'The Crown' Season 3 Episode 3: Is Queen Elizabeth's lack of emotions justified in her delay to comfort people after Aberfan disaster?
Queen Elizabeth II visited Aberfan eight days after the devastating avalanche killed nearly 116 children and 28 adults.
The story contains spoilers for 'The Crown' Season 3 Episode 3 — 'Aberfan'.
Grief affects different people differently. Some sulk, or become morose, or weep and bawl out loud. There are a few who show no emotion at all. Queen Elizabeth II stood in the last category. And her struggle with letting out her feelings can be seen in the episode titled 'Aberfan'.
On a joyous morning in 1966, little kids sang 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' and hopped on their way to the Welsh town of Aberfan’s Pantglas Junior School. Mothers waved goodbye to their children. Little did they know it was doomsday.
At around 9:15 am on October 21, the primary school teacher had just started the day’s math lesson when an ominous rumble was heard in the distance. After a period of heavy rain, tip number seven had risen to 111 feet and it came tumbling down like a black avalanche that consumed rocks, trees, farm cottages, following its murderous descent into the school.
The tragedy swooped down on the village killing 116 children and 28 adults. Jeff Edwards was the last child to be lifted out of Pantglas alive. In the series, Prime Minister Harold Wilson is giving a speech when he is notified and he leaves midway to visit the people. Once there, he is shaken and stirred. The condition of his countrymen brings him at a loss for words. "I guarantee you the highest level independent inquiry into this tragedy. All the necessary powers will be given to those in charge to take whatever action needed," he announces.
He then advises the Queen to visit Aberfan. Her reason to not go makes little sense. "One of the most unfortunate things about being sovereign I have discovered is that you paralyze virtually every situation you walk into. The very last thing emergency and rescue services need when they are working against the clock is a queen turning up," she says. Wilson is not convinced but there is little he can do.
"What, precisely, would you have me do?" she quizzes him. "Comfort people," he answers. "Put on a show? The Crown doesn't do that," she argues again to which he sharply answers: "I didn't say put on a show. I said comfort people."
Meanwhile, victims who have lost their close ones put the blame on the National Coal Board. "Buried Alive by the National Coal Board. That's what I want to see written on my child's death certificate," one man yells out. The situation worsens. Even after Princess Margaret's description and Prince Philip's emotional account, the Queen still ponders over her visit.
Philip: "81 children were buried today. They didn't smash things up. They didn't fight in the streets."
Elizabeth: "What did they do?"
Philip: "They sang. The whole community. It's the most astonishing thing I've ever heard."
Elizabeth: "Did you weep?"
Philip: "Did I weep? I might have wept, yes. The fact is anyone who heard that hymn today would not just have wept but would've been broken into a thousand tiny pieces."
It is only after a newspaper calls her absence a "scandalous lack of care and interest" that she plans her visit for Saturday, seven days after the calamity. The Queen finally heads to the village. She tries her best to keep emotions wrapped in a bundle but breaks down after looking at the empty benches in the school. She expresses her condolences to the bereaved and is taken aback as to how the children manage to draw the Queen a handmade card.
Later, she tries to put the blame on Wilson for tipping-off journalists but finds out it was his "colleagues." "They were right," she says. "The people of Aberfan deserved a prompt response. They didn't get one. They deserved a display of compassion, of empathy from their queen. They got nothing. I dabbed a bone-dry eye and by some miracle, no one noticed."
The Queen confesses how bereft of emotions she is. Wilson doesn't pity or offer any advice. He talks about his flaws and preferences instead. "We can't be everything to everyone and still be true to ourselves," he utters and the two develop a strong bond at that moment.
Queen Elizabeth II puts the hymn on a vinyl tape and she weeps. Olivia Colman's performance is a marvel to behold and her struggle to show her emotions will tug at several heartstrings.
Was the Queen's lack of emotions as a cause of delay in visiting Aberfan justified? A slug reads: "According to those close to her, the Queen's delayed response to the disaster remains her biggest regret as Sovereign. Since 1966, she has returned to the village more than any other member of the Royal Family."