The Crown, Episode 4.2: The Balmoral Test

The implied nature of a test means there are choices— what shoes to bring, what direction to shoot, which Cabinet members to hire (or fire), which woman to marry. Implied, also, is that there are correct answers to those choices. And those answers, of course, depend upon who is doing the grading.

This episode is a contrast of two women— one who passes the Balmoral tests and one who does not. One who blends in (with the landscape and the family), and one who sticks out like a sore thumb. One who is comfortable around nobility and one who is not. One who is pleased to “go with the flow,” and one who ends the episode by firing much of her Cabinet. In an hour set almost entirely within the Scottish Highlands, the overarching theme of this episode is who belongs within a “clan” and who does not.

This episode was a rather overt comparison of Thatcher and Diana, but it’s important to note that very different things were expected of these two women and they inhabited very different roles. But what this hour illustrates is just how easily Diana endeared herself to others…she charms not only the royal family but also their staff. In contrast, Thatcher can barely contain her disdain during the Highland games, throwing barbs at both the monarchy and the people for whom she is supposed to govern. It’s very much a commentary on power and class structure.

Thatcher’s scenes at Balmoral were palpably uncomfortable…if you’ve never heard of vicarious embarrassment it’s definitely a thing. As someone who is both an introvert but also hails from a large and loud extended family, I’ve been on both sides of this coin. It’s awkward and irritating to be forced into activities in which you are not interested or not particularly skilled. There is also a joyful merriment in being enclosed within the comfortable seclusion (and exclusion) of a large family.

The concept of grit or fortitude is explored in an interesting way in this episode. Who has more grit- the woman who isn’t afraid of a bit of muck, or the woman who wears a dress and heels to go stalking? Is a woman who isn’t afraid to make enemies tougher than the woman who can’t afford to ever make any? Does a woman born into nobility but cleans houses for a living lack grit compared to a woman who was raised middle class but now holds the highest elected position in the country? I expect that some of the point of this episode is that all definitions can be correct. A woman can be all these things; despite the royal family and Thatcher’s beliefs, there is no “right” type of woman.

A hunting theme is revisited in this episode, which I’m again going to suggest references the Roman goddess Diana— the goddess of hunting. Diana Spencer in this episode is much like the nature around her— innocent and beautiful. She doesn’t realize she’s being hunted herself— a target within sight— until it’s too late. By the time the stag is mounted on the wall the metaphor is clear: the trophy has been caught, a life— at least life as she has known it— has ended. Zooming out a bit and looking ahead twenty years, the metaphor seems even darker— eventually Diana’s life will end prematurely as well. As it explores grief and mourning, Verdi’s Requiem (attended by Charles and Diana in real life) seems wholly appropriate for this episode.

In the end the stag is shot and mounted. The prime minister has performed her own sort of culling and has a Cabinet more to her liking. Charles (or rather his family) has chosen a wife. Everyone leaves with a “trophy.” But this episode (and the next one) illustrates that the pursuit is really the sport— what’s left after the chase is just a beautiful creature trapped in a castle.

1 thought on “The Crown, Episode 4.2: The Balmoral Test”

  1. I was struck while watching this episode with the reverse snobbery of Thatcher and her husband. She has valid criticisms of the royal family, certainly, but she is in her own way just as much a snob. She looks down on people whom she views as not having paid their dues as she feels she did. Yet she has no compassion for the people whose lives will be impacted by the harsh cuts she intends to make to the budget.
    Your remark about being an introvert but coming from a large boisterous family rings a bell with me. I am also an introvert, from a large family on my Dad’s side (29 cousins-my Dad was one of 7 kids). Our family has a reunion in Maine every 2 years and there are generally almost 100 people there, and that is only about 3/4 of the family now. We joke about our kids having to bring prospective partners to the reunion so we can see if they are scared off or can deal with us! I came from the smallest family, just my Dad, Mom, sister and I. All of his sisters and brothers had more kids, so we were outliers, and my Mom was an only child. She spoke of feeling strange about dealing with such a large family group sometimes. There is definitely a learning curve to dealing with a large extended family if you are not from that kind of background. The parlor game they were playing reminded me of one of the ways I don’t fit in well with my Dad’s family. They play endless games of something they call ‘hand and foot’–I am not a card game person, no one in our family was, and I have never learned it. They are all so at ease with playing it that I would feel awkward trying to keep up, and they are pretty oblivious to the need to offer to teach anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

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