Netflix's The Crown ambitiously tackles the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, and while you'd think a series about a mid-century female monarch would have sweepingly feminist themes, Elizabeth often finds herself bound by a sense of duty and deference to the monarchy. She had moments of success in making her own choices, but over and over again, viewers watch her sacrifice her individuality in the service of a dying institution for years before — well, I guess everyone will have to see where the series takes her in its planned six-season arc. But these 11 feminist moments from The Crown prove that Elizabeth wasn't the only woman making space for herself in a male-dominated sphere.
There are a few other strong female characters on The Crown also working to lift up one another and themselves, even in the face of complicated royal life, restrictive social norms, and old-world thinking. Everyone from Queen Mary and the Queen Mother to Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill's aide, Venetia, had moments of shining individualism or fierce resistance against the privileges afforded them, to the benefit of a less privileged person. The first season opened with wall-to-wall male perspectives of Elizabeth as she ascended the throne. But as the show carried on, viewers saw how weak and disposable those men become, giving rise to the women who uphold the very fabric of the monarchy in their midst. Such as when...
1. Elizabeth Talks Her Family Into Accepting Philip
In the very first episode, fans learn how very against "the match" of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip the monarchy and royal advisors really were prior to their marriage. It was Elizabeth, in fact, who changed hearts and minds in an effort for her union with Philip to be accepted over that of her previous boyfriend, Lord Porchester. As it's noted in the pilot episode: "She turned us all on our heads, and barely opened her mouth in the process." It's a rare moment of Elizabeth taking her fate into her own hands in a big way, and prioritizing her desire over optics.
2. Elizabeth Commands Philip As His Queen
Perhaps understandably cranky over the fact that his royal duties were kicking in about 30 years earlier than expected, Prince Philip began to resist the several seats he must take in deference to his queen. Not being able to live where he wanted, not being able to name his kids what he wanted, and — horror of horrors — bowing at a ceremonial function, all seemed to be swords he was willing to die on as Elizabeth ascended the throne. But she finally set him straight before her coronation and demanded his respect as his queen and as his wife.
3. Elizabeth Became The Mechanic
It's a subtle moment, but Elizabeth briefly channeled Lady Sybill Crawley when she took charge of an overheated safari vehicle during her trip to Africa. She revealed that she used to be a mechanic during the war and set the men trying to fix the jeep straight in a small feminist victory. She couldn't help but speak up when she saw something being done impractically, even if it "isn't a woman's place" to know how to fix a car.
4. Elizabeth Went Behind The Camera
Elizabeth received a motion picture camera as a wedding present, and although she can't stand to be in front of it herself, she was fascinated with capturing moments behind the scenes, especially on her trip to Africa. The act of literally taking control of the lens and perspective of the story she wishes to tell is an unusual engagement with subjectivity for a woman to take up at the time.
5. Elizabeth Scolded Philip In Africa
OK, so, clearly, there are some inherently anti-feminist colonial themes in The Crown, and it's difficult to reconcile Elizabeth as a feminist icon while she goes on a literal World Imperialism Tour. Twice. But when Philip mocked the tribes who came out to greet the royals in Nairobi and generally behaved like a buffoon toward unfamiliar cultures, Elizabeth did briefly check him. She scolded her husband for calling a tribe leader's headdress a "hat" instead of honoring it as a crown, which, however faintly, made the whole scene feel marginally less gross.
6. Venetia Was Attracted To Churchill
While never made explicit, it did seem as though Winston Churchill's young, ambitious aide Venetia was something of an admirer of his. The closest fans ever got to an admission of attraction was when she relayed to Churchill that, upon his advice that she spend more time with a man her own age, she picked up the memoir he wrote when he was 25 and channeled her affections there. It was a subtle relationship, and it certainly never reached the proportions of a full-blown romantic affair, but Venetia blurring the lines of mentor, father-figure, and work crush so openly and vulnerably felt like a feminist bucking of social norms nonetheless.
7. Queen Mary Assisted The Maid
It's probably Queen Mary's only moment of resisting her privilege to give someone else a leg up, but her brief rejection of the class divide between herself and her maid is a feminist moment, too. When a chamber maid who visited her room admitted that she was confused about which queen is which, Queen Mary pretty tenderly explained the royal hierarchy to her, instead of scolding her, firing her for insubordination, or lecturing her on what an idiot she was. To look past the classist social norms of the time and lift up a woman who's struggling is one of the show's most intersectionally feminist moments.
8. Elizabeth Took Her Education Into Her Own Hands
This was actually a fictionalized moment, but when Queen Elizabeth realized her royal education left much to be desired with regard to actual classroom subjects, she took it upon herself to hire a tutor in her adulthood. The real Queen Elizabeth probably had a bit more thorough understanding of history than the show portrays, although she didn't have a traditional academic background by any means. Hiring a tutor probably didn't really happen, but, as Vulture notes, in the context of the show, it speaks dually to Elizabeth "valuing herself and frankly assessing her own limitations." To move far enough past judgement and self-loathing that she could admit her shortcomings and seek help is a deeply feminist theme.
9. Margaret Embraced Individualism
Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret are diametrically opposed forces on The Crown. Elizabeth succeeds at suppressing all her worldly desires and emotions in service of being an empty vessel for the crown, while Margaret believes that the British people will better relate to a warm and personable monarchy. When Elizabeth embarked on her second tour of the British empire, Margaret filled in as her surrogate domestically, forgoing scripted speeches in favor of being her charming self. It worked, and she "dazzled" crowds, press, and her subjects. Even though Elizabeth and Churchill later reprimanded her, Margaret's drive to be unapologetically herself and connect with people via authenticity, rather than austerity, is one of her feminist triumphs.
10. The Queen Mother Visited Scotland
The Queen Mother had a fairly unforgiving role as far as feminist resistance goes. But once she arrived in Scotland, she finally began to understand that self-care is important and prioritizing herself after a lifetime of service to the crown is possible. The sense of freedom she felt in her pseudo-isolation is palpable and it's hugely significant in terms of how distancing herself from Buckingham Palace means being able to take back some power for herself.
11. Elizabeth Pointed Out The Divorce Double Standard
Much is made of how verboten even the specter of divorce is for the British monarchy. Not only are royal family members not permitted to divorce, but they also can't marry a divorced person, causing trouble for both Elizabeth's uncle, who had to abdicate the throne in order to marry a divorced American woman, and her sister, who was very much in love with divorced war hero Peter Townsend. While Elizabeth did her best to try and change the tide on the palace's views of divorce, she ultimately failed. Margaret and Peter never did tie the knot, but there is one satisfying moment when Elizabeth was negotiating with Parliament in which she called out its four members who are, themselves, divorced. It doesn't change anything, but she was right to point out the shifting national opinion on divorce, and the double standard it placed on her sister.
While The Crown's feminist victories can seem subtle or unsatisfying to the modern viewer, it's important to factor in the restrictions women were facing at the time, and just how trailblazing these moments were for future British royalty. After all, from these humble beginnings, Queen Elizabeth II was finally able to see women become equal in British throne succession, a law passed in 2013, just before Prince William and Kate Middleton began having children.