Season 1, Episode 3 – Windsor
“Windsor” begins the episode with a much-needed flashback that introduces the Queen’s estranged uncle, King Edward, in the middle of abdicating his throne to his younger brother. Apart from explaining the royal family’s history, it also serves to show that Elizabeth wasn’t born with the expectation of inheriting the Crown. This is important because, as Elizabeth herself says to her uncle late in the episode, her uncle’s abdication all those years ago affected others beyond the immediate circle. In a fantastic scene between the two characters, Elizabeth confronts his uncle and essentially demands an apology from him. This scene reveals that, despite knowing at an early age the inevitable responsibility that she will have to assume, Elizabeth has never had any ambitions to take the Crown. Her desires have remained simple throughout the years, wishing nothing more than to be married and to take care of her children.
As I noted in my review on the previous episode, taking the Crown is a transformation. Elizabeth, so far, is unconsciously rejecting the title not simply because the responsibility is too much, but because it isn’t really in her nature to want it. It also doesn’t help that she’s seen firsthand what the Crown did to her own father, who succumbed to his illness. Elizabeth’s mother actively blames Edward for being indirectly responsible for her husband’s death, and although it’s an unfair and irrational thought, it’s not completely without merit either.
Another important detail that Elizabeth experiences in the episode is just how little power the royal family actually has. I feel that this is something which will be the cause of many conflicts in future episodes, but we see it for the first time here. Elizabeth is unwittingly caught up in the political games of the Parliament, which constantly demands things from the royal family while rejecting their wishes at the same time. Apart from delaying her coronation so that the Prime Minister can more easily maintain control of his position, both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s desires for staying in Clarence House and keeping Philip’s last name are summarily rejected by the Cabinet. The government is essentially controlling their lives, but unlike a political opponent, the royal family can’t do too much to fight it. In fact they are powerless in this regard, which deepens the sting against Philip, who is forced to follow the rules that leave him with nothing. His career, his house, and his name are essentially taken away from him. “What kind of marriage is this?” he bluntly asks his wife near the end of the episode.
The one flaw I find in this is that, while it’s easy to believe Prince Philip’s disappointment, I can’t help but wonder as to what he was expecting when he married Elizabeth. I find it a little strange that he hasn’t considered what would actually happen being married to a future Queen, and it’s difficult to believe that all of this blindisded him as much as it does in the episode. It’s a narrative beat that falls apart under intense scrutiny, because being ignorant of the possibility that these things might happen when you marry the successor of a royal family feels like a stretch. I haven’t done the slightest bit of historical fact-checking so for all I know this might have been accurately portrayed, but regardless it stuck out a bit to me during the episode. Still, it’s an emotionally effective moment primarily because of the actors, and I hope that this will be explored more in the upcoming episodes.
Surprisingly, the series is admirably moving at a fast pace. Even before the funeral of King George VI was portrayed, the episode goes straight into the every day duties, responsibilities, and politics that Queen Elizabeth must now be a part of. “Windsor” is the most plot-heavy episode of the show so far, and I wasn’t expecting it to dive right in, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s an excellent creative depiction of the fact that our lead character doesn’t have the time to even properly grieve for her father. Like Queen Elizabeth, the show heads straight to the minute details of responsibilities that is now the lead character’s life.
The series has been masterfully subverting the audience’s expectations as to what it’s actually like to be a part of the royal family. The flashy and indulgent side of the monarchy is mere window dressing to the series. Instead, writer and creator Peter Morgan has done a terrific job in digging deep and finding areas in the story and the characters that allows audiences to empathize and understand them as real people living an extraordinary life. I can’t help but be entirely swept up by the world of the British monarchy in the 1950s, and this season is promising to be a consistently excellent dramatic achievement.