This article contains spoilers for season 4 of “The Crown”.
LONDON – Imagine you are invited to dinner in black ties with the Queen of England and the extended royal family at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and it is extremely important to make a good impression. You have to meet for a drink at 6 p.m. Do you arrive when the clock strikes in elegant evening attire, or do you wander everywhere, in an unbuttoned shirt, a woolen sweater and muddy shoes?
If you answered with the first, then you have already failed the test and the royal family is horrified. The queen can smile kindly and brightly insist on dinner (always at 20.15) can move forward by more than an hour, but the damage has been done. At least you won’t be left alone: this is Margaret Thatcher’s experience in a painful scene during the new season of The Crown.
In the fourth season of the lavish Netflix show for the royal family, two significant new characters – Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Diana Spencer (Emma Corinne) – create a very different relationship with Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Coleman) as a result of the extent to which understand the bizarre, imaginary subtleties of British upper-class etiquette and royal protocol.
Thatcher first appeared in The Crown through the lens of the British class system. As the Queen watches the news of her election, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) describes Thatcher in a mocking tone as “the shopkeeper’s daughter,” to which Elizabeth replies, ” Alderman daughter of a shopkeeper who worked hard and won a scholarship to Oxford. “The distinction – in the UK – is important.
Thatcher’s father, Alfred Roberts, was a self-made and prosperous owner of two stores. He was an alderman (a missing local government position reserved for certain men who also like to dress in bathrobes) and the mayor of the town of Grantham in the north of England, where the Thatcher family lived in an apartment above his shop.
Although Thatcher would later point out how much she missed her as a child – including hot running water and an indoor toilet – her deprived home life was the result of her father’s financial meanness, not poverty. As Hugo Young puts it in his book One of Us, young Thatcher “belonged to the rising petty bourgeoisie, not to the troubled working class.” In the mid-1930s, there was a time when 75 per cent of British families were officially identified as working class, but Thatcher’s family belonged to the 20 per cent that could be considered middle class.
This is compounded by the fact that Thatcher took eloquence lessons to eliminate her regional focus, studied at Oxford University with Britain’s privileged elite, and rose to the ranks when she married the wealthy, upper middle class. Dennis Thatcher. In November 1970, when Thatcher was secretary of education, the Sun asked reluctantly, “How did Grantham’s grocer’s daughter become a Tory lady with a taste for big hats, a luxurious home, a wealthy husband, and children in public school?”
“I think the Queen was very puzzled by Margaret Thatcher because she skipped class,” said Dean Palmer, author of The Queen and Mrs. Thatcher: Awkward Relationship, in a telephone interview. The leap into the upper class is extremely difficult for Britain, as in general the main way to obtain titles, land and “good breeding” – the traditional cornerstones of the aristocracy – is to join them. Only money rarely cuts it. (Before Prince William married Kate Middleton, sources close to the royal family were quoted in newspapers lamenting her wealthy – but not aristocratic – mother, whose omissions included social climbing, chewing gum in society and an earlier career as a flight attendant. .)
By the time she became prime minister in 1979, Thatcher looked and sounded elegant, but had very little to do with royalty. Still, a rule-fighter and an ardent monarchist, Thatcher arrived early for her meetings with the queen and gave incredibly low, reverent obeisances. She admitted in her autobiography, The Years of Downing Street, published in 1993, “I was anxious to understand the procedure and protocol in detail.
But biographers have noticed that Thatcher’s anxious disposition, pretentious accent, and spectacular manner simply irritate the queen. Before Thatcher became prime minister, she was invited to Buckingham Palace as leader of the Conservative Party. “At least twice,” said Palmer, “she was dizzy and fainted, and the queen had to say, ‘Someone catch this woman — again!’ “
In the second episode, “The Balmoral Test,” the relationship between the Queen and Thatcher deteriorates during trips to the Queen’s private residence in Scotland. Once dubbed the “suburban favorite” of The Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Thatcher showed no interest in country shooting and fishing and did not wear the right tweed, sweaters, and boots. A workaholic with little time to rest, she shocked the royal family by working instead.
“If you’re not interested in shooting or horses or dogs, what do you do?” Palmer said. “This world of Balmoral’s is a very strange, backward world that doesn’t exist outside of Downton Abbey these days.” In the show, Thatcher leaves the visit early, enraged by the lifestyle of a family she increasingly sees as empty rich man.
If Thatcher failed the Balmoral test, the Crown shows Diana going through colors. We first hear about the Spencer family when the Queen is told that Charles is dating Sarah Spencer, Diana’s older sister. “Johnny’s girl?” she answers. “Oh, I rather like this idea!”
“Johnny” is John Spencer, the eighth Earl of Spencer: a nobleman educated in Eaton, and a member of the House of Lords who served as a groom (a kind of escort) to both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. The relationship with the royals is old: Diana’s maternal grandmother was a friend of Elizabeth’s mother, and Diana was named after a great-grandfather destined to be another Princess of Wales. The two families literally could not be closer: Diana was raised on the estate of one of the Queen’s private residences: Sandringham in Norfolk. The queen was essentially the owner of the family until they inherited their own palace estate when Diana was 14 years old.
As the author of the hooks notes, Diana “was of a high class, was eclipsed, and hers became a story of wealth.” Writer Hillary Mantel notes in a recent collection of essays, Mantel Pieces, that Spencer was somehow more embedded in the British aristocracy than royalty: “Although she was not born royal, her ancestors were ancient intermediaries of power, digging deeper in these islands than the Windsors, ”she wrote.
By the time Charles began dating Diana, both the royals and the press were pleased with the suitability of the match. “Her pedigree is perfect,” a reporter shouted. “At the time, it seemed imperative that the Prince of Wales marry an aristocrat,” said Penny Honor, who wrote biographies of both Elizabeth and Diana in an email. Diana looked perfect in every way.
After experiencing an aristocratic rural upbringing similar to that of Prince Charles, Diana understood life in Balmoral. “Diana had no trouble fitting into the royal family,” Hunor said. “She knew how to hold her knife and fork, and she was used to servants. He seemed to fit in perfectly and seemed to enjoy all the outdoor activities. The queen’s private secretary praised Diana’s “wonderful instincts.”
But it was, to some extent, a show. “In fact, she wasn’t happy to jump over heather in the pouring rain,” Hunor said. Diana made this very clear when, after their wedding, Charles returned her to Bloody Balmoral (as she would later call it) for the final stage of their honeymoon. Tina Brown, in her biography of the princess, called it the moment when “my happy, damn, I’m completely muddy” Diana disappeared.
Diana was so bored and devastated by the many formal dinners with strange guests that the family, Brown noted, “began to realize the anxious realization that for a girl of her lineage she was somehow a social novice.” Although her childhood was aristocratic, she was lonely and Diana found the constant social pressure of royal life exhausting.
Later episodes of The Crown also show Diana struggling with the intricacies of royal life, to whom she had to deviate first, even at private family gatherings. In her biography, Andrew Morton writes that Diana was “deeply disappointed by the protocol, stupidity and art” of the family and the “fragile formality” of royal life. As she continued to take a more careless, less suffocating approach to her own relationships and responsibilities, she was celebrated by the public but outraged by the royals, increasingly alienated from them.
Of course, the most important history of the class in the 1980s in Britain is not the label of the upper class. Thatcher’s 11-year rule was a period of dramatic economic and racial inequality and deteriorating quality of life for the average Briton. As its policies shrank the welfare state, opposed unions and sold off social housing, unemployment and child poverty doubled.
The Crown only nods to this broader context in the story of Michael Fagan, the man who portrayed the intrusion into the Queen’s bedroom in 1982 as an act of class protest. Queen Coleman allows him to voice her problems, saying that unemployment “worries” her greatly and she seems to really sympathize with the plight of the working classes at Thatcher. In fact, the queen “ran out of the room” after finding him, Fagan told The Independent in 2012.
“A lot of people want to portray the queen as a leftist at heart,” Palmer said. “I don’t buy it at all.”