The Crown, Episode 4.3: Fairytale

It seems like a bit of a riddle— what becomes smaller as it becomes larger? The answer, suggests this episode, is one’s life once you become royalty. And sadly perhaps, within the context of an eating disorder, the answer might also be Diana herself.

This episode does a very good job of showing the dichotomy created as Diana’s world becomes simultaneously bigger and grander but also smaller and more confined. We begin the episode watching as she enjoys the freedoms any teenager might enjoy— London is opened up to her and she explores it with literally outstretched hands. We end the episode with her trapped in a wedding and marriage that nearly everyone realizes is a mistake. But on the eve of the wedding, with celebratory fireworks, the streets crowded with spectators, and the whole world watching, it is too late to back out. Indeed, at one point in this episode Diana’s hands are literally tied…that’s pretty overt symbolism if I ever saw it.

As someone who struggled with body image and eating disorders for much of my adolescence, this was a extraordinarily difficult episode to watch. But Diana’s bulemia, while quite real, also serves within this episode to illustrate just how much this world is damaging her. Anorexia and bulemia (as they very often go together) are difficult to explain to outsiders, and I would never want to speak for another person’s struggle, but in the way I experienced disordered eating it’s a constant internal battle between wanting the freedom to eat and the guilt that immediately follows whenever you allow yourself that freedom. Hence the binging and purging, which very frequently comes on the heels of a time of fasting. In a disordered mind, food is poison- something to be eliminated- no matter how much it feels good in the moment. It is a momentary joy that must immediately be expelled.

And we see multiple figurative and literal binging and purging scenes within this episode— moments of Diana exerting free will and non-conformation (roller skating, wild dancing) interspersed with scenes in which she is trapped within her apartment at the palace…an apartment which, if you notice, becomes smaller as it fills with flowers and gifts. She has multiple temporary moments of joy, only to have them repeatedly expelled.

Notice how Diana picks a ring then almost immediately rejects it after its origin is told and poisons are referenced? Everything that brings brief joy in this episode— food, dancing, jewelry— it is counteracted by framing those joys as a poison— vomiting, confinement, jewelry that is meant for another. And that is what food feels like to a disordered mind. Poison.

This episode seems to argue, not incorrectly, that there were numerous opportunities to save Diana long before that August night in Paris. And while she wasn’t an uncomplicated figure, multiple people failed Diana on multiple occasions. She has no one to talk to or in whom to confide. She is sidelined in her own upcoming marriage. She is entirely alone in her new family. She is a small member within a larger dynasty, much like a small apartment within a larger palace.

It is unsurprising, then, that Diana sought to connect with the public from the beginning, as she had virtually no one else within the royal family with whom to establish a meaningful relationship. Even her own grandmother, tasked with educating her in etiquette and protocol, seems to emote no love or affection.

Elizabeth pleads with Charles to give his relationship with Diana time, that love will surely follow where respect is established. But this episode allows Diana nothing but time, and clearly there are no answers that magically appear within the expanse of hours, days, or months. We all know how this will end, but Elizabeth implores Charles to choose to believe.

The narration at the end, which argues that the wedding is not the destination but the beginning of the fairytale, is obviously heavy with irony. For all involved, this wedding will be one of the few highlights in this desperately unhappy union…it is, in this case, the destination. We know that fairy tales aren’t real, but sometimes we choose to believe.

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