Much of the drama of The Crown comes from the balance between Queen Elizabeth's private interior life and the major political events of the day. As a story about the real queen's real life, the Netflix series dramatizes historical events from the unique perspective of the Queen of England. In the first episode of Season 2, the series juxtaposes Elizabeth's marriage with an international crisis. So did the Suez Crisis really happen? The Crown shows Queen Elizabeth dealing with a new Prime Minister and a less than perfect husband. Warning: spoilers ahead for Episode 1!
The second season of The Crown opens not with a global crisis, but with a smaller crisis at home between Queen Elizabeth, played by Claire Foy, and her husband Prince Philip, played by Matt Smith. Like any marriage, Elizabeth and Philip's relationship has its fair share of ups and downs. But unlike normal marriages, the queen doesn't have the option for divorce. The queen must pretend everything is fine and dandy in her marriage just like she must pretend everything is fine and dandy with the Prime Minister, whether or not she necessarily agrees with his actions. Elizabeth's marital problems are set against a backdrop of the Suez Crisis, a real historical event whose repercussions are still felt even today.
In 1956, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser seized and nationalized the Suez Canal, kicking off the crisis which led to military action by Israeli, French, and British governments. The Israelis were first to attack, with British and French forces arriving a few days later. But this two-day delay was enough to give the Soviet Union enough time to respond. The Soviets, eager to secure a foothold in the Middle East, had supported the Egyptian government, and railed against the invasion. Happening right in the middle of the Cold War, the whole thing was a powder keg of a situation that could have sparked aggression from the Soviet Union.
The United States, under the leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower, had a more diplomatic approach. The Eisenhower administration cautioned the Soviet government that further action would only make matters worse and threatened the British, French, and Israeli governments with sanctions if they did not withdraw. The three nations eventually did, but Britain and France found that their influence as world powers was greatly diminished. In the show, the first episode showed the start of this conflict, coloring historical events with personality.
In taking the canal, Egyptians were, at least in part, fighting against British colonialism. The show has Prime Minister Anthony Eden hugely misjudging the significance of these events, and clearly eager to maintain that colonialist presence in Egypt. He refers to Nasser as "a petty hoodlum showing off for the Soviets" to Elizabeth, and calling the Egyptian forces, "Nasser's ragtag collection of part-time pilots." Elizabeth seems wary of military intervention, wishing to avoid yet another war, but Eden is firm with her, explaining that it's "the right thing to do, ma'am."
Alas, it was not the right thing to do, and directly led to Britain's diminished influence in the world. In the show, Eden did not tell Elizabeth about Britain's plans, along with Israel and Egypt, to respond with military force until she had to call him out on it. The show clearly implies that Elizabeth disagreed with the Prime Minister (portrayed with irritating male smugness by Jeremy Northam), but she's pretty much powerless to say anything. Obviously annoyed by her silly questions like 'Does the U.N. know about this move?' Eden asks if he has her support. But it's clear that Elizabeth has no real choice to say no here. "The Prime Minister always has the sovereign's support," she responds, very correctly. It seems that the Queen Elizabeth may, in fact, sometimes feel like the least powerful woman in England.
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