“The Queen” stands revealed as a monstrous performance; one that only Elizabeth is prepared to fulfill and one that she somewhat pettily protects from any other interpretations by non-permanent role-fillers, as the other women in the family seek out new roles for themselves.
It’s interesting to us that there are a couple of motifs either being established or re-affirmed here, but we weren’t entirely sure what to make of them at first in the context of this episode. The first motif is the “mourning women” one, as each of the three Windsor women are once again dressed in black to honor a dead family member. It serves as a good reminder that with all the other intrigue and tension running through this family, we should remember that they’re all still rather deep in mourning for a beloved family member.
When characters are forced into nearly identical outfits, it’s always of great interest to us how the costume designer finds minor variations on the theme in order to differentiate them. In Mad Men, it was quite common for each man around the conference room table to have something that set their gray flannel suit apart from the others, whether that was a bow tie or a vest or a boutonniere. In a scene with three women in funeral dresses, differences are highlighted through necklines and pearl strands. Note how open Margaret’s neckline is in comparison to her mother and sister. She’s more free, more sexual and more modern than they are; a point this episode will effectively drive home. Note how covered up Elizabeth is in comparison to the other two. She declares herself the head of the family in this scene and exerts power over the other two women in a neckline more akin to a male suit than a woman’s dress.
The second motif here is the “bedecked with jewels” one. We see the QM having her pearls put on (in preparation for a speech she claims to be unable to give) and in two later scenes, we’ll see both daughters have their jewels put on by attendants while they fuss with other things in preparation to give speeches of their own. We think in this context it reaffirms what is, we would argue, the whole thesis of this episode – and at least one of the main ones of this series: that the sovereign is not just a role to undertake, but a performance to publicly fulfill. In order to step out as either the sovereign or the sovereign’s representative, one must be bedecked with the appropriate items to signal that status. Note how the QM, who’s all about how she’s too weak to handle public appearances right now, is dressed in one strand of pearls while her daughters, each fighting for dominance, are battling it out in double strands.
The third item of interest is that, after this scene and the one immediately following it, the three women spend most of the rest of the episode in colorful prints. It’s almost as if they all blossom a little bit when they’re apart from each other.
Honestly, we just wanted a snapshot of this scene. How could a costume post not spend a second highlighting costumes like this? There’s not a lot of symbolism here, although there is some foreshadowing. Two of the most important scenes in the episode will take place while she’s wearing the floral five in from the left and the blue three in from the right.
As noted in the dialogue, there is a heavy floral component to her tour dresses. This floral theme will not only play out with Elizabeth’s clothes, but also in the QM’s.
Gray talking to gray. It’s interesting, because in past Peter/Margaret phone scenes, she was usually dressed in bright floral robes and pajamas, but here, she’s in a sober gray as each of them bemoan the lack of contact and loss of romance in their lives.
Again, there’s such a dreariness about their costumes while they’re all together. Each of them will dress better once they separate.
Notable here: Margaret is in a more modern blouse and much more fitted skirt. She still comes off the sexier one in all their scenes together. The one more in tune with the world outside the palace. She could walk out of the palace and report for work behind a high-end perfume counter or as a secretary to an executive wearing this exact outfit. Also note the contrasting patterns of her blouse and scarf. She’ll sport some fairly loud and modern prints in this episode.
The QM runs away to Scotland and becomes a bit more herself in the process:
Note the florals in her outfits, the somewhat bolder blues and greens. the knitwear and relative modesty. Note how much she seems to fit in with her two hosts; how similarly she’s dressed to them when she’s away from her palace life.
Tweeds and sweaters and scarves – all miles away from her life as the Queen Mother and very much in tune with her Scotland surroundings. She’s indistinguishable from her hosts.
Checks and plaids and knitwear in highly complimentary shades.
His collar and tie are tucked into his sweater just as her scarf is tucked into hers. Add a pair of hats and you have two people who we’d swear were about to embark on a romance. We think that’s very much the point here. Not that the QM is looking for love; just that she found a home and came across a charming man with whom she appears to have a lot in common, based on how they’re costumed. It became poignant when her role as the Queen Mother basically erupted between them, forcing him to change how he acted around her, which made her somewhat sad. It was a lovely – although probably HIGHLY fictionalized – look at what it may have been like to be the QM after her husband died.
Meanwhile, Betty’s living a life in florals:
These are based on actual tour costumes and the script helpfully pointed out why she’s wearing so many flowers (national flowers and local flora), but it contributes to the overall explosion of print and color all the Windsor women are feeling when they’re apart from their somewhat oppressive family members. As we’ll see later, however, Elizabeth’s florals not only don’t protect her from more family drama, they actually wind up driving it in some ways. Unlike her mother’s floral scarves, which seem to speak of a return to nature and a life more suited to her, Elizabeth’s wind up feeling oppressive.
Margaret in pants, a sweater set and a scarf tied around her neck is pure mid ’50s au courant fashion. Note how modern and expressionistic the print of her scarf is in comparison to Elizabeth and the QM’s more traditional florals.
And again here. A bold modern pattern with pants in a competing pattern. She’s all noise and energy and modernity in comparison to Elizabeth’s doll clothes.
She’s also working a triple strand of the Pearls of Power as she exerts herself a little.
We saw Margaret trying on (having herself bedecked with) jewels and asking for ever larger and more ostentatious ones. Certainly, these aren’t the most outrageous jewels in the Windsor vault, but they are a bit much for such a relatively small, private gathering, as is her fairly flashy gown.
Everything here is drawing comparisons to Elizabeth, from the flashiness, to the way she wears her wrap (coquettishly down on her elbows rather than as an actual wrap, the way Elizabeth favors them).
There’s a sense not only that she’s enjoying this perhaps too much but also that she’s not effectively separating the role of the sovereign with the person inhabiting it. There’s so much made in so many scenes of Elizabeth having clothes taken off or put on. She wouldn’t drape herself over a private couch and have a phone conversation while still wearing the crown jewels. Or at least, the fictional Elizabeth of this story wouldn’t.
This is the third scene of a Windsor woman being bedecked by jewelry. Note how stiff she is when she’s being dressed. It’s a costume first. With Margaret, it’s fashion.
Blue-and-white color combos tend to signify the Queen as a public figure (as opposed to the greens which tend to signify her as a family figure). This scene is all about how she’s a bit jealous that Margaret seems to be more popular than she is at the moment. It’s all about her petulantly insisting, as she’s bedecked with jewels and dressed in her signature “Queen” colors, that she is the sovereign and not her attention-seeking sister.
And seemingly for the first time, Philip sees his wife as she truly is; as the mixture of the private woman he knows and the public figure she feels she has to be. The way the motorcade scene was shot made Elizabeth look somewhat monstrously sinister in Philip’s eyes. It may not have been a fair or accurate way to view her, but there was no question he was somewhat concerned if not revolted by how she’s been acting.
This point was driven home in a later scene where she wore the same outfit and got facial injections to deal with her temporary paralysis from smiling too much, to Philip’s horror. The scene ends with a drop of blood. She’s literally bleeding for people’s approval and Philip not only thinks it’s monstrous but that she’s completely lost perspective.
It all comes to a head for the two of them while Elizabeth is wearing this fairly uncharacteristic dress. It’s exceedingly rare, outside of formal occasions when she’s wearing gowns, to see Elizabeth without sleeves. On the one hand, it’s a more modern look for her. On the other hand, it tends to make her appear somewhat more exposed, which works perfectly for a scene in which she exposed far too much of herself to the press.
In addition, the floral itself is off. Most of her florals have been delicate in the traditional English mode. This is not only bold, big and modern, but it’s got huge splashes of a color we never see Elizabeth wear: red. She’s angry, she’s out of control, and she’s exposed – and all of that is bound up in her costume.
Look at how perfectly color coordinated all the journalists are. There’s probably no real reason for that except that it looked good on camera, but it tends to render them all a little faceless and samey-same, which is probably how Elizabeth sees them
Much like Elizabeth’s red flower dress, the stories of each of these women are bound up in their costumes. Margaret’s in pants and a boldly modern print, having had the role taken away from her for being too modern and flashy with it. The QM is in a tweed and a knit, reminding us of where she’s been called from and where she’s waiting to return to once her other daughter comes home.
Interestingly, they’re both wearing triple strands.
And finally, the two sisters confront each other over petty jealousies and misunderstandings. The costumes tell the tale once again. Margaret’s in her modern clothing and Elizabeth is in her more stately and traditional dress, but – and this is really, really important, especially because we know the sisters enjoyed a lifelong closeness despite their history – they are dressed in matching color schemes and are both wearing double strands. They are very different from each other, but they can’t deny the close bond they share.
[Photo Credits: Alex Bailey/Netflix – Stills: Netflix/Tom and Lorenzo]