And now ladies and gentlemen the second episode, that one saw first, not that it made any difference in one’s understanding of the series’ lukewarm plot…
S1E2: Hyde Park Corner
The King Is Dead
Having replaced her ailing Papa for the Commonwealth Tour, Princess Elizabeth lands in Nairobi, Kenya, and from what one thought was the very first scene the challenging duo she forms with the Duke of Edimburgh is neatly set: she’s already regal and dedicated to do her best as the Crown representative, and her husband is a racist pig. She prounonces her first, mercifully short allocution and then proceeds to do what the Royals do when they grace Africa with their blessed presence: hunt wild animals, in that instance the elephant.
An ominous yet meaningless parallel editing tries to exert tension from two hunting parties, one at Windsor Castle and the other in the savannah. Yes, George VI holds dear to his death wish, getting up early in the morning to smoke cigarettes and shoot his rifle in Princess Margaret’s company. What a bleak life, or lack thereof. Neither hunts prove satisfactory, the King aiming poorly when he coughs and the elephant doing all but charging the Queen to be (“Hold on to my jacket!”). Philip has to lower his rifle and, in a rather ill-advised symbolic scene, bow to superior power: “You are the King”, he tells Tombo. Who he came here to shoot. Anyway.
Then comes the weirdest scene of all: the Royal Sex Tape. One doubts that Buckingham Palace authorised this series after all. Here it goes: King George finds some five to midnight merriment singing by the fire while Margaret plays the piano, kisses his family good night and dies in his sleep, in oh so dignified a way. Princess Margaret looks and acts as if she desperatly wanted to go to the bathroom but can not since England is in mourning. Queen Mom is devastated and the freshly widowed Queen looks more or less like she did the day before, only more clueless. Meanwhile, in Kenya, unaware that destiny just made her Queen of England, Elizabeth films her naked husband lying in bed. Shocking, really.
News have nevertheless to be broken to the Queen; having no idea how to script the scene the writers wisely settle on a deeply charged exchange of looks. For some reason it becomes useful to clarify that Elizabeth is some kind of a McGyver with a string of pearls, having served as a mechanic during the war. The journey home begins, with the fate of a nation hanging on the fact that the maids didn’t pack a black dress; good job, considering the King had cancer and they were supposed to be away for six months. One guesses someone just lost her job.
Apart from Churchill and his wife’s (Harriet Walter) subdued banter (“Then ignore me, it’s probably nothing.”), the best scene of the episode takes place when the new Royals realise they gonna lose their secretary. For a minute they look like babes in the woods and seem vaguely human, then of course the Crown resumes precedence, Elisabeth swiftly hops into a black number and go pay her respects to Papa.
Apart from that, it’s like Downtown Abbey, only worsened without servants. Kenyan servants are allowed to hush the Princess because hippos are hungry, since their language is composed of only two words, “tombo” for elephant and “karibu” for anything else. Oh, and some “unbecoming tittle-tattles” are surfacing about Princess Margaret and Major Townsend. For the time being though, the King is dead, long live the Queen. And by Jove, she will, enough to watch this, which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on Her Majesty’s sense of humour.