He meets privately with the three of them, who are all sick with colds. He’s disappointed at their lack of reflection and introspection about the philosophical questions he’s written. They’re more excited to ask him questions about what it’s like to live in a royal palace. After their fifteen-minute window has closed, he’s clearly deflated by the experience.
(This private audience didn’t quite happen this way. The Queen and the Duke met with the astronauts for 45 minutes, and afterward, they told the press that the Queen was very well-versed in the specifics of their mission. They didn’t mention Philip’s part of the conversation.)
The astronauts and their wives pose for pictures in the palace before leaving. The wardrobe department missed yet another good jewelry moment here: Janet Armstrong wore her Van Cleef and Arpels lunar brooch during the royal visit! Sigh.
Afterward, Liz ‘n Phil talk through his disappointment over the astronauts. He’d imagined them to be giants, but they were just normal young men. Whatever he was hoping to get from the meeting, it didn’t happen.
Afterward, Philip visits his mother’s room, and we realize that the funk he’s been experiencing over the course of the episode has a very specific cause: his mother, Princess Alice, has died.
(The episode’s timeline doesn’t work at all, unfortunately. Alice died in December 1969, several months after the moon landing, and several weeks after the astronauts’ palace visit.)
He goes back to St. George’s House for help, talking about his mother’s death and his crisis of faith. The talking seems to help. The timeline of the episode doesn’t fit at all with the real history of Philip’s life in the late ’60s, but at least Tobias Menzies does the best he can with the script he’s given.
Afterward, the Queen spots Philip walked with Robin Woods, and she’s clearly pleased with the connection they’ve made. And that’s where we leave things this episode.