The Crown Recap: Episode 6 'Gelignite'

a high explosive made from a gel of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose in a base of wood pulp and sodium or potassium nitrate, used particularly for rock blasting.

So QEII is finally crowned and we now get to the juicy part of the series, the revelation of Princess Margaret’s relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend. A reporter at one of the tabloids is working on a story speculating on the relationship between the two. See, he saw the Princess pick a piece of fluff of the Captain’s uniform at the coronation. The editor is not sold, but the reporter insists that where there is smoke, there is fire. Actually he calls the article 'gelignite' since it seems that the name of the episode has to be referenced at least once. Picking the fluff off a man is a gesture even more intimate than a kiss because it suggests that the kissing has already happened. When the owner of the paper is appalled that the editor is planning on running the story but he doesn’t put the kibosh on the story. Tommy Lascelles (played by Pip Torrens who is so brilliant and evil as George Warleggan’s Uncle Cary in Poldark) is miffed that the owner didn’t tell his editor to kill the story. In real life, the American papers were actually the first ones to report on Princess Margaret’s relationship, which is what also happened in the 1930’s with King Edward VIII’s relationship with Wallis Simpson. The British papers were late to the game in both instances. Tommy informs the Queen Mother who wants to issue a denial but is talked out of the idea.

We finally get to see the Queen at the races in this episode. She attends the Epsom Derby with Prince Philip. It’s nice to see the show finally acknowledge one of the great passions of the Queen’s life, her horses. We get a lovely scene of Margaret watching the coverage on telly while canoodling with Peter Townsend. One wonders if the Queen Mum was so worried about the relationship, why she left Margaret and Peter alone together so often! They talk about the Queen's popularity. Margaret says that she doesn't care because she has Peter and they are going off to Rhodesia on tour. Yes, the tour is really the Queen Mum and Margaret, but these two seem to be able to find lots of time to sneak off together. 

In case you were wondering, Philip is still being an alpha hole in this episode.  He’s spending time with his equerry Mike Parker at a lunch club where they drink a lot, ogle the waitresses and talk about current affairs.  Yes, really, we are treated to a short lecture on what is going on in Egypt with Nasser (which will come up in later episode).  Philip points out to Elizabeth all the unrest going on around the world that she should be aware of. Earlier Princess Margaret rings up the Queen to invite her to dinner and we are treated to the logistics of the effort it took to connect Clarence House with Buckingham Palace. It is a nice reminder of what was life was like back in olden times. Claire Foy managed to give a simple word like ‘Oh,’ any number of meanings.  At dinner, Margaret and Peter announce that they would like to get married. Elizabeth is taken aback that the relationship has gone this far. Elizabeth informs Margaret that she needs to take advice but that as her sister, she would never try to prevent it. (In real life, everyone knew about Princess Margaret's relationship with Peter Townsend at this point).

While Elizabeth isn’t enthused about the marriage, Philip is downright hostile. He finds Peter to be boring and dreary. He thinks the best thing would be for Peter and Margaret to forget the whole idea and for Peter to reconcile with his wife. The Queen suggests that Princess Margaret get married in Scotland where they could get married in a church (Princess Anne remarried in Scotland) since it is not possible to marry in the Church of England if the divorced person still has a spouse living. Margaret is overjoyed.  The Queen is brought swiftly down to earth however by the Queen Mother and Tommy Lascelles.  Apparently the Queen was not aware of what the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 actually entailed.  This another ham-fisted way that show shares information with the audience. It is incredibly clunky but whatever! Tommy informs the Queen that Princess Margaret has the Queen’s permission to marry if she is under 25 and given that the Queen is the head of the Church of England, it would be unwise. However, if Margaret waits until she is 25, then she no longer needs the Crown’s permission. They suggest that it would be better for Peter and Margaret to wait out those two years in separate countries given the media frenzy. Margaret is not happy especially since Peter will not be able to accompany her and the Queen Mother on their tour of Rhodesia (I swear the first time I watched this episode, I had no idea what country she was talking about! Her upper class accent was so hard to understand). We finally get another intimate scene between the Queen and her sister, unfortunately it is one where she is bringing bad news. It is a lovely scene but it makes one wish that there had been more of them. Peter is just happy that he will be in Brussels where he can at least be close enough to see his sons.

The Queen promises Margaret that she and Peter will be able to have a few days together when she returns before he leaves to take up his new job as air attaché. She also asks Peter to accompany her and Prince Philip on a tour of Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately, the press is more interested in the Group Captain, then they are in the Queen. Peter also sticks his foot in his mouth when he sidles up to the Queen on the plane and calls her Lilibet, her childhood nickname, used only by close friends and her family. When Tommy comes to see her, Elizabeth tells him to make sure that Peter has to leave early for his new job, despite what she promised her sister. When Peter is told the news by Tommy and Martin Charteris, he tells them that they are making a mistake, the press are on their side. Tommy ‘the moustache’ Lascelles will not be threatened by a peasant like Townsend.

Here is where I have a problem with this episode.  All of a sudden, Peter Townsend seems to have turned into some sort of smarmy bounder who is drunk on his own press. It goes back to the episode where he refused to leave royal service, despite Tommy’s best efforts. It came across than as rather self-serving and that is not the impression that I have gotten over the years in the various biographies I have read about Princess Margaret and the royal family.  Did he overstep by falling in love with Princess Margaret? Maybe, he was older and married, but I also got the sense that he was surprised to find that Princess Margaret returned his feelings. What the show does well is illustrate just how immature Princess Margaret is compared to Peter Townsend who has a much more realistic view of life. This is also an episode that could have benefited from some flashbacks to Prince Philip’s courtship of Princess Elizabeth as a contrast to Margaret’s relationship with Peter. Instead we’re just told about it.

Margaret receives a telegram in Rhodesia telling her that Peter won’t be in London when she returns. She is furious and yells that she needs to speak with her sister immediately. There is a bit of comedy as switchboard tries to locate the Queen at one of her many residences. She’s finally located at Sandringham where she is examining one of her horses. Margaret unloads on her, telling her that since the Queen didn’t protect her, she won’t protect the Queen. “You reap what you sow.” The episode ends with a montage of various people reading the latest article on the royal romance. We start with Philip and Elizabeth, move on to Churchill and Clemmie and end with the Duke of Windsor and Wallis practically crowing over the article. 

What this episode did well is demonstrate that Elizabeth is beginning to learn that there is a clear distinction between the Queen in her private life, what she might want and do, and the public face of the monarchy and sometimes they don't coincide.  It is a painful lesson and one the Queen obviously never thought she would have to face, at least in Peter Morgan's version. We get a brief scene of party-loving Princess Margaret at Clarence House instead of in a night club where it might have been more appropriate.  I'm amazed that the Queen Mother didn't stomp in and try to shut it down. 


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