The Crown – Season 5 Episode 4 “Annus Horribilis” Recap & Review

Annus Horribilis

Episode 4 of The Crown Season 5 is very touching as it resurrects a subject from the debut season, concerning Princess Margaret (currently portrayed by Lesley Manville). And while the Crown portrays virtually all of the members of the royal family sympathetically, she continues to remain among the show’s most melancholic characters, always having to sacrifice her happiness. So it’s difficult not to empathize with her when she claims that she still cherishes her faith and confides in the prospect of happy endings.

During a radio interview, she discusses her music selection, concluding with “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael, which she dryly states bears special value for her. Margaret, played by Manville, embodies a more reflective, less impulsive princess than we’ve witnessed in past seasons. When asked regarding true love, she emphasizes how aging forces you to reconsider which ones were genuine and lasting. It was a subject that Peter Townsend considers carefully from afar.

Following 35 years of complete silence, Peter writes to Margaret to inquire if she’ll join him at a reception in the coming week in London. Elizabeth is not particularly thrilled when Margaret informs her about the penned letter from her former lover.

Throughout this episode, Elizabeth’s kids pay her three distinct visits in an effort to put an end to their respective marriages. Fergie’s toes were sucked, and since there are photographs to prove it, now Andrew demands a divorce. Against her mother’s desires, Anne, who has previously divorced Mark, is adamant about getting married to Tim who is of lower rank than her.

Charles ultimately requests the queen’s consent to end his relationship, explaining why Andrew Morton’s book is the reason behind his decision. Charles, however, is the successor to the throne, making him subject to even higher expectations than the other members of the Royal Family. He is informed by the queen that wedlock lasts a lifetime. She furthermore states that having a happy marriage is a preference rather than a requirement.

Furious, Charles notes that the Windsors have quite a shockingly high divorce rate and he supports his argument by naming Margaret, Anne, Andrew, and hopefully him. According to Charles, this is the only way the royal family has modernized itself—by encouraging and pressuring unhappy unions internally.

At the celebration, Peter and Margaret keep a respectful distance until a trumpet variation of “Stardust” begins and he urges her to dance with him. When they sway to the rhythm, it’s evident that the connection hasn’t faded despite the passage of time. Margaret returns to her old, lively self for the very first time this season, intoxicated by love and possibly booze, as Peter looks at her fondly.

As the night comes to an end, Peter informs Margaret that he’ll be returning to London shortly and wishes to return her handwritten love letters, which he’s been keeping all these years. He quickly adds that it’s not due to rejection – since he understands where her mind can wander and still appears to care for her. Peter confesses that he treasures her words but worries that they will fall into the wrong hands after he dies.

The Queen explores a path leading towards her own enlightenment as Margaret reminisces and rereads some of Peter’s old letters, providing us with a flashback of Vanessa Kirby’s fiery young Margaret. Queen Elizabeth confides in the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning her kid’s failing unions and how she feels she continued to fail them with her method of upbringing. The archbishop acknowledges that his own children are experiencing a similar situation. The archbishop continues by stressing that Charles and Diana didn’t divorce yet and could possibly get back together.

Windsor Castle is destroyed by a chapel fire caused by a fuse. The queen is in despair. The Crimson Room, a place where Margaret and Peter shared happy memories of spending time there, is among the many rooms that are burnt in the tragedy. Margaret discovers that Peter is unwell and is about to pass away as we watch the star-crossed pair stroll through the outdoors and share memories. He asks Margaret if their love was temporary or lasting, referencing her radio interview, and thereafter he pecks her swiftly before departing without waiting for her response.

Margaret visits her sister later that same evening. She makes the case that perhaps someone who held a grudge against the queen caused the fire. Thereafter, she emphasizes how fortunate Elizabeth was to have Philip over the years. She conveys her anger, blaming Elizabeth who sent her sole genuine lover, Peter, far away from her.

Elizabeth is sniffling while she prepares arguably her most iconic speech in history. However, once the Queen Mother comments on the speech, Philip steps in to support his wife, saying she has a right to express herself freely. The Queen Mother expresses shock at his defense of Elizabeth, however she emphasizes fiercely that Philip has always stood by her.

The monarch’s “Annus horribilis” monologue was different from the actual one in the series largely as a fitting tribute to Margaret and the royal family’s struggles as they make sacrifices for the crown, but the genuine speech did not contain any such messages.

Margaret states later on the call that nobody blames the Queen for anything. Conversely, the queen asserts that everyone blames her, but that’s fair considering how she profits the most from the system they are in. The queen claims it’s her job, despite Margaret pointing out that she suffers as well and this episode, in particular, is proof of that.


The Episode Review

During this episode, Princess Margaret and her struggles are showcased primarily, and Peter Townsend is introduced to viewers. It is later revealed that Townsend seems to be the Princess’ sole true love. We witness Lesley Manville’s Margaret suffer yet another loss at the hands of the cold-hearted Queen. Furthermore, the episode also recounts the destructive fire that started at Windsor Castle around 1992.

This chapter further exemplifies how brilliantly the series uses symbolism. It’s neat to see how the writers connected two incidents that had a negative influence on the royal family, drew a parallel between them, and masterfully dramatized it.

Fire is a metaphor for chaos, destruction, rage, and passion; therefore, the fire that breaks out at Windsor Castle is a metaphor in action that is presented by the other great tragedy, which is the collapse and subsequent chaos and ruin of the marriages within the royal family.

It’s admirable how this show humanizes all members of the royal family, including the Queen. The Queen is lowered from her elevated pedestal and the episode reveals how her rule has had a severe impact on the lives of members of the royal family. We witness her initially denying her role in separating Margaret and Peter, then we watch her overcome with guilt. Finally, we see her apologize and take accountability for her actions for her own peace of mind. Although these events are dramatized, it’s interesting how brilliantly they’re done, nearly catching the audience off-guard.

This episode is quite heart-wrenching, as we see both the Queen and, in particular, Princess Margaret going through a difficult time. We can’t help but sympathize with Princess Margaret because of her unexplored, mutual love for Peter Townsend and how that love endures over time. Princess Margaret is undoubtedly the series’ most interesting, witty, confident, and tragic character, and she always gets the best lines.

In this episode, the actress who plays Margaret’s role does an excellent job conveying her character’s anguish, longing, and grief.

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You can read our full season review for The Crown Season 5 here!

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