Politics can be so convoluted, even Claire Foy's Queen Elizabeth needs weekly briefings to keep abreast of the latest updates. So if you need a recap of The Crown Season 1 to clarify all the monarchical intrigue that happened during the first few years of Elizabeth's reign… well, there's no shame in that. Unfortunately, Winston Churchill himself isn't here to re-educate fans on the events of Season 1 — or John Lithgow, for that matter — so you're stuck with me.
When Season 1 of the Netflix series began, George VI (aka the subject of the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech) was still ruling England, young Elizabeth was but a monarch-in-training, and Churchill had just been re-elected Prime Minister, six years after his triumphant term during World War II had come to an end. The premiere began with Prince Philip Mountbatten of Greece and Denmark renouncing all royal titles so he could marry the heir apparent to the throne of England. But his marriage to Elizabeth would be far from a smooth one, as she would be thrust into her leadership position far sooner than either of them expected upon the untimely death of her father.
What else happened in Season 1's 10 episodes? Read on to refresh your memory.
Queen Elizabeth II
After her father passed away due to complications arising from his lung cancer, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of House Windsor — now Queen Elizabeth II — found herself assuming the royal duties far earlier than expected. This put quite the strain on her personal relationships as she juggled the expectations of being a national figurehead with the responsibilities of being a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and human being.
She clashed with her husband Philip over his last name and their place of residence; she clashed with her sister Margaret over her choice of husband; she clashed with her senior deputy Tommy Lascelles over her choice of successor; and she clashed with her prime minister Winston Churchill over matters of state. Essentially, no one in Elizabeth's life survived her transition to power unscathed, as the demands of the crown took precedence over any personal matters. Elizabeth was faced with that choice time and time again, and chose the crown every time.
After having their honeymoon/Commonwealth tour cut short due to King George's untimely death, Philip found himself quickly chafing at the role of royal consort. Feeling threatened and emasculated by his wife's power, he put up a fight wherever his manhood was concerned, including keeping his surname, his family home, and his stubborn refusal to kneel during Elizabeth's coronation. (He lost every one of those battles, much to his chagrin.)
Fortunately, Philip found some comfort in flying lessons with his sister-in-law's paramour, Group Captain Peter Townsend. Whenever he found himself getting too restless, his wife would find something to occupy his time, including putting him in charge of planning her coronation and, in the Season 1 finale, sending him off to be her representative at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
If you want an account of Churchill's tenure during WWII, check out the movie Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman as the Prime Minister. Season 1 of The Crown picked up six years later, with the towering politician having been out of office for over half a decade, returning to Downing Street a much older man… and one perhaps past his prime. (Pun intended.)
While Churchill did his best to educate Elizabeth on the ways of the monarchy, he also dealt with his own tragedies, power struggles, and health issues — including the death of his secretary during the Great Smog of 1952, his opposition by ambitious members of his own party, and a debilitating stroke during a critical moment of international relations.
It wasn't until artist Graham Sutherland painted an unflattering but honest portrait of Churchill for his 80th birthday that the Prime Minister was forced to confront his own mortality. He retired from office and was succeeded by Anthony Eden… just in time for the new Prime Minister to get embroiled in a clash with Egyptian President Nasser over the Suez Canal.
If Elizabeth was George's pride, then Margaret was his joy. Elizabeth's free-spirited younger sister refused to let her elder's responsibilities keep her from enjoying her own privileged life, whether that be hosting parties, giving improvised speeches, or pursuing the man of her dreams, Group Captain Townsend. After Margaret fell in love with the older divorcé, she learned to her chagrin that they wouldn't be allowed to marry until she turned 25, due to the Royal Marriages Act.
Upon Churchill's request, Elizabeth kept Margaret and Peter separated during their two-year engagement, hoping the flames of passion would die out on their own. When they didn't — and Elizabeth had no choice but to acquiesce to her sister's most desperate desire — both young women learned to their chagrin that the Royal Marriages Act had a second part that Lascelles had kept from them: that, even after she turned 25, Margaret's marriage would have to be approved by both houses of Parliament, after which she would still have to wait yet another year.
The Queen Mother
While the royal sisters bickered, their mother (also named Elizabeth) found herself at a loss. Her husband was now dead, her daughter was now her ruler, her title was nothing more than an honorific, and her role in the monarchy was ambiguous at best, superfluous at worst. Struggling with depression, Elizabeth escaped to Scotland, where she bought a castle on a whim and cherished life outside of the spotlight for once.
Experienced in what the monarchy can do to a marriage, the Queen Mother had a keen eye for the tensions between her daughter and Philip. She clashed with Philip over his domineering parenting of young Prince Charles, and encouraged Queen Elizabeth to send her husband away to Australia to oversee the Olympics.
Edward, Duke Of Windosr
One more member of the royal family came out of the woodwork after King George's death: his older brother Edward, who had been living in Paris since renouncing his kingship in order to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson, choosing love and his own personal life over duty and the crown. To Elizabeth, her uncle's is choice always remains an example of what not to do — even though her own father, and by extension herself, would never have ruled England if Edward hadn't abdicated.
What crazy hijinks will the royal family get up to next? Find out when Season 2 premieres — and Dexter star Michael C. Hall makes his debut as President John F. Kennedy — on Netflix this Friday, Dec. 8.