With the threat of the atom bomb on the rise and Cold War tensions brewing, Elizabeth realises that… she doesn’t really know much trigonometry, actually, and if she wants to engage in political situations, it might help for her to have at least the education level of the average twelve-year-old child.
Accordingly, then, she hires a tutor (although apparently doesn’t complete any lessons with her). It’s another episode that makes a few vague references to duty and difficulty, but is predominantly just padded scenes and lengthy filler sections.
It calls to mind ‘Act of God’, actually; The Crown’s previous attempt at politicking. One can help but feel that the attempt at a 1950s West Wing would have been better served in this episode; there’s a genuinely fascinating geopolitical situation in the background here, one which would most likely have been a more interesting context to see Elizabeth operate in.
Yes, it’s clear enough what the episode is trying to say – despite the lack of formal education and a clear lack of confidence, Elizabeth does in fact have the ability to stand her ground and hold her own with these elder statesmen. But is that quite the right message to send? After all, it is essentially validating the education she received – a final note to turn around and say “well, actually”, dismissing Elizabeth’s well-founded grievances about her lack of schooling.
In many ways, it’s actually quite bleak; ever since her youth, Elizabeth has been groomed for one specific role in mind, limited and curtailed and most of all controlled. It’s perhaps not that different from breeding animals, depending on the comparisons you want to make. For a while it’s criticised, but then finally excused. It’s okay because it works. It doesn’t matter what happened to her, because the eventual aim is achieved.
There’s something uncomfortable about that. Moreso, though, there’s something uncomfortable about the fact that The Crown isn’t more willing to confront it head on. It feels, at times, the series is caught between a desire to show the difficulties and struggles of the monarchy, and how the pressures of a life of public service can in some ways make a life hollow.
And yet it’s hobbled by a refusal to ever entertain any in depth critiques of royalty, to really engage with the substance of the issues it tries to raise. Certainly, Elizabeth’s sheltered childhood is easier to sympathise with than the fact Philip wasn’t allowed to fly in ‘Act of God’ – so why is it that one is presented as a far greater difficulty than the other?
Perhaps ironically, The Crown starts to lack that which Elizabeth is told to eschew – an individualistic voice of its own.
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