In episode 2 “The Balmoral Test” from The Crown Season 4, there’s a relevant scene to the whole storyline of The Queen and Margaret Thatcher.

The creator and writer of the series, Peter Morgan, introduces the scene: “Margaret Thatcher has returned from having spent a long weekend in Balmoral. This is the first time really that the first cracks are showing. Thatcher has just come into power very respectful of the Queen, very deferential towards the monarchy, and now having gone to Balmoral feeling a little out of place, suddenly the relationship has changed.”

This deferential attitude is in the scene as it takes place in Buckingham Palace, specifically in the Audience Room. Obviously, it will influence the manner of both characters: a restrained anger.

You can watch the scene here: Thatcher and the Queen First Cracks | The Crown Scene

What’s at Stake in the Scene?

Firstly, we must ask ourselves what this scene is about. Two ways of looking at it: the value of the scene and its purpose.

It’s simple, power versus weakness. Moreover, the ways of obtaining said power: in silence (the Queen) or with enemies (Thatcher).

  • Scene Purpose: the Queen discusses with Thatcher about the recent reshuffle of her cabinet.
  • Scene Subtextual Purpose: the first cracks of the Queen-Prime Minister relationship are showing.

We should also consider the desires of the characters as well as how they show them, their tactics.

  • Thatcher’s desire: power.
  • The Queen’s desire: warn Thatcher about her ways.
  • Tactics: irony, gestures and words that hide their true interest.

Set-ups of the Scene

What has happened before this scene? What relevant events have taken place that will influence the outcome of the scene? There are two previous scenes:

  • Margaret Thatcher’s reshuffle: the Prime Minister fires three members of her cabinet because they disaprove her policies. We see Thatcher as the Iron Lady. Peter Morgan describes the situation in the screenplay as “our first glimpse of Thatcher the Godfather”.
Thatcher’s part internal memo, part Mafia hit list
  • Thatcher realises who the Royals truly are in Balmoral. She even personifies the betrayal of the “patronising bullies” within her own cabinet into the Royal Family and addresses it as a class difference. Finally, she leaves Balmoral as she doesn’t feel part of that society.

Just like those patronising bullies within my own cabinet. All members of a certain class, you’ll notice. Well, if this country really IS to turn the corner, then I say it needs to change fundamentally. Top to bottom.

Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) to Denis Thatcher about the Royals

Future Events

Not only the past events influence scene writing, also the future of the characters. As The Crown is an historical series, Peter Morgan plays with the events in order to hook and surprise the audience.

Those enemies that Thatcher shows off in her own cabinet will ultimately betray her. In the final episode “War”, Geoffrey Howe says in his resignation speech: “The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long.”

This scene is not only about power, but about loyalty too.

Beats of the Queen and Thatcher

An interesting way of analysing the scene is by using Robert McKee’s beats, patterns of action and reaction in the human behaviour of the characters.

  • Beat 1.
    • Thatcher: Following the protocol.
    • The Queen: Pretending to be comfortable.
  • Beat 2.
    • Thatcher: Being ironically kind. She calls the Queen lazy.
      • “I do hope you enjoy your holiday.”
    • The Queen: Reprimanding Thatcher’s attitude at Balmoral.
  • Beat 3.
    • The Queen: Changing the topic in order to not be seen as a rude person.
      • “But there have been blood sports here, too, I notice. You have a brand new cabinet?”
    • Thatcher: Appreciating the gesture.
  • Beat 4.
    • The Queen: Challenging Thatcher.
      • “Mostly older ministers that were ‘culled’.”
    • The Queen: Accepting the challenge.
      • “Yes, although it wasn’t just their age that decided it.”
  • Beat 5.
    • The Queen: Showing interest.
    • Thatcher: Revealing the truth that affects the Queen.
      • “Their background mostly. And lack of grit – as a consequence of their privilege and entitlement.”
  • Beat 6.
    • The Queen: the Queen warns Thatcher about her attitude towards people from the upper class.
    • Thatcher: Showing her Iron Lady self.
  • Beat 7.
    • The Queen: Being sceptic to Thatcher’s way of thinking.
    • Thatcher: Reaffirming her argument by reciting a poem.
  • Beat 8.
    • Thatcher: Making snide remarks to the Queen with the second part of the poem.
      • “You’ve hit no traitor on the hip, You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip, You’ve never turned the wrong to right, You’ve been a coward in the fight.”
    • The Queen: Pretending to be comfortable.

If you look at the eight beats in the scene, you become aware of the progress of it. The Queen controls the scene until Thatcher calls her a coward in a subtle way.

Moreover, the ending of this scene, where clearly Thatcher wins, pays off in the last episode “War”. In an attempt to maintain power, Thatcher visits the Queen to exercise her power to dissolve Parliament, but Elizabeth responds:

Power is nothing without authority and at this moment, your cabinet is against you, your party is against you, and if the polls are to be believed, if you were to call a general election today you would not win, which suggests the country is against you

The Queen Elizabeth to Margaret Thatcher

Structure – Thatcher vs. The Queen

Finally, the structure of the scene divided as the Classical Structure determines including its turning points:

  • Beginning: Thatcher meets the Queen in the Audience Room to inform her about recent events.
    • TURN: Thatcher reveals why she fired some members of her cabinet.
  • Middle: the Queen warns Thatcher about her attitude. “Always a mistake to assume just because people are privileged they lack grit. And a dangerous game, I think, to make enemies.”
    • TURN: Thatcher reveals the way she wants to obtain power: creating enemies. She recites a chartist poem by Charles Mackay, a subtle indirect way to call the Queen a coward. “You’ve been a coward in the fight.”
  • End: the meeting ends with a cordial rather revealing stare at one another. Enemies.