The Crown 5×04 “Annus Horribilis” doubles down on its attempt to make everyone sympathize with Elizabeth II. The infamous terrible year for Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) looks alarmingly different when portrayed fictitiously. It’s not surprising that the show is leaning into making Elizabeth II relatable, even though that’s not remotely possible. This episode does feature the re-introduction of a character we thought we’d seen the last of and some harsh truths that absolutely need to be spoken.
Re-visiting the tragedy that was Margaret (Lesley Manville) and Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton) is painful. It’s a story of lost love that tugs on the heartstrings. It’s all the more infuriating when one thinks about what could have been. Reuniting after all these years, it’s clear there is still so much love between these characters. Their story didn’t have to end this way. Their all-too-brief moments together are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
That all being said, it has to be said that the story comes across as more than a little reductive. A commentary throughout The Crown has been the fact that Margaret would basically have lived an entirely healthy and mostly carefree life had she married Townsend. A good right-person-wrong-time story can be devastatingly charming. However, it seems that there’s too much put into the fact that Margaret’s life would not only have been improved but would have been essentially perfect. It comes across as a bit more than a bit of a stretch.
The worst part of this storyline is that the character of Margaret just kind of…forgives her sister. It comes with no accountability for Elizabeth II. She’s not compelled to reflect on the damage she caused by forcing two people who clearly loved each other apart. Margaret makes a very valid point, the Anne (Claudia Harrison) is allowed to divorce and remarry. It makes no sense that the character (and arguably the real HRH) was prohibited from the same.
The Crown 5×04 “Annus Horribilis really hammers home that viewers should sympathize with Elizabeth II after the terrible year that was 1992. First of all, rude to insult this writer’s birth year. But let’s consider what actually happened this year that was so difficult to navigate. Three of her children got divorced after suffering in clearly unhealthy marriages. Her massive castle burned down. That’s frankly about it when everything’s boiled down. It would have been incredibly effective to intersperse these frankly rich people’s problems with the problems of ordinary Britons.
Charles’ comment about child services being called on this family is incredibly apropos. What other family could get away with half of this nonsense? This also illustrates a larger point that The Crown 5×04 “Annus Horribilis” is trying to make. This is a family that continues to make the same mistakes in every generation while learning nothing. It is also a perfect segue to the focus on Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla (Olivia Williams) and their respective character development. These characters are likable enough together, but the show stops short of showing them as long-suffering lovers, playing a long game.
Windsor Castle burning is also a metaphor. Unfortunately, the focus is on how it made an old white lady sad. Again, this was another opportunity to contrast these “struggles” with actual those of British society at large. The 1990s are ripe with stories of families having to pick up the pieces from the destruction that was Thatcherism. There were plenty of stories that could have been highlighted in contrast to an old building burning down and making an old couple sad.
The Crown has never shied away from showing the worst of the Windsor clan, and then immediately trying to make the characters relatable. This episode represents several missed opportunities. We could have gotten to know Charles and Camilla in an actual relatable way. We also could have taken a step back, and meditated on how flawed the Windsors are as a family. The Crown is just doing what it has always done, and like the Windsors, sees no reason to change.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.