To be a fan of The Crown is to be a fan of sass. Every time the Queen cuts in with an expertly timed “Oh really?” or Princess Margaret arches an eyebrow, you know someone is feeling shame and that they deserve it. But nothing in The Crown‘s previous three seasons could have prepared us for the brutality that goes down in “Favorites.”
While in the middle of one of her audiences with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) is confronted with an idea that haunts her. After Thatcher carelessly calls her missing son her “favorite,” the Queen realizes she’s never thought of her children in terms of favorites. There are a million and one reasons why the Queen should dismiss yet another one of Thatcher’s intense oddities, but this time she doesn’t. After a brief conversation with her husband Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies), the Queen sets out to do what she previously thought was impossible. She sets out to pick a favorite child.
The rest of the episode flits through different lunches between the Queen and her children, though none of them are particularly pleasant. The locations and children may change, but the Queen’s conversations remain the same. Each member of the Royal Family seems hellbent on complaining about some new injustice, completely disregarding the fortune that surrounds them as well as their duty to their country. For her youngest, Prince Edward (Angus Imrie), those complaints revolve around how the palace’s poached salmon is too predictable, his classmates are too mean, and his 20,000 pound trust is too meager. For the headstrong Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), it’s that the press is too judgmental to her and too nice to Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and that her affair partner is being taken away. For Prince Andrew (Tom Byrne), it’s his distance from the throne and that his mother refuses to hand him special treatment. And Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) may have the most frustrating complaint of the entire season. As he surveys his ideal manor, surrounded by plans for gardens that are meant to reflect his likeness, he has nothing positive to say. Instead, he spends much of his lunch with his mother complaining about how annoying it is to deal with his pregnant wife’s depression.
With each and every meeting you can see the Queen’s smile tighten and her eyes become colder. The Queen summons each of her children to figure out who’s her favorite and walks away choosing none of them. They’re all disappointments. That sort of sweeping disapproval is so sweet you can taste the tea.
It’s also a savagery that’s well-earned. As is often the case when it comes to The Crown, Queen Elizabeth is right. Peter Morgan’s drama has always taken great care to articulate the sense of duty and respect the Queen has for her role in history. The first two seasons of the series were almost entirely devoted to Elizabeth the person packing up her emotions and humanity to become something more: Elizabeth the Queen. For Queen Elizabeth, that is the cost that comes with her privileged lifestyle and her title. To see respect for the UK so flippantly ignored by her children is as shocking as it is hurtful. Conversely, that makes her quiet scorn all the more delightful.
“The conclusion that I’ve come to is that it’s our children who are lost, not the Prime Minister’s. Each in their own deserts,” Queen Elizabeth tells Prince Phillip at the end of the episode.
Sadly, the Queen’s rage is short-lived as she comes to see her children’s failings as her own. As she admits to her husband that she didn’t know how to hold her own children during bath time, you can see her taking the blame for every entitled comment and whining complaint. Prince Phillip quickly corrects her, reminding her that it’s no longer her job to parent her adult children and that she has a country to run. But for one brief, glorious moment the full range of the Queen’s disgust is there, told through Olivia Colman’s once-in-a-lifetime expressions. And it is glorious.
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