One of the strangest things about The Crown’s third season is the way Helena Bonham Carter’s Margaret receded into the background after her explosive debut in “Margaretology.” And yet the idea of devoting the season finale to her also felt odd, at least initially. As fun as it may be, the glamorous ennui of “Cri de Coeur” runs the risk of feeling like an episodic tangent rather than a season-long capper. By the end, however, Margaret’s story winds up becoming the perfect conduit for so many of this season’s themes: Royal privilege, public scrutiny, loyalty, aging, gender double standards, the changing times, and, above all else, the power of family.
Last season gave Margaret and Tony a romance that embodied the tone of a 1950s melodrama. Here she gets a love story to match the swinging 1970s. “Cri de Coeur” is part mod rom-com and part Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? with a dash of The Graduate thrown in as well. After Tony openly begins dating a younger woman named Lucy Mary Lindsay-Hogg (Jessica De Gouw), Margaret’s lady in waiting Anne Tennant (Nancy Carroll) suggests that Margaret distract herself with a fling too. Her eye is soon drawn to Roddy Llewellyn (Harry Treadaway), a research assistant, mobile disco company owner, and part-time cleaner whose real passion is gardening. More importantly, he’s a hunk who just happens to look an awful lot like a young Tony.
For a while, at least, they seem like a perfect match, with Roddy’s youthful spirit bringing out a whole new side of Margaret during their beachside romance. It’s a revelation to watch Bonham Carter crack open Margaret’s shell of bitter, alcoholic despondency and emerge as a happy, smiling, fresh-faced woman. She still usually has a drink in hand, but there’s a newfound lightness to her, which she credits to the fickle mistress of happiness having finally found her. Treadaway brings some of the sexy swagger of Matthew Goode’s iteration of Tony, while also making it clear that Roddy is just a little bit of an airhead. He and Bonham Carter are never better than in their giddy performance of Sophie Tucker’s vaudeville number “Red Hot Mama.”
As with the best Philip-centric episodes, “Cri de Coeur” doesn’t shy away from Margaret’s faults either. She’s frequently terrible in this episode. She ungratefully expects the world to bend to her will and she takes out her bad moods on everyone around her. The royal family is so sick of her petulant, self-centered attitude they can’t even offer sympathy over the fact that her husband has ditched her birthday party to be with his mistress. Instead, they just talk about what a nice guy Tony is. It’s only Elizabeth who sees that her sister’s latest bout of depression is more intense than her usual dramatics. She even calls Tony in for a private meeting to encourage him to patch things up with his wife.
But everything shifts when photos of Margaret’s affair with Roddy become national news. We’re a long, long way away from the days of “Pride & Joy,” in which reporters willingly destroyed the footage they’d accidentally captured of Elizabeth and Philip’s marital squabble. Now paparazzi follow Margaret all the way to the Caribbean to try to catch her in a compromising position. Once again, Elizabeth is pretty much the only one to express sympathy for her sister’s position. The Queen Mother casually calls her own daughter a whore, while Tony—who initially seems kind of empathetic toward Margaret when he’s privately talking to Lucy—is incredibly cruel when she arrives home with Roddy in tow.
The double standard of all of this is palpable. In one of the episode’s most quietly heartbreaking moments, Elizabeth speaks from personal experience when she advises Tony that turning a blind eye is often the best approach to creating a stable marriage. Yet despite the fact that Tony was the first one to stray, he can’t handle the idea of his wife doing the same. “Cri de Coeur” makes it clear that Margaret and Tony’s relationship is far more toxic than we’d realized. And while Margaret romanticizes the idea that “war is their love,” The Crown chips away at that rationalization. Margaret and Tony may have some kind of ineffable connection (she still sees visions of him, even at the height of her fun with Roddy), but that doesn’t make it a healthy or romantic one.
In the end, Margaret loses both the men in her life. Roddy flees, while she and Tony are on a path towards the first royal divorce since Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves in 1540. That’s when she overdoses on sedatives, in what her mother refers to as a “cri de coeur” (a passionate outcry) rather than a “coup de grâce” (a death blow). Once again, however, Elizabeth proves she knows her sister better than anyone.
Elizabeth and Margaret’s final bedside chat is one of the loveliest scenes in The Crown’s history. It re-centers the episode on Elizabeth and proves that her fears about her lack of emotionality back in “Aberfan” were very much unfounded. It’s astounding to hear her openly admit to Margaret, “Of all the people everywhere, you are the closest and most important to me.” Life without her sister, she notes, would be unbearable. It may have taken a near-death experience to get the two women to tear down the icy wall that’s often between them, but the core of love has always been there. I hope this is the first step of The Crown doing more and more interesting things with their relationship.
Elizabeth’s empathy also shines through in the other unexpected emotional highpoint of this episode, in which she happily greets a newly returned Harold Wilson only to learn he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Elizabeth/Wilson throughline has been one of the most successful threads of the season and one of the most interesting Queen/Prime Minister relationships this show has explored yet. Wilson teases Elizabeth about being a leftist at heart and jokes about his own sentimental royalist side. Elizabeth, however, understands that they’ve formed a real friendship, not just a political connection. And she proves just how much she values that friendship by asking to dine at Downing Street—an honor that has only ever been bestowed on Winston Churchill. Wilson may not have the same historical importance as Churchill, but Jason Watkins has made him feel just as vital to the fabric of this show. I’m very sad to see him go.
Time has been a rather nebulous thing this season, which opened in 1964 and ends with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Season three has been more transformative for Great Britain than for the Elizabeth herself, and “Cri de Coeur” settles on that as its thesis. As Margaret notes, the point of the monarchy is to provide continuity and stability in even the most unstable of times. Elizabeth “papers over the cracks” of a fading empire. As The Crown sees it, the less powerful Britain becomes, the more important the Queen is. That puts even more pressure on Elizabeth’s shoulders as she rounds off her 25th year as monarch and heads into her next quarter century. Other than an ominous look towards Charles and the mention of yet another Prime Minister joining Elizabeth’s ever-growing list (she’s had six so far), there aren’t too many teases for where The Crown goes from here. But whatever it has in store, I hope the softer, more humanizing tone it locks into in this episode is here to stay.
- It was a really nice touch to include some photos of Claire Foy and Matt Smith in this episode.
- Without question, the royal family’s apartment-like train cars would be my ideal way to travel.
- I love Elizabeth’s joke about letting out an “unconstitutional cheer” after Heath was ousted, and I particularly love that we hear her say it twice. Who hasn’t been proud of a clever turn of phrase and then repeated it to two different audience?
- Pretty much every outfit and hairstyle in this episode deserves a shout-out, but I’ll just highlight Margaret’s poolside fur coat and the dangling fabric roses on Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee hat.
- And that’s it for The Crown’s third season! Overall, I liked season three way more than season two but perhaps not quite as much as season one. Hopefully, we won’t have quite so long to wait before the show returns again. In the meantime, feel free to discuss all things royalty with me over on Twitter.