The first three episodes of The Crown‘s second series focused on the most Royal of couples, Elizabeth and Philip. We saw their struggles and their triumphs in marriage. But Episode 4 slips away from that narrative in order to focus on another Royal, Princess Margaret. And as we see in this episode, she is finally beginning to find who she is.
‘Beryl’ opens with a wedding that both Margaret and her mother are attending, and we can’t help but notice Margaret looks more than a little pained. It’s understandable. She planned on marrying the man of her dreams when she was 25 years old, and here she is with no prospects. She feels alone. She discusses this all at the reception with a close friend of hers, Billy Wallace. He suggests that she marries him in what she suspects is a joking manner. But he’s quite serious. After all, shouldn’t marriage be founded on the basis of friendship? Her family knows and likes him, it makes perfect sense. Margaret finds herself awestruck at the whole thing, and later calls Elizabeth to ask her about it. She’s surprised, of course, but approving of the engagement, if it’s what Margaret desires. In fact, Philip and Elizabeth were planning on throwing a large 10th anniversary party, and it could prove to be the perfect occasion for the announcement.
While arrangements are being made, we get a peek into both Elizabeth and Margaret’s daily lives and see just how different they are. Elizabeth and Philip are meeting with the Prime Minister and his wife, discussing the satellite that the Russians just launched, and how it is an irrefutable show of power, for that same rocket used to launch the satellite has the potential to launch a nuclear weapon. The Prime Minister suggests that they ally with the Americans, not only to show strength, but to repair the bond that the illegal war with Egypt greatly damaged. Elizabeth attempts to respond, but the Prime Minister seems to like hearing the sound of his own voice, he talks so much that she can’t get a word in. And even when she can, he consistently interrupts her. He describes the relationship between Britain and America as something of a marriage, and he goes on to discuss at length what makes a marriage work. When he finally does stop talking, she just looks at him and says,
“They say that listening’s important, in any marriage.”
Philip looks back at his wife and smiles, trying to contain a chuckle as the Prime Minister instantly quiets down. The Prime Minister’s wife just looks away in a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. As we later find out, she doesn’t hold a very high opinion of her husband. In fact, she has a lover who she frequently visits, and that he in fact knows about! Not only that, but he drives her there! It seems there isn’t a single marriage on this show that isn’t complicated.
Meanwhile, Margaret is having her birthday portraits taken, something she dreads nowadays. They always dress her up in the same outfit, making her look like a fairy-tale Princess. She feels it doesn’t represent anything real. And while she looks beautiful, she doesn’t feel like herself. Just a Royal image, not an actual person. This sets up a pivotal moment at the end of the episode, but we’ll get to that later.
Just before the Anniversary dinner, Margaret’s informed that Billy won’t be able to attend due to injuries. When she rushes over, she sees his clothes stained in blood as he’s being attended to. It seems he had a duel with a man thanks to the female attention he’s been receiving since being engaged to Margaret. And as he goes on about his honor as a gentleman and his new reputation, she realizes the lack of respect she has for Billy. She could never spend the rest of her life with him. Margaret looks at him plainly and tells him that she never wanted this marriage. He is not a man that women want and he never will be. Disgust and disappoint is all he will ever evoke in a woman.
She arrives in time for the party, and Michael quietly lets Elizabeth know that the engagement will not be announced. Margaret has collected herself rather well, that is, until Philip’s speech, filled with unexpected truths and above all else, love.
“It’s a funny business. One sees the whole of the other person, you see even that part of them that they don’t see themselves, and presumably, they see that hidden part of you. One ends up knowing more about one’s partner than they know about themselves. And it can be pretty tough to keep quiet about it, so you have to come to an accommodation, an arrangement, a deal, if you like, to take the rough with the smooth. But the extraordinary thing is down there in the rough, in the long reeds of difficulty and pain, that is where you find the treasure.”
He goes on to propose a toast to his wife, his Queen, and wishes for many more marvelous years with her. The speech is honest and filled with adoration, and at the end, Margaret can’t hold back tears. As everyone stands, she excuses herself from the table, leaving abruptly but without causing a scene. She simply can’t handle being there. And when she gets home, the emotions all come bubbling to the surface. In the middle of the night, her Lady in Waiting, also named Elizabeth, coincidentally, awakes to the sound of music and banging coming from upstairs. When she peeks through Margaret’s door, she sees the Princess throwing things about, dancing to the music, and crying. Though this intense scene was triggered by a combination of the wedding, Billy, and Philip’s speech, the truth of the emotion goes much deeper. It isn’t just love she seeks, it’s herself. She doesn’t know who she is, and she feels hopelessly lost at court.
The next morning, after her mother shows her the photos taken of her for her birthday shoot and discusses potential suitors, Margaret calls her Lady in Waiting asking if part of her duties is to help her climb over the wall and escape. Hearing the Princess’ dismay, she invites her over for dinner. She’s hosting a variety of what she describes as ordinary, yet extraordinary people. But the important thing is that they won’t have any royal ties, and right now, that sounds like a dream.
When she arrives, she feels rather taken aback. No one bowed for her or made a point of keeping her entertained. In fact, she felt rather ignored for the majority of the night. And that felt both freeing and lonely at once. But while she’s attempting to light her cigarette after dinner, a handsome man, Tony, comes over and lights it for her, starting the conversation by telling her, not asking, that she feels a little left out. He points to guests around the room, telling her all the juicy gossip there is to know. As the night progresses, they get on better and better. She soon discovers that they actually met briefly once before, at the wedding featured at the beginning of the episode. He was the photographer and took a quick picture of her there. But weddings aren’t his specialty. He likes taking pictures of people more than anything else.
Much of his work is hung around the house, and each photo is more intimate than the next. And that’s how he describes the photos, intrusive and yet intimate. He isn’t interested in capturing the facade, everyone can already see that. He wants to capture the hidden, and that greatly intrigues Margaret. And so, on the condition that she do whatever he says while in the studio, he’ll take her picture. And as frightening as this prospect is, it’s equally exciting.
This is how she finds herself in his studio. But doing what he says isn’t as easy as it sounds. She has been taught, trained, even, to smile a certain way. Everything is posed, everything is sophisticated and lovely. That isn’t an easy mask to let go of, even though she wants to. It’s Tony who tells her that she hasn’t a clue who she is, but in hopes of discovering it, he asks her about her former flame, Peter. Pain starts to emerge in her features as she talks about him, how he was old-fashioned and kind, a truly decent man. As she speaks, Tony walks over to her and slips the sleeves of her dress down around her arms. With the right framing, she would look naked. He then returns to his camera, looks at her, and asks if she misses him. She turns her head slightly and looks straight at him. “Sometimes,” she says. The second after she says it, he takes the picture. And that’s that.
She joins him upstairs before heading down to his darkroom (his photography darkroom, I should say), and takes a look at his work. She finds many pictures of beautiful women, but that doesn’t sway her. She then takes a look at his mirror, which have hundreds of names scratched into it. He tells her that people scratch their nicknames with a diamond and asks her if she would like to try. But she doesn’t have a nickname, she wouldn’t know what to write. Tony suggests something that is unexpected, something that would throw people off the scent. Something like…Beryl. Margaret laughs but she can’t deny, no one would know it’s her.
After taking her to the darkroom, where some playful flirting occurs as he teaches her how to develop her photo (which, it’s worth noting, she adores), he decides to take her home himself. They hop on the back of his motorcycle and race through the city. When they finally reach her estate, he tells her to keep the helmet. They part ways smiling, surely anxious to meet again. It’s clear that Margaret has never felt so alive as she does in that moment. Because, for the first time, she’s actually seen herself. Her true self. And it won’t be long before the rest of the world sees her too.
The episode ends the next morning, with papers delivered early in the morning to all of our main characters. Margaret and Elizabeth’s mother, the Prime Minister, Tommy, Michael, and Philip and Elizabeth themselves all open the paper to see the picture of Margaret. Not the official ones taken for her birthday. The one taken by Tony, the one where she appears to be naked. The shock is clear, and though Elizabeth brushes it away for now, she will have to deal with this later as the Crown. It certainly can’t go unmentioned. As for Margaret? It seems she’s never been happier.
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