A decade has elapsed since we first started bingeing The Crown Season 4. (Insert joke and the interminability of 2020 here.) Princess Diana is now a mother of two, and literally a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Margaret Thatcher, whose uncompromising reign over England has ebbed and flowed in popularity, is losing ground among her own party. And Queen Elizabeth II is… the same. Always the same. As we come to the end of the season, things are about to get shaken up.
When Geoffrey Howe, Margaret Thatcher’s deputy Prime Minister, resigned in 1989, Thatcher knew that would be a deathblow to her time in office. Howe’s speech was a scathing rebuke of her policies and of their relationship, which had once been her most solid alliance. Howe had been in Thatcher’s cabinet during her entire premiership, but [HISTORY LESSON ALERT] they began to disagree on Britain’s participation in the European exchange rate mechanism. Ultimately Britain did participate, to her chagrin, but she resented Howe for it and her public treatment of him became contemptuous. So much so that it led to his resignation, marked by a speech he gave to Parliament stating that he needed to recuse himself due to “the conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister – and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real – and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great.”
After Thatcher listens to the speech, feeling betrayed, she goes home to 10 Downing Street and weeps like she’s never wept before.
Though we’ve seen her emotional strength waver before when she was concerned about her son Mark when he was lost in the desert, this is a true cry of anguish, of despair. As she will later tell the Queen, she has other true loves in her life, but this job is her only true passion. To lose it would leave her lost in the wildreness.
Meanwhile, Diana and Charles are still trying to publicly put on a good face as they attend a rugby match of William’s at his boarding school, but Charles is fed up. He’s already tattled to Mummy that Diana is back to cheating, only to be interrupted and shushed by Philip. When Diana asks if they ever plan to talk again, Charles is like:
They argue and insult each other, and among other things, Charles is angry that Diana has planned a 4-day trip to New York, alone, calling it an “ugly, avaricious piece of self-advancement.”
Thatcher, as days pass, starts to realize she’s lost more than just the support of Howe. Michael Heseltine attempted to challenge her for leadership of the Conservative party. In that election, Thatcher fell short of the votes she needed, but she had one trick up her sleeve before conceding any kind of defeat: she asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament. The Queen offered Thatcher a lesson in power.
“It is entirely in my power to do this if I see fit,” Thatcher said. To which the Queen responded, “You are correct, technically it is within your power to request this. But we must all asks ourselves when to exercise those things that are within our power and when not to.”
“I’m merely asking a question,” the Queen continued. “Whether it is correct to exercise power simply because it is yours to use. Power is nothing without authority. And at this moment, your Cabinet is against you. Your party is against you. And if the polls are to be believed, if you were to call a general election today, you would not win. Which suggests the country is against you. Perhaps the time has come for you to try doing nothing, for once.”
“The difference is, you have power in doing nothing,” Thatcher said. “I will have none.”
The Queen certainly does love doing nothing, as we’ve seen time and again this season. Thatcher is quite the opposite, which is why this turn of events is so hard for her.
Diana also realizes the power she has in doing something, which is why her itinerary in New York City is full of headline-making stops, including a visit to the Harlem Hospital’s pediatric AIDS unit, a place she would visit repeatedly over the years. On this trip in 1989, the stigma surrounding AIDS still loomed large and Diana’s openness toward those suffering was a vast contrast to Thatcher’s homophobic rhetoric, in which she publicly suggested that homosexuality was immoral and people who came out of the closet were being “cheated” out of a “sound start in life.” For anyone with an open heart and mind, Diana’s open-armed approach was the antidote to Thatcher’s cold, cruel policies. The trip was a grand success, helping to solidify her reputation as the People’s Princess forever.
Camilla realizes the genius behind Diana’s public performances and how they will only work against her. She tells Charles that if he leaves Diana for her, she will lose in the court of public opinion. “I’m an old woman, I’m a married woman, I’m nowhere near as pretty, nowhere near as radiant, someone who looks like me has no place in the fairytale,” she says. “That’s all people want, the fairytale… To be the protagonist of a fairytale, you must first be wronged. A victim which, if we were to become public, we would make her.” She ain’t wrong. This, along with everything Diana does and says, angers Charles even more. He will never get out of this marriage.
As Diana assumes control of her narrative, Thatcher loses hers, resigning as Prime Minister and regretfully moving out of Downing Street. The Queen watches on TV, knowing she had the power and the authority to help, but that’s just not how she plays the game. Still, she feels for the first woman Prime Minister and all she’s endured. She requests one final audience with Thatcher, and in a show of solidarity with her, as a woman, a Christian, and someone who fought hard for her beliefs while dealing with patronizing men along the way, she offers her the Queen’s Order of Merit, a medal only 24 people may hold at one time. Thatcher is moved, and the pinning of the medal conveys a mutual respect between the woman, despite their differing opinions through the years.
And finally, it’s a Very Royal Christmas, and as the season wraps up, it seems like it’ll be on a festive note. Alas, Santa’s elves must have put on the Saturday Night Live “Dysfunctional Family Christmas” album on at the castle because that’s the vibe everyone’s going for.
Diana arrives, an outcast in her own family, ignored by everyone. As the family readies for the holiday photo, Diana hides in her bedroom. Prince Philip, who has always had a soft spot for Diana ever since they triumphantly hunted that wounded stag so many episodes ago, goes to check on her. More than anyone, Philip understands what it’s like to have Prince Charles fatigue. (“Would it help you to realize we all think he’s quite mad?” he winks. It’s bad enough that Philip is always so dismissive of Charles but earlier on in the Christmas festivities, when Charles once again begged the Queen to allow him to separate from Diana, he got the world’s firmest “HELL TO THE NO” and, yeah, he’s “quite mad” maybe because he lacks the proper parental support he needs, PHIL.)
Diana feels that she and Philip, also an outsider who married in, share common ground, which is why she’s comfortable telling him she needs to “break away” from the family. “I can’t see that ending well for you,” he says.
“Is that a threat, sir?” she asks.
He tells her that it’s true, they are both outsiders. “After all these years, I still am,” he says. “We all are. Everyone in this system is a lost, lonely, irrelevant outsider, apart from the one person, the only person that matters. She’s the oxygen we all breathe. The essence of all our duty. Your problem, if I may say, is you seem to be confused as to who that person is.”
In the universe of the Queen, many people may have power, to varying degrees, at various times. But only one – the one that Philip, though he married her, still must also bow to – has power and authority.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Brooklyn. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.
‘The Crown’ Season 4 Episode 10: Power is Nothing Without Authority The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Decider.