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The Crown Finale is Just The Beginning

While Elizabeth and Philip continue their private battle of never-ending frustrations with each other, another story steals the show in The Crown‘s penultimate episode. (If you missed the recap for episodes 7 and 8 head back here.)

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The episode takes a striking look at yet another sharp angle of Winston Churchill’s prideful personality. A portrait is commissioned in honour of Churchill’s 80th birthday, which coincides with the opening of Parliament. Upon meeting the portraiture artist, Graham Sutherland, Churchill takes an immediate, defense dislike to the man and distrusts every one of his artistic decisions. It’s clear, however, that Sutherland has respect for Churchill and intends to paint him in as deeply truthful a likeness as possible. Churchill would of course prefer someone who’s going to paint him how he sees himself, as much more powerful, and perhaps intimidating. Not only that, but according to Churchill the painting must also represent the highest ideals of government — democracy, freedom, and leadership. The irony in his insisting is that Churchill himself likes to paint; and with a nature as stubborn as his own one would think he would know that you cannot tell an artist how to make art.

“I find in general that people have very little understanding of who they are.” — Graham Sutherland, The Crown

As Sutherland battles quietly with Churchill over the portrait, Anthony Eden battles loudly with Churchill over the government. The time has come for Churchill to step down, but even with the “right moment” staring him in the face he refuses to back down. The pressure is mounting, and the bursting point is the reveal of the painting in front of Parliament. Churchill even jokes about his own impending resignation that he knows many people must be waiting for. A moment before the curtain is drawn back from the portrait Churchill reminds the audience of the “stakes” involved for Sutherland, thus raising the stakes of The Crown as the viewing audience waits to see the potential masterpiece.

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An image from the BBC’s coverage of the real-life celebration of Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday, showing the painting by Graham Sutherland.

The painting is revealed: the Prime Minister is seated low in an arm chair, looking very much his age. Churchill is immediately enraged and though he hides his disgust from the audience he fails to refrain from making a subtle mockery of Sutherland’s “modern” art. Watching the coverage on television from Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth can only shake her head.

Stephen Dillane, who plays Sutherland, delivers a memorable performance as the artist tasked with painting a masterpiece. And paint a masterpiece, he does. The end credits of the episode conclude that Sutherland portrait of Churchill is thought to be a lost masterpiece, as in the end the portrait does not survive. As Lady Churchill lets the portrait burn in the privacy of the backyard, the curling, blackened edges of the canvas signify the end of Churchill’s ministry.

In comparison to the powerful storytelling happening with Churchill, Elizabeth’s own plot in this episode has very little impact on the viewer. Nevertheless it is still immensely important, as it reveals a little about her life before it was overwhelmed by royal duties. We see the what-if romance that could once have happened between herself and her old friend Lord Porchester, or ‘Porchey’. We learn again about all those could-haves and would-haves that Elizabeth had to do away with thanks to the limitations placed upon her as a member of the royal family. It’s as much an odd lament as it is a reminder of the challenge she faces now as the Queen, particularly in her relationships with her family, and how she rises to that challenge as we see in The Crown’s final episode.

Ultimately the tenth episode does little more than wrap up and set up for the next series. New Prime Minister Anthony Eden begins his career with some unintentionally concerning political encounters. The episode’s climax focuses on Elizabeth’s final decision about Margaret and Townsend.

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In the end, Elizabeth chooses duty over family, and denies Margaret and Townsend the right to marry. It’s implied that this is less of a choice and more of a discovery that Elizabeth never really had a choice in the matter. She has come to learn that doing things “for the sake of the Crown”, though they may sometimes be done willingly, are never left entirely up to her own will. The “musts” that Philip has wrestled with and continues to wrestle with are not just his to bear. There are “musts” for Elizabeth, too. Heartbreaking ones. And no matter how hard she tries to do the right thing, there is always someone who will think she chose wrong. In this case, it’s not just Margaret and Townsend — Philip is seen watching the report about Margaret and Townsend’s split, and the look on his face makes clear his thoughts on the matter. Elizabeth has betrayed her family yet again. “Duty prevails,” remarks the television announcer. It’s a low punch to the gut to Philip, who has agreed to go to Australia to open the Olympic games in what has now been extended to a five-month tour. Elizabeth hopes that the distance between them will calm the storms in their relationship, but only time will tell if Philip really will come back a changed man.

“Don’t dress betrayal up as a favour.” — Prince Philip, The Crown

Calm and composed, the Queen poses for photographs. The old Elizabeth Windsor is now forever shed; only Elizabeth Regina prevails. As we all know, this is just the start of a very long reign.

Netflix has indeed ordered another season of The Crown. The show is in fact intended to run for several seasons and cover the whole life of Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve already heard fans of the show chatting curiously about the introduction of Charles, and later presumably Lady Diana, as prominent characters. With audiences’ obvious intrigue surrounding the royal family and Netflix’s care and attention to memorable casting, I have no doubt that The Crown will continue successfully for some time.


Images courtesy of Netflix and The BBC. 

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Erin Latimer is writer whose specialties include film analysis, television and gaming reviews, and re-examining movies from her childhood through a lens of feminist fan practices and queer theory.

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