Firing squads and marriage advice

Episode 6 of The crown Season 5 begins with another flashback opening, this time to London in 1917, where World War I litters the streets of London with rubble and aimless soldiers. Yet inside the palace, King George V is a world apart. A letter from the Prime Minister arrives, urging George to consider offering asylum to his first cousin Nikolai Romanov, the Tsar of Russia, and his beleaguered family. George is indifferent; his main objective is his next pheasant hunt, and for him the most exciting detail of the letter is not the plea contained inside but the particular shade of ink on the envelope. You would think that a member of the royal family would pay special attention to another monarch caught in the midst of a violent communist revolution. Instead, it looks like he’s yet another hopelessly out of touch royal (accented by a hilariously unrecognized parrot on his shoulder). He glances at the matter and defers to his wife (happy wife, happy life, I guess?).


His response becomes gravely apparent in the next sequence when soldiers wake the Romanovs in the middle of the night on the pretense that they are getting the family to safety. Nikolai thanks the heavens, believing it to be the work of his cousin King George. He is half right. The soldiers lead Nikolai and his entire family to a basement and then unceremoniously execute them by firing squad in the name of the revolution. It is an unusually disturbing display of violence for The crown: The Romanovs beg helplessly for their lives as, one by one, the soldiers assassinate them in a hail of gunfire and bayonets. Illustrated Russian Brutalism.

Picture via Netflix

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Flash forward to modern times, when Russia is in turmoil again, this time with the fall of the USSR. Boris Yeltsin (Anatoliy Kotenyov) came to power, the first democratically elected leader in its history, and Prime Minister John Major (Johnny Lee Miller) comes to tell the queen (Imelda Staunton) on his first impressions. In short… Yeltsin is a total brotherhood star. Major could barely keep up with Bro-is as he slammed shots of vodka and danced across tables. The only thing he could discern from the insults was that apparently Boris was dying to be invited to Britain. The only thing he loves more than suffocating is Britain and the monarchy.

The Queen, tickled by the news, shares the treat with Prince Philip (Jonathan Price). Our favorite horse-drawn carriage conductor doesn’t care as he hastily prepares for a three-week world tour filled with – you guessed it – more horse-drawn carriage competitions. There’s a growing riff between them, one that Elizabeth expressly calls “more and more different”. Philippe ignores the jab, and we quickly see what springs in his approach. Penny (Natascha McElhone), his platonic new love (and wife of his godson!), is on Philip’s trip around the world. Philip beams as she expresses her newfound love for horse-drawn carriages and watches him in his many press appearances. It’s clear they’ve grown uncomfortably close, and one wonders if the feeling is mutual or if Penny is playing something bigger.

The Queen invites her drunken admirer Boris to visit, but her help is cautious. It turns out that Boris helped wash away the sins of executing the Romanovs by destroying the Ipatiev House, where they met their demise. During their first lunch, Boris gives an ironic toast to the “tsarist era” in favor of the monarchy and a request for favor from the queen, hoping that she will visit Moscow. This backfires when she uses it as an opportunity to bring up her role in covering up the legacy of the last Tsar’s murder – something she sees as a direct offense to her family, as Nikolai was the his grandfather’s cousin. Boris tries to distance himself from the act – after all, he was just a cog in the Communist Party machine – but the Queen presses. He concedes that in exchange for coming to Moscow, he will try to find the bodies to honor their memory with a proper burial. That said, Boris has the audacity to make his true feelings known later that day when, despite being directly next to the Queen, he laughs in Russian that it’s the fault of the Brits, not the Russians, that the Romanovs are dead (which begs the question: doesn’t Elizabeth have an interpreter with her all the time?).

Picture via Netflix

Either way, Boris keeps his promise and, sure enough, the Russians find the mutilated bones of the Romanov family. The problem is that they can’t 100% identify the bodies due to the apparent acid the Russian soldiers used to burn them after the execution (talk about insult to injury). The solution? A 23andMe from the early 90s using a DNA sample from the closest living relative – which, in this case, is Philip (the Tsarina was his great-aunt). For those of you who keep the accounts at home, yes, Philip’s great-aunt married Elizabeth’s great-grandfather’s cousin. What a tangled and incestuous web we weave. Again, Philip doesn’t seem very interested in Elizabeth’s news until he points out that Elizabeth didn’t ask many questions about the DNA authentication process.

Seems like a weird point to make until you realize he’s mentally justifying his emotional infidelity with Penny. In the next scene, she practically falls over herself to learn more about the science behind DNA authentication and repeatedly flatters how important Philip is to the whole process. Philip pretends to minimize his praise while trying to calm his friend down, so he can better hear Penny pointing out her worth. One wonders if Philip’s infatuation with Penny is due to their shared interests, or because his ego is taking advantage of feeling important again after years of living in his wife’s shadow. Philip, encouraged by Penny, becomes obsessed with his Russian lineage on his great-aunt’s side. Discussing Philip’s new passion with his mother and sister, Elizabeth mistakenly sees defending the legacy and memory of the Romanovs as a new shared passion for them. It’s a comforting thought for Elizabeth, as she admits she and Philip have little in common these days. She hopes their next trip to Russia will be a shared adventure where they can reconnect through this new bond.

Unfortunately, the trip turns out to be the opposite. Repeatedly Elizabeth tries to connect, and repeatedly Philip ignores her. She tells a Russian joke on the plane that barely elicits a laugh, he won’t make eye contact with her when the Russians greet him with a (less than catchy) rendition of “God Save the Queen”, and he spends most of his time alone rather than with her. Later, at a state dinner, Elizabeth calls for a renewed partnership between Russia and Britain, even though at times they seemed to “live in different worlds”. Once again, Peter Morgan, the master of subtlety, hits us over the head with the tip. She might as well be talking about herself and Philip.

Picture via Netflix

Later, Elizabeth finally confronts Philip about the growing coldness between them. He lashes out, lamenting all he gave up to be with her. In the name of the Crown and of duty, he renounced his autonomy and now claims to live a life of solitude and disenchantment. The icing on the cake, he admits to having found a solution thanks to the company of Penny (again – his goddaughter!). He doesn’t need Elizabeth—Penny and her “gang” of carriage heads are all he needs to feel fulfilled. Elizabeth is shocked by her relationship with a member of their own family, even though it is platonic. Plus, she’s hurt – isn’t she supposed to be his soul mate? She asks him to end this “company”, and he doubles down asking Elizabeth to befriend Penny. That way, it stings, she might actually learn something from Penny’s “curiosity” — like the Romanovs’ death was the fault of the British.

And so, the purpose of Romanov’s dramatic and violent execution becomes clear. Morgan tries to draw parallels between this first sequence and the marital drift of Philip and Elizabeth. In their emotional appeal for support in the name of family ties, the Romanovs represent Philip. In their pragmatic refusal to help in the name of duty, the British represent Elizabeth. Philip’s frustration with Elizabeth is his emotionless approach to family and personal relations on behalf of the Crown, and his grandfather’s choice not to help his cousin reminds him of Elizabeth’s coldness (though Philip comparing his life second fiddle to be brutally stabbed to death seems a bit dramatic).

It’s a lesson that falls on deaf ears for Elizabeth. Elizabeth agrees to meet Penny, but not for Philip’s sake. She wants to sense her goddaughter’s intentions mostly for self-defense (the tabloids can’t draw the wrong conclusion if Elizabeth is spending time with Penny). They take a tense walk and discuss the alleged betrayal of the Romanovs by Elizabeth’s grandparents. Penny again claims it was a treacherous act, going so far as to say it was due to Elizabeth’s grandmother’s petty jealousy of the Tsarina’s beauty. Elizabeth allows Penny the forum, but only to beat her to the point that it was a convenient decision. The Tsarina was German and the British were at war with the Germans. To help them would be to open the Crown to public criticism, reasoning that appeals to Elizabeth’s sense of duty and pragmatic rule. Elizabeth also says she knows firsthand that her grandmother was devastated by the news of the Romanovs’ murder, but as queen she was not allowed to express her feelings. This, too, pleases Elizabeth, as she knows all too well the burden of the monarchy.

The episode ends with Elizabeth learning from the Prime Minister that the Russians have authenticated the bodies, and now the Romanovs can get their own burial. He congratulates her on her success, as well as her upcoming 47th wedding anniversary. Elizabeth, no doubt because of recent events, becomes thoughtful. She asks Major, who has also been married for decades, how they got there. He responds with the advice of Dostoyevsky, of all. The key to a successful marriage is to never interfere with each other’s soul. The final scene shows Elizabeth at peace as she seemingly takes this advice to heart and plays with her corgis while Philip writes the hallway into another room. Side-play isn’t just for kids, it seems, and can be the key to surviving a lifelong marriage – that, and not having cold cousins ​​selling you out to communists murderers.