A glorious goddess is born and love is sacrificed to make it happen. Melodramatic? Maybe, but at the final shot of the season, we had to give it to the creators of The Crown. They found a set of themes (duty vs. family, goddess vs. woman, love vs. tradition), stuck to them, and nailed the landing. We have a few issues with the plotting and focus of the series, as we’ve noted before. And we were a tiny bit surprised to see it get so, well… soapy at the end. But we suppose the story of Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret was already so rife with drama and naked (in a royal sort of way) emotion that there was probably no other way for them to depict it but as high English family melodrama in the Lady Mary/Lady Edith mode of Downton Abbey.
Love is gray and dark.
That probably sounds a little over-the-top, but this episode – and a good portion of The Crown overall – largely had to do with the ways in which proximity to said crown renders the possibility of love in one’s life distant at best. Love for a Windsor, if they can find it at all, is ominous and dark. This is reflected not only in the dialogue, but as always, in the costumes as well.
This is not a sunny, romantic, light-filled view of a couple in love. It’s a scene filled with darkness and shadows, populated only by people in gray and black.
There is also a strong but subtle motif of people being framed by flowers this episode, or having flowers prominently featured in the frame with them. We leave it up to you to decide if the effect is romantic or funereal.
It’s not entirely uncommon for costume design that follows a character for decades to have subtle cues and motifs in the clothes that establish a through-line for the character. It also helps to visually connect the various actors who play the character at different ages, which can trick the viewer into seeing a resemblance between them that isn’t necessarily there.
What’s interesting to us, as people who obsessively peer at costumes, is how Elizabeth and Margaret’s robes and nightgowns have absolutely nothing to do with the costumes the characters wear as adults. No color motif or print or shape that repeats or establishes a history. They connect vaguely to the pink and white dresses they both wore in a previous scene (set after this one), but have nothing to do with anything the characters wear as adults.
This is capital-B Before, for them. Before their lives and futures and very relationship with each other changed. The adults are rendered in grays and blacks, but they’re flush and pink and naively untouched by the events and decisions of adults for the last time. Innocence rendered.
There’s nothing of their childhood styles to be found here. The costumes speak of a push-pull between the sisters. They’re both in stripes, with identical necklines and a swoop of jewelry at the neck and a flounce or bow at the center of the bust. But Elizabeth is in green, which has been her “duty over family” color in the story so far. She’s also in a jacket, which speaks of her more modest style in comparison to Margaret’s flashy sexiness. And of course, she’s slinging a triple strand of the Pearls of Power, because whether she or anyone else likes it, she holds all the cards for Margaret’s future. Or at least, Margaret sees her that way.
Their costumes also vaguely recall the more formal ones they wore during the dinner when Margaret first told Elizabeth about Peter. They also foreshadow the naturalistic tones that will dominate certain important scenes. Brown and green. Put a pin in that.
The Dark Man motif again. A man in black looms over Elizabeth with intentions to thwart whatever idea or plan she has. We almost skipped including this scene but several later ones reaffirmed the motif. Put a pin in that and write the score down.
Dark Man: 1, Elizabeth: 0.
Note the light browns of Elizabeth. It’s a slight callback to Margaret’s brown striped dress in the earlier scene…
… which is repeated by her striped blouse in light brown in a later scene. The sisters are almost always visually connected in some way through their costumes.
Margaret is almost always rendered in patterns, often clashing ones, which tend to underline her more emotional and less controlled personality, in comparison to Elizabeth. It’s hard to get a decent view of them, but she’s wearing gray (love is gray) checked pants. She’s the picture of modernity, tension and depression at the same time. Brown and Gray.
And Philip swoops in to further establish and cement connections. Both of them are angry with Elizabeth and see her as a cold and unfeeling person. Both are dressed in gray checks and depressed browns. No one around Elizabeth is very happy at the moment, it would seem.
Love is gray.
Love is gray.
You can dress it up with gold, but love is gray to a Windsor.
Even sisterly love sometimes.
Again: Margaret’s in a bold print and a pair of pants to show her modernity and emotional turmoil at the same time.
Even in a scene more or less bursting with color, Margaret is in a sober gray gown. A thundercloud in a tartan sash.
Betty, for her part, keeps trying to find the sun:
This scene and the one below with Anthony Eden and the car directly mirror scenes from the film The Queen, which was written by Peter Morgan, who wrote The Crown. We couldn’t help but take it as not just a wink, but a subtle statement that the Helen Mirren film is to be considered just another chapter in the same story The Crown is telling. Which of course then leads us to fantasies of Dame Helen taking up the role again by the time seasons five and six of the series roll around, but we’re clearly getting ahead of ourselves.
Everyone is, of course, in appropriate outdoor clothes for the country, which means a lot of natural colors like browns and greens. It’s not so much that we need to assign strict meanings to each color (although “love is gray” is well supported), but to note how color schemes tend to sort of roll through an episode. The brown and green of the initial scene between the adult sisters this episode lightly foreshadows all the outdoor scenes above and subtly enforce the idea of a cohesive, lived-in universe. Colors don’t have to have meaning, but they do have an effect if they’re repeatedly and consistently applied.
Look how insanely discordant the Queen Mother’s outfit is, with its plaid, stripes and competing florals. She’s meddling and scheming (in three strands), which makes her almost threatening in this scene. The loudness of her costume design acts like a buzzing annoyance to Elizabeth’s attempt to have Happy Family Time.
And she really is trying to shed sunlight on her problems.
She’s informally dressed (as she would be in this setting), encounters a formally dressed man she has to convince of something, and immediately forces him to come to her on her own terms.
It’s a massive power play on her part and something we’ve never seen her do before. It indicates a deep level of comfort with her role as Queen, even as she struggles with her next move. She has always let the people – mostly men – around her set the terms and boundaries of all her actions. Last episode, we saw a clear, bright line separating her life in the palace and her life in the country, with accompanying massive shifts in costume styles. With Churchill gone from her life as mentor, she’s allowing her true self to guide her actions now. She’s setting the terms by forcing Eden into the only setting she truly loves and feels powerful in – the country – and taking him to a spot that seemingly has no boundaries to it at all. The expansiveness of the setting is as much a point as the setting itself. “I will set the terms. You will wear what I tell you. And I will show you the portion of the earth that I own and rule over. Then I will tell you what I want.”
And he is not wearing black.
Elizabeth: 1, Dark Man: 1.
He comes back to tell her he can’t make it happen for her.
Dark Man: 2, Elizabeth: 1.
She stands firm and calls him a damn hypocrite, more or less. His black has evaporated.
Elizabeth: 2, Dark Man: 2.
Things are at an impasse, it would seem.
Until a bunch of assholes in purple make her life difficult again.
Eventually she stands, in the blue-and-white scheme that defines her most queenly moments (see below), and tells her gray and brown, modern-dressed sister that tradition – and her own role as sovereign – must always be maintained over everything else. As her grandmother told her before she died, “The crown must always win.”
Even if love must wither and die.
In shades of brown and gray.
Even Philip is having trouble loving the emerging goddess. Clothed in gray, he leaves her.
Framed in flowers like an icon or a corpse, she is left more figurehead than person, draped in diamonds and the colors that define her. Elizabeth the woman is dead, long live Queen Elizabeth.
The crown has won.
[Photo Credits: Alex Bailey/Netflix – Stills: Netflix/Tom and Lorenzo]