‘Hyde Park Corner’ begins with Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Philip (Matt Smith) on a tour of Africa, spending the duration of the episode in Nairobi.
It’s a look at the decadence and dark side of royalty, with the first confrontation with the colonialism and imperial tendencies that the crown still represented at this point; Elizabeth casually refers to the people of Nairobi as savages, while Philip demonstrates some of the tactless behaviour he’s become known for in recent years.
It’s interesting to see the show tackle these themes, albeit not in much depth – it’s difficult to read exactly whether the show is romanticising or rejecting this behaviour. Perhaps more accurately, it’s simply saying that it happened – and there’s a certain power in that, to just represent the flaws of our characters, and not shying away from the things that can make them dislikeable.
At the same time, though, the crown remains a prism through which to analyse the show’s most enduring theme – the idea of duty, and the responsibilities they bare. The tour of Africa is particularly notable in that it’s an opportunity to see Elizabeth and Philip away from the strictures of their duties, and allowing them to slip into the roles they want to occupy, rather than the ones they’re forced to play.
Philip is allowed to be the protective husband, and Elizabeth the loving wife – seeing them outside of the strictures of Westminster allows us a far more nuanced look at the characters. It applies elsewhere too, of course – there’s one particularly poignant moment what appears to be a private display of affection between King George and Princess Margaret is revealed to be a public performance. It’s a microcosm of the rest of the series, and the difficulties that these characters face in their lives.
There’s further development, too, of Churchill’s plot, as he’s faced by the machinations of the younger Anthony Eden. It’s the weaker strand of the episode, undoubtedly; there’s less of a personal investment, and the series hasn’t done the groundwork to be a true political drama. As it stands, it’s fairly simplistic, and certainly not as nuanced as the royal drama it accompanies.
It’s fairly obvious, though, that this is a plot strand we’ll be revisiting regularly – Churchill is clearly a dinosaur (note his continued fixation on contacting the foreign office and international affairs), and his inevitable confrontation with the young, modern monarch will no doubt prove contentious.
In general, this is a strong episode of The Crown, further developing and adding nuance to this multifaceted premise – let down only by the rather more two dimensional, disappointingly poor CGI animals we saw in Kenya.
All 10 episodes are available to watch on Netflix now.
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