Time for yet another recap of The Crown, Netflix’s royal soap. Here’s the lowdown on the (disappointing) jewelry and the (mixed-up, as always) history of episode eight, “Dangling Man.” (Missed any of our earlier recaps? Catch up here!)
We open with text helpfully telling us that it’s 1970 and we’re in Paris. The Duke of Windsor, now being played by Sir Derek Jacobi, isn’t feeling well at all. Turns out it’s throat cancer, and there’s not much they can do about it. I’m not at all sure why The Crown decided to start with that date stamp, as the Duke was diagnosed with cancer in late 1971. It was the last and most serious in a series of major health crises for the former king, who had undergone several operations in the 1960s, including one at an ophthalmology clinic in London in 1965.
After his diagnosis, David discusses the matter with Wallis, who is now being played by Geraldine Chaplin. (Quite a casting coup, getting these two for the roles — Chaplin in particular is very good in the part.) She wants to throw a party so they can focus on happy times while they still can. David insists that he needs to focus now on rehabbing his reputation while he has the chance.
They go with his plan. First up: a visit from Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako of Japan. This meeting really did take place in October 1971, while the Japanese imperial couple were in Paris for a quick private visit during a foreign tour. The emperor and the foreign king had once played golf together in Tokyo when both were heirs to their respective thrones.
Production did a decent job of replicating the outfits worn by both the empress and the duchess for the half-hour meeting. Both couples leave feeling glad they’re not in the others’ shoes, though David does say, of course, that it wouldn’t be bad at all to be the ruler of an island nation. (Mm-hm.) The show doesn’t mention it, but the visit with the Windsors was just a British royal appetizer for the Emperor and Empress, who headed to London for a grand state visit immediately afterward.
In the world of this show, though, the Queen’s apparently too busy reading about the Windsors’ meeting with the imperial couple to put on a state visit herself. Wearing a microscopic invented gold brooch, she talks to the Queen Mother about the situation.
The Queen Mum, perhaps the character best suited to have an interesting storyline in this episode, mostly just makes this face. SIGH.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles is super curious about the other man who recently inhabited the title of Prince of Wales, and he heads over to Paris to meet with him. Charles, encouraged by Mountbatten, really was pushing at this point in history for more connections between the Windsors and the Windsors. The Duke and Duchess had come to London for brief visits in the 1960s, both medical and ceremonial. According to Jonathan Dimbleby, Charles wanted the Queen to invite David and Wallis for a weekend visit in 1970, but that didn’t happen. Dimbleby suggests that the Queen Mum wasn’t particularly receptive to the plan, though other palace sources have disputed that.
Charles really did meet with the Duke and Duchess in October 1970 — a full year before the cancer diagnosis and the Japanese meeting — stopping by for a brief, last-minute meeting while on a hunting holiday in France with Christopher Soames (who was British ambassador to France at the time — and, of course, a son-in-law of Churchill).
Meanwhile, back in England, we’re introduced to a couple who will become very important to the storyline going forward: Andrew Parker Bowles and his on-off girlfriend, Camilla Shand.
Camilla, played by Emerald Fennell, isn’t pleased with Andrew’s recent philandering, and she refuses to go with him to a military ball being held that evening.
At the ball, Andrew (played by Andrew Buchan) encounters another interesting woman…
…Princess Anne, who’s apparently had a crush on him for a while and is very receptive to his flirtations. She’s wearing a suite of invented diamond jewelry and a little bejeweled feather in her hair.
Their flirtation turns into a fling. (Anne and Andrew really did date in the early ’70s. In his biographer of Charles and Camilla, Gyles Brandreth says that their relationship began in 1970, when Anne was 19 and Andrew was 30, and that their flirtation turned into “a full-blown affair during the week of Royal Ascot.”)
Andrew soon meets with another member of the royal family, Prince Charles, on the field at Guards Polo Club in Windsor.
The Queen Mother and Lord Mountbatten cheer for Charles on the sidelines…
…as, unexpectedly, does Camilla Shand. The Brandreth biography notes that many have speculated that Camilla set her cap at Charles as a way to get revenge on Andrew for his affair with Anne. He notes that according “to Charles and Camilla, that simply is not true,” but concedes that it’s “most certainly how the story will be told when the movie comes to be made.” Turns out he was right about that! The Crown never comes out and says it directly in this episode, but it hints mightily at Camilla’s motives.
Charles has lunch with Mountbatten after the match. They talk about the Duke of Windsor, who thinks Charles should find a wife. He tells Mountbatten that he’s found a girl he likes — Camilla. Mountbatten advises him that he’s too young for serious relationships, and that he should be “sowing his wild oats.” (The real Mountbatten gave the real Charles that advice in a letter in 1974.)
But Charles is already smitten. In a nod to the way they’d eventually conduct their famous affair, Charles and Camilla chat flirtatiously on the telephone.
He invites her to the palace for dinner, and he also gets in a handy historical time stamp by asking if she’s voted in the general election. (She has.) That means that it’s (at least theoretically) Thursday, June 18, 1970.
The next morning, the Queen wears pearls without a brooch (sigh) for an audience with the winner of said general election.
The new prime minister is Edward Heath (played by Michael Maloney, who coincidentally played Sir Robert Peel in The Young Victoria). Heath’s Conservatives have pulled off a surprise and defeated Harold Wilson’s Labour Party.
Later, in pearls and an invented pearly brooch, the Queen is doing a puzzle when Martin Charteris (who has replaced the retired Michael Adeane) stops by to talk about Heath. They discuss Heath’s desire that she should go to France — he’s passionate about connections with Europe.
Charteris thinks that the Paris visit should include a stop to see the ailing Duke of Windsor.
Philip balks at the idea. (I think it’s odd that they assign Philip the role of the “absolutely not” when it comes to the Windsors in this episode. Shouldn’t that perhaps have gone to the Queen Mother?)
The Queen, in her fake pearly brooch, is torn.
Later that evening, Charles has Camilla over for dinner at the palace apartment he shares with Princess Anne.
Camilla wears her very best strand of royal pearls for the romantic meal, and she’s sympathetic when Charles talks to her about his place (or lack thereof) in the family.
He’s very serious and philosophical, comparing his endless waiting game to the plight of the central character in Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man (hence the title of the episode).
But then, Charles pranks her with an exploding envelope. The seriousness was all a gag — and Camilla thinks it’s hilarious. The series is being deliberately cagey about Camilla’s characterization here, but if this is a genuine reaction — and it seems it — it’s a sign that the show’s ready to embrace the (apparently true) idea that Charles and Camilla have compatibly weird senses of humor.
After their laughter dies down, an aide comes in to remind Charles that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s BBC interview will be starting soon. The Windsors really did do a famous televised interview with the BBC; it was filmed in Paris in October 1969 and aired in Britain on the night of January 13, 1970. Much of the dialogue in the Crown version of the interview is taken straight from the real thing.
The Crown loves showing the royals watching themselves on television, so naturally we see Charles and Camilla watching…
…and Mountbatten watching, one of his trusty dogs by his side…
…and the Queen Mum watching, with a bowl of ice cream, because the writers have to keep that one-note characterization consistent, blech…
…and finally the Queen and Philip watching, too. He can’t stand to watch the whole interview, so he leaves her to watch the end alone.
The costuming is pretty spot-on, especially where the Duchess is concerned, though in the real interview, they were sort of both dwarfed by the chairs they were sitting in. (You can see an abridged version of the hour-long interview on YouTube.)
Later, Princess Anne drops in to see Charles, who is busily writing Uncle David a letter. She asks about Camilla, and suggests that her affair with Andrew isn’t anything serious. She warns him that they need to be careful to make sure that Camilla and Andrew don’t use them as part of their romantic games.
In Paris, the Duke of Windsor’s health begins failing fast.
The Duchess, in typical oversized jewelry, is terrified when he’s overcome while playing cards with friends.
We get several silent appearances in the episode from one pivotal member of the Duke and Duchess’s household: his valet, Sidney Johnson, who began working for the couple during their stint in the Bahamas in the 1940s. After the deaths of the Windsors, Johnson helped Mohamed Al-Fayed with his restoration of the Windsors’ villa, which is now owned by the city of Paris. Johnson is played by Connie M’Gadzah.
Wearing yet another production-invented brooch, the Queen flies out for a state visit to Paris. That means that it’s May 15, 1972. In reality, the Queen was joined by Prince Philip for the five-day visit. Elizabeth and Philip stayed at the recently-renovated Grand Trianon at Versailles during their trip. In reality, she wore a very different outfit for her arrival in Paris, along with the Cambridge Pearl Pendant Brooch.
She wore a different outfit with some similarities (though it was turquoise) to lay a wreath at the Arc de Triomphe, which doesn’t look anything like this. She wore her modern gold, diamond, and ruby brooch for that part of the visit. (Here’s some newsreel footage of her arrival and the wreath-laying.)
The Queen makes a speech wearing this hat and a little invented gold brooch, and afterward, Charteris tells her that she needs to go see the Duke, who isn’t doing well.
Not doing well is an understatement. The Duke has to be hoisted out of his sick bed to get dressed and get in a wheelchair for the last-minute visit. He’s not well enough to greet her — that’s left to Wallis, who curtseys deeply.
This visit really did take place, on May 18, 1972, but the show is taking significant fictional liberties. Wallis was indeed photographed curtseying to the Queen during this visit, but the Queen wasn’t alone. She was accompanied by both Philip and Charles. In May 1972, Charles was serving on a destroyer off the South of France, and he was able to meet his parents for part of the official trip. The visit was planned from the start, not a last-minute decision; the date was set weeks in advance and reported in the press before the Queen even left for France. The royal party stopped at the Windsors’ villa on their way back from a visit to the races at Longchamps. As always, the show likes to make it seem that the Windsors are struggling deeply with decisions and then making them at the last second; that may be good for drama, but it’s not generally how things go in the royal world.
The clothing and jewelry also don’t match the clothes that the real women wore during the visit. The Queen wore the Dorset Bow Brooch for the meeting, while Wallis wore a dark dress with a big brooch, hoop earrings, and a coordinating bracelet. (Here’s an image from the real visit, though you’ll note that the date on the photograph is incorrect.)
In the world of The Crown, the Queen walks into the villa alone and immediately encounters a very strange sight: one of the famous red despatch boxes, which the monarch uses for state papers. This one is labeled with “The King,” but it’s also decorated with the familiar heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales, featuring a trio of feathers and a coronet, as well as the motto “Ich Dien” (I serve). The badge is rendered in heavy gold, like a paperweight, and is situated beside a golden letter opener also featuring the badge. King? Prince of Wales? Neither? Both? Eh.
Upstairs, Uncle David struggles to his feet as he greets his niece and monarch.
The two have a conversation in which she admits that he’s still her favorite uncle, reminds him of his “Shirley Temple” nickname for her, and he says that he underestimated her. He thinks the crown found the right person in the end, and he asks her to forgive him for everything he did.
One note on the framing of this shot: The Crown, being the soap opera that it is, has always used mirrors and reflection to symbolize, well, actual self-reflective moments, especially where the Duke of Windsor is concerned. I’m very interested in the way that Elizabeth and David are rendered here where the mirror is concerned.
David tells her all about his correspondence with Prince Charles and gives her Charles’s letters, telling her to read up. (Would have been tough to do this in reality with Charles literally in the building!) As the Duke falls asleep mid-conversation, the Queen’s mirrored reflection comes sharply into focus.
She was in the middle of admitting that she’s sometimes grateful that he abdicated, but he’s not able to hear it.
On the plane home, she reads Charles’s letters to the Duke, and we’re treated to some flashbacks of that earlier 1970 visit to Paris. Charles tells Uncle David that it’s a shame that he was forced to abdicate to be with the woman he loved. (Apparently Charles missed episode six of last season!)
In London, Charles writes away while the woman he loves lounges in the tub nearby.
And in Paris, Uncle David dies. The time that elapsed between the Queen’s final visit to her uncle and his death really was very short. The duke died on May 28, 1972, ten days after the Queen saw him for the last time. We’ll pick back up with his funeral in Windsor at the beginning of our next recap.