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While we are often reminded that the central conflict of the first season of The Crown is between Elizabeth the woman and Elizabeth the Queen, the eighth episode focuses on another pair of women in opposition: Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret.
That opposition begins with the teaser, wherein the Queen Mother tells her daughters that she can’t bear to give a speech at the unveiling of her late husband’s statue. Margaret, still resenting her sister for having sent Peter Townsend away without saying goodbye, argues that she, as her father’s favorite, deserves to deliver the address; Elizabeth dismisses her sister’s insult, however, with the reminder that she is the head of the family, and says she will speak at the ceremony. When she goes low, you go high, Your Majesty.
After that sad scene, Winston Churchill watches another, in the form of newsreel footage of anti-British riots in Gibraltar. The Queen and her husband are about to embark on a tour of the empire, and many of their advisers think that Elizabeth isn’t ready for a diplomatic endeavor of such scale, in such a fraught political environment. But Churchill’s not having it: “What is it you would have the Queen do? Stay at home in the wake of minor incidents prosecuted by insurgent rabble?” he says, as only he can. “What kind of a signal would that send?”
So it’s decided: The Queen is going abroad, and she’ll need a whole new wardrobe to do it in. Cut to Elizabeth, checking out the 100 dresses, 36 hats, and 50 pairs of shoes she’ll take on her travels — and that’s not to mention the sprigs of wildflowers, indigenous to each country she’ll visit, with which she will accessorize. Even modest Elizabeth can’t argue with an actual government directive to look her best. Who is she to say no to that?
Philip is decidedly less pleased with his wardrobe, which he makes clear at his “costume fitting,” where he complains about being recruited to give a shiny, smiling face to a dying empire. “Nobody wants to face it or deal with it, so they send us out on the Commonwealth roadshow,” he says bitterly. “If the costumes are grand enough, if the tiaras sparkle enough, if the titles are preposterous enough, the mythology incomprehensible enough, then we’ll still be fine.”
These back-to-back scenes, with their twin fixations of style and empire, make the heart flutter as they raise the hopeful question: Did Peter Morgan write this to be The Fashion Episode we’ve all been desperately waiting for, to make it the spoonful of sugar to help us swallow The Colonialism Episode we all suspect needs to happen eventually?
Alas, there are a few lovely dresses and a lot of international travel, but no; the greater drama of “Pride & Joy” is more local, and less outwardly visible. The stage is set for some sisterly competition of royal proportions when the Queen Mother tells Tommy (Tommy’s back!) that she would rather not be Elizabeth’s deputy while the Queen travels, and would prefer for Margaret to fill the role instead.
NEXT: The Queen’s on candid camera