The Crown, season 2, episode 3 review: Anthony Eden turns into Kenneth Williams

Gabriel Tate
End of Eden: Claire Foy and Jeremy Northam

Bob Dylan’s so-called Neverending Tour may have been going on for 30 years now, but it has nothing on the Duke of Edinburgh’s tour of the southern hemisphere.

We rejoin the Windsors with Philip still absent in Antarctica and Elizabeth beginning to pine. But never fear, The Crown looks dangerously like regaining a sense of purpose with this third episode.

r and flat. A little more Margaret, with Vanessa Kirby sorely underused thus far, wouldn’t lend grandeur, exactly, but  it might pep things up a little. Watch this space...

Westminster politics returns to the heart of the drama in this episode. Although these grey men with moustaches can’t match Churchill for bulldog charisma, their desperate powerplays and titanic conceit certainly feel more relevant to contemporary Westminster politics.

Eden returns from his enforced sabbatical, clipping his moustache and ready to resume his self-prescribed destiny at No 10. But he hasn’t accounted for Harold Macmillan, who quietly slaps down his prime minister in a first cabinet meeting by invoking Caesar and Pompey.

Eden loses his temper (my thoughts turned more to Kenneth Williams crying "Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” in Carry On Cleo), then his few remaining friends, self-destructing past the point of no return.

Night of the long knives: Jeremy Northam (standing) as Eden Credit: Alex Bailey

His valedictory interview with the Queen falls, as it should, far short of the poignancy of Churchill’s leave-taking. Instead, he is skewered for his desperation to stand alongside his illustrious predecessor and make history - a miscalculation that saw him lie to Parliament and unwittingly underline his country’s dwindling influence.

“History was not made by those who did nothing,” she offers, in consolation. Jeremy Northam’s slide from suave self-assurance into fragile obsolescence was masterfully played; he’ll be missed.

Anton Lesser is no mean consolation, however. His first interview with Elizabeth is a corker, as he finds a monarch entirely at ease with his sort by now, thank you very much. She gives his attempt to pass Suez off as “Eden’s war” short shrift. “One always has to accept one’s own part, I believe, in any mess,” she observes.

Happy families: the Windsors at play Credit: Alex Bailey

This, of course, has relevance in the other major narrative strand of the episode; if nothing else, you can rely on Peter Morgan’s predilection for dovetailing dual plotlines, however clunkily.

Thankfully, we see the Windsors’ marital crisis more or less resolved and the tiresome business with the Parkers knocked on the head (Tommy Lascelles there, with his customary efficiency).

The moment when Eileen defies her majesty - “I’ve had enough of doing favours for you people” - carries an undeniable frisson. Thus Michael Parker’s letters leak and Philip is forced to cut the tiresome bore loose, muttering angrily about discretion from a man whom he surely knew well enough to expect no such thing.

The Crown cast and characters

We return to the scene which opened the series, with Elizabeth and Philip spitting poison at each other while the media circles.

With foreign reporters less susceptible to the palace’s usual tricks of strong-arming and restricting access, rumours are rife of Philip’s infidelity and the dread spectre of Wallis Simpson is raised. It’s a neat rejoinder to the oft-held assumption that cosy deference was the norm until Diana arrived to shake things up. Compromise becomes inevitable - while marital relations haven’t thawed, exactly, pragmatism has dawned, but not before one last tantrum.

Who's who in The Crown

Spluttering, “I’m currently outranked by my eight-year-old son,” Philip is thrown the bone of a Princedom. It’s a hollow victory and Smith plays this to the hilt, Philip’s look of triumph dying away in his eyes as he surveys a singularly unimpressed hall of courtiers.

"Realising that the title is a futile gesture, he is cut off from old friends like Michael (who won’t now call him Philip) while Michael Adeane, one of the much-lampooned “moustaches”, responds by shaving his off. The fight is gone from his eyes and the old dog has been brought to heel, for now at least.

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