The Crown: The Balmoral Test
November 16, 2020 9:21 PM - Season 4, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Balmoral Castle hosts two guests during the Queen's vacation, with two very different outcomes.

The Thatchers come to call, and have an thoroughly unpleasant stay. Young Diana Spencer also comes for a visit and has a grand time. Ms. Thatcher goes back to London and guts her cabinet in the face of opposition to her budget; Diana goes home to the paparazzi as Charles is pressured towards marriage.

Also, a great stag is hunted, killed, skinned, and made into a trophy, which might just be symbolism?
posted by nubs (22 comments total)
This episode did the impossible - made me feel somewhat sympathetic for the Iron Lady. Found it interesting that the servants offered her no help, but were ready to offer Diana whatever she needed for the stalking.

The meeting between the Queen & the Prime Minister back in London was excellent (shots fired!).

The scene of Diana at the end, walking on the street with the paparazzi around her was the very first moment on this show that I could point at and say I recalled directly, which means either its catching up quick or I'm getting old.
posted by nubs at 9:26 PM on November 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thatcher, Diana and the Queen were arguably the 3 most famous women in the world at this point - so its interesting to note that the series was pretty much right about them all appearing in Balmoral around September 1980 - with the former two being on trial. The detail about everybody making a massive deal over whichever sap accidentally sat in Queen Victoria's chair - checks out from Andrew Morton's Diana biography. As does Diana's "Sloan Ranger" jumper.

I've been enjoying watching the series while listening to the 5 part podcast about Diana from Your Wrong About.
posted by rongorongo at 7:28 AM on November 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

I thought it was interesting when Diana said (not sure if it was this episode or the one before) that she was a 'townie' (which she was - she hated Balmoral and loved London), yet she shamelessly told Prince Philip that she was a country girl, obviously with her eye on the prize.
posted by essexjan at 2:43 PM on November 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

I cannot believe I felt sympathetic to Thatcher for even a second, but here I am. Luckily this doesn't last.
posted by jeather at 4:57 PM on November 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I cannot believe I felt sympathetic to Thatcher for even a second, but here I am. Luckily this doesn't last.

Truly, as awful as MT was, it certainly would have been an awkward and off-putting situation to be in. Although, she has herself at least a little bit to blame for not having done some research and proparation prior to her visit which I'd assume previous PMs would have done. But evidently, she really didn't care. I don't know whether to side with her or not about caring about that sort of decorum. I find so much about royalty to be absurd (and being from the US, I certainly don't connect to it) but then again, if I'm a guest at someone's home I'd want to be as respectful as possible.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 7:05 PM on November 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Thatcher scenes were definitely an interesting peek into class culture at the time, and an interesting contrast with Diana's approach (assimilation) to it.

My read on this interpretation of Thatcher is that she was blindsided by how ... backwards ... the royals are. Thatcher had to fight bloody tooth and nail to get to her position, the "Balmoral Test" was a curveball and a blatant regression compared to "townie" culture.

In the US, in (private, midwestern) college towns, "townie's" tended to be more provincial and sometimes used as a perjorative, in contrast with students of the college and especially (typically more affluent) out-of-state party students, many of which originate from the coasts.

But yeah, fatal mistake of not doing the research - unless she was such an outsider that she has nobody sympathetic to her who would be in a position to advise her with good intent.

I had no idea that Camilla and Charles were a thing before Diana showed up. I liked the bit where Corrin played Diana that was initially thrilled by the paparazzi, but the scene closes with a seed of doubt/ horror. If this is an accurate characterization, Diana should have known that it wasn't going to end well (playing at being country when she is very much a townie).

Wasn't sold on Emma Corrin, but she's starting to grow on me as Diana Spencer. O'Connor cast as Charles is too highly flattering to Charles. I still like Menzies as an older Philip, because he can do asshole, and Matt Smith was a surprisingly good young Philip.

I can certainly see how the royals aren't enamoured of this season.

As an aside, growing up, one of the highschools we played rugby against was called Balmoral and is in a casement/ district that was exclusively old money and very anglo.

They were elite (the years I played, we had a record against them close to 50/50; we had a few truly crazy guys and a genius five-eighth) and probably an extreme outlier for Canadian highschool athletics benefiting from money. Never been interested in looking up its namesake before, but, yeah I see now.
posted by porpoise at 7:53 PM on November 17, 2020

Re "Townie": Both the royals and Diana came from aristocratic families who had been wealthy for centuries. Such families would tend to have a sprawling estate somewhere in the countryside and as well as at least a flat in somewhere like Chelsea, London. All of them would be familiar with shooting, fishing and equine sports of one sort or another - but would also be expected to know about stuff like opera, ballet, fashion - picked up from their London visits. It was OK to have a stated preference for town or country life - but, to fit in, one would be expected to be familiar with both: an account at a Jermyn Street tailor and a knowledge of how to gut a partridge. The Royals were and are heavily "country" in their passions - Diana was driven to the other camp by her own interests - and also I think by designation from Charles and Camilla.

This is different from the situation seen in university towns like Oxford - where "townies" were those who were not students: assumed to be more working or middle class.
posted by rongorongo at 9:59 PM on November 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

I cannot believe I felt sympathetic to Thatcher for even a second, but here I am. Luckily this doesn't last.

The only time I ever felt sympathy for Thatcher was when her idiot son (the Don Jr of his day) got lost in the Sahara Desert for a few days. It was the only time I ever saw her show genuine emotion about anything and my heart went out to her. But beyond that, she was an evil witch.
posted by essexjan at 4:45 AM on November 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would have loved a warning for the animal suffering. (And the digusting royal family mockery of the animal suffering.) What a hideous episode in every way; everyone is just awful and I spent a lot of it on mute with my hand in front of my eyes. I guess if their intention was to make some viewers loathe everyone from here on out, they succeeded admirably.

I'd thought it might be fun to see Thatcher humiliated, especially with all of her initial disparagements when she arrived, but then I found myself feeling sorry for her, which was definitely not what I'd prefer to do regarding that horrible woman. This reminds me of their earlier attempts to smooth over the behavior of those Nazi fucks Edward VIII and Wallis.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would have loved a warning for the animal suffering.

And wow, the next episode has a huge warning about the depiction of the eating disorder, with a hotline number and everything. Priorities.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Although, she has herself at least a little bit to blame for not having done some research and proparation prior to her visit which I'd assume previous PMs would have done.

I wouldn't expect the PM to personally undertake her own protocol research. Both number 10 and the Palace would have protocol offices in place, and if she was left with so little information on how the visit would proceed, it seems like it has to have been a deliberate effort on the part of at least the Queen's protocol office and quite possibly also Thatcher's own to keep her in the dark. There was a sheet of instructions provided when they got there, but she should have received something in advance precisely for the reason that she would need to know what to pack. Although maybe the fact that she wouldn't let the Balmoral staff unpack for her is meant to demonstrate that she simply ignored whatever protocol information she was given in favour of doing for herself?
posted by jacquilynne at 5:22 PM on November 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

We spent every scene with The Majestic Doomed CGI Stag trying to figure out what he was supposed to symbolize:
Thatcher? If so, he’s going to be PM for another 10 years
Inflation? Unemployment?
Diana? Maybe, kind of
Charles, I guess, with Diana finally [not finally] putting him out of his Camilla-moping misery
Royalty as a concept?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:46 PM on November 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think it's worth considering that the stag became "theirs" by wandering into their territory, at which point they were gleefully in the right to kill it.

"We didn't do the original damage to you, but you came into our domain, and now we get to destroy you."

No doubt it works as a metaphor for others as well, but if that's not a metaphor for Diana, I don't know what is.
posted by meese at 7:00 PM on November 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

A stag plays a large role in The Queen, too-- a very different role for a very different stage of the story. I can't help thinking this stag is a reference to that one.
posted by BibiRose at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

As far as the potential for Diana to refuse or call off the engagement, there's that scene where her grandmother admonishes her on how important this match is for her family. This was forty years ago and not Tudor England, but the idea that for an 18-year-old of her class your family, and the male members of your family especially, had tremendous power over you, was probably operative in her accepting the situation. Even Charles would not seem quite as weird as he does today. To marry someone older and richer and for there to be a power imbalance in the relationship would not be so very unusual. (Still isn't, but it probably seemed closer to the norm then.)
posted by BibiRose at 1:26 PM on November 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

We spent every scene with The Majestic Doomed CGI Stag trying to figure out what he was supposed to symbolize:

It can stand in for a lot of people and things here, which is what makes it interesting. As noted, it's something that came into their domain, and they get to hunt & kill it - which is similar to how they treat Maggie and her husband, but it is when Diana is around that the kill is made, and while Chuckie feels it refers to him, I feel pretty clear it is meant to be Diana. A trophy, that the entire family participates in finding, to be put on display as some kind of indication of how superior they are.
posted by nubs at 2:34 PM on November 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Inflation? Unemployment?

Stagflation, surely.
posted by The Tensor at 12:18 AM on November 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

Does the Queen Mother look distinctly more regal in this than in real life?
posted by biffa at 5:24 AM on November 20, 2020

Red deer have antlers which become larger and have more points (roughly) as the animal ages. A mature stag may have between 12 and 15 points. A stag with 12 points is a "royal stag", more than 16 points is a "monarch". The animal depicted in this episode is an "imperial stag" - 14 points. . The episode depicts an era when there were quite a number of royals who were at peak age for being interested in stalking - as many of those people have aged, the Balmoral estate has been under fire recently for under-culling - and generally allowing the number of animals on their patch to grow to unsustainable levels where they damage trees and where older animals gradually starve to death in the winter. Once upon a time older Scottish deer used to be polished off by grey wolves - and there is a call to re-introduce them. In terms of ecological health, I would strongly back grey wolves over doddering royals for deer control.
posted by rongorongo at 8:35 AM on November 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

So, put House Stark in charge then?
posted by nubs at 8:53 AM on November 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Had a good laugh when the Queen’s private secretary asks her if she will be the one to instruct Diana on all the protocol rigamarole and she replies, not that she’s too busy but that she’d be too soft (!) so it’s handed off to Diana’s loathed grandmother and lady-in-waiting, the one who testified against her own daughter (Diana’s mother) in the divorce from Earl Spencer.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:14 PM on November 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

The music over the final montage is the overture from La Traviata--an interesting choice.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2020

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