The third episode of Netflix’s latest season of The Crown proved to be quite the opposite of the second. While Episode 2 brought a troubling beginning and a hopeful end, Episode 3 is upbeat in its first few scenes, but quickly descends into worrisome chaos shortly after. And the reason can be explained in one, short word: infidelity.
Divorce is the topic of discussion in this episode. Episode 2 left off with Eileen Parker wanting to divorce her husband, Mike, who happens to be Philip’s private secretary. Thanks to Lily, one of the waitresses at the Gentleman’s Club, Eileen has gotten hold of one of Mike’s letters where he brags about various conquests and exploits. It is more than enough evidence to sue her husband for divorce on the grounds of infidelity. And while it’s excellent to see Eileen getting herself and her children out of that terrible relationship, her decision affects not just her family, but the entire nation.
Michael, the Queen’s private secretary, understands the threat to the Crown as a result of this divorce, and as such, he calls in the most well-versed person he knows. Tommy, the Queen’s former private secretary and a man who served four monarchs will know better than anyone else how to handle a situation such as this. Tommy “runs into” Eileen in the park one afternoon, making polite small talk that inevitably leads back to her husband. She offers the news of the divorce freely, and it’s at that moment when he asks her to keep it quiet, perhaps even postpone it until a time when the nation is more secure. But Eileen refuses. She has done enough in service of the Royals, she needs to start focusing on herself and her children.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, still unaware of the Parker’s divorce, receives footage from Philip, accompanied with loving notes. And so, the family gathers together, watching as Elizabeth reads her husband’s letter aloud. He writes of his exciting adventures in Antarctica, meeting penguins, huskies, and a whole matter of creatures. They watch him play tennis and explore the wintry lands. They’re all surprised to see Philip with a beard, and while Margaret thinks it makes him look shifty, Elizabeth thinks it makes him look like an explorer (I’m with Elizabeth). She can barely tear her eyes away from the footage long enough to read Philip’s letter, and the love and yearning for him is clear in her eyes.
The footage brought a smile to her face, so she decides to return the favor with a letter to her husband, telling him how much they all enjoyed it, and what a pleasure it was to see his face again.
“You looked very handsome, I thought, in your whaling outfit, and hirsute, too. And I can never forget what my grandmother said to me about being married to a man with a beard.”
Philip, of course, is reading the letter to everyone on board, and they’re all laughing and cheering as he reads. But, gentleman that he is, he stops when he reaches this part. But Mike grabs it out of his hand and laughs louder than anyone, telling the rest of the men that it’s safe to say a very warm welcome awaits Philip when he returns.
These early scenes are fun and flirty, completely lighthearted. But that atmosphere doesn’t last long. The Prime Minister has returned from Jamaica, and his welcome has been anything but warm. The people are furious at him for not only starting a war, but for abandoning his country immediately after. And it seems that the rest of the government feels the same way. Anthony is no longer himself. His outbursts are unprofessional and make him appear more than a little unhinged. The stress of the job has simply been too great, and it’s time for him to throw in the towel. With no members of government on his side, he has no choice but to resign. And though the Queen is disappointed in how everything happened, she’s also sympathetic. The best course of action, regarding Egypt, would have been to do nothing at all. But as she knows, that’s often the hardest thing to do.
Though easing a new man into the seemingly cursed role of Prime Minister may be difficult, the people hated Eden for what he did, and they were only a few weeks away from full blown riots in the streets. There needed to be a change. A man named Macmillan has been chosen by the rest of the government as the one most fit for the job. When he meets with the Queen, she offers her congratulations along with her sympathies. This position is not an easy one. He tries to claim innocence in the matters regarding his predecessor, but the Queen is well informed. She knows that he was a supporter of the war, in the beginning. And he must admit his own part in the events that unfolded, as they all should.
In that moment, she isn’t only speaking to him, but to herself. She can’t help but think of her husband, so far away. And it was only earlier that day that Michael informed her of the situation with the Parkers. As Tommy was unable to dissuade Eileen, they need to prepare the Queen for what the headlines might say. They might claim that Philip is also guilty of adultery, and that the Royal marriage is falling to pieces.
Elizabeth stays quite calm while hearing this news, brushing it off as an inconvenience and not an actual worry, but as soon as she’s alone, tears start to form in her eyes. If she knew the rumors were only that, she could get through this rather easily. But knowing there might be some truth to it makes it all the more difficult. And so, in one final effort, she visits Eileen herself and asks if she can at least avoid going public with the divorce. But Eileen refuses and shows her the letter, claiming that Philip is guilty of the exact same things as Mike. This is particularly cruel because even if it is true, there’s nothing Elizabeth can do. Divorce will never be an option for them because of who they are. This may be one of those rare instances that ignorance actually is bliss. But ignorance is no longer an option.
Eileen has made the divorce public, and a letter has been sent to Mike containing the details. He is also informed of the headlines that not only revolve around him, but the Duke as well. In fact, many of the headlines feature wording like, “Duke’s best friend and wife have parted”. This story has nothing to do with Eileen and Mike, and everything to do with the Royal marriage. And as such, Philip only has one option. He demands Mike’s resignation, immediately. It’s clear that this a painful moment for the both of them. Mike wasn’t only Philip’s private secretary, he was one of his best friends. But the Crown must always come first, and a scandal such as this…well, there’s simply no room for it. No room for error, and as Philip says, no humanity. And unfortunately, he isn’t wrong. It’s the most difficult thing about his marriage to Elizabeth. She isn’t only his wife, the woman he married, she is also the Crown. And the Crown must put her nation before anything or anyone else.
Back in London, Tommy and Michael are informing Elizabeth about the stories various newspapers are telling. Apparently British outlets seem to be on their side, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the world. One even claims that the Duke has been spotted on multiple occasions meeting an unnamed woman in the apartment of a society photographer. The entire world has turned their eyes to England, waiting to see how they respond. The next few steps they take must be the right ones. So, they send word to the Captain of Britannia with specific instructions for Philip to follow. He’s definitely put off by this, that he isn’t only receiving instructions, but that the Queen did not write to him directly.
He will arrive completely clean-shaven, wearing a stunning suit, hat, and a tie with little hearts on it. The hat he shall take off before he reaches the steps of the plane. Everything will be executed perfectly, with an air of sophistication and respect. But though he plays his part, it isn’t enough. The rumors have continued and Elizabeth is not happy to see her husband. Of course, she missed him. But she’s pained by these accusations, and the potential truths behind them.
This leads us to the very first scene we saw this season, with both Elizabeth and Philip sitting in a darkened room and discussing the future of their marriage. Elizabeth asks him what it will take to make it work, what will make it easier on him. The answer is simple: respect. Everyone treats him as a foreigner and he feels scoffed at by many of the members of government and of the palace.
“I will earn their respect with the only thing those creatures understand. A gesture, a statement, something irrefutable that shuts them up and commands their respect. Right now, I am currently outranked by my 8 year old son!”
Elizabeth points out that their son is the heir to the throne, but Philip just shakes his head. He is his father, after all, and it isn’t an easy thing to have less power than your own child. Elizabeth is willing to do whatever it takes to make this work, to make things easier for Philip, so she grants his request. A public ceremony is held where he is crowned, dictating that he will, from this day forward, be referred to as his Royal Highness. He’s glad that Elizabeth did this, that she’s willing to work with him, but when he looks out into the crowd, he sees few smiling faces. Those disapproving scowls are still there, all the ceremony has changed is his title.
The episode ends with Philip meeting Mike one last time before he departs for his home, Australia. Philip wishes he could go with him, things in London are always complicated, especially at home. And, as it turns out, Elizabeth wants more children. Mike actually understands where she’s coming from, even sympathizes with her. Charles will never just be her child, he is her successor. A constant reminder of her end. It would be nice to have children that are just children.
When they part ways, one question still lingers in the air: is Philip guilty of infidelity? Certain things suggest so: the way Mike and Philip sometimes talk, the picture he has of the ballerina. But there are other times when he seems to be an incredibly loyal husband. Which is it? No doubt Episode 4 will cast light on these confusing shadows. Stay tuned for more details.
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