Prince, formerly King, Edward (here portrayed by Alex Jennings) is an individual who held a key role in the political developments of Britain in the 20th Century – it’s no particular surprise that he’s showing up here. Edward is an interesting character, who manages to be both sympathetic yet utterly self-serving; while it’s difficult not to feel sorry for him, it’s very clear that he’s very self-motivated, in a way quite unlike the rest of the royals. One very much gets the impression, however, that this is how Elizabeth wants to act, were it not for the weight of the crown…
… which provides another interesting wrinkle in the dynamic these two characters share. Were it not for Edward’s abdication, Elizabeth would never have found herself in the line of succession; Edward’s act of self-interest deprived Elizabeth of all subsequent choices. One of the most powerful moments of the episode – and perhaps the series thus far as a whole – was Elizabeth’s simple request for an apology from Edward. An apology he gave, and an apology that still managed to feel genuine despite everything; there’s a sense that, between these two characters, there’s a level of understanding that wouldn’t be shared elsewhere.
I fast became convinced that Prince Edward was the best character on The Crown; certainly, one of the most interesting and nuanced characters that they presented. This did admittedly feel vaguely uncomfortable, on account of how Edward was a real life Nazi.
Not that you’d know that you’d know this from The Crown, mind you – it’s a programme so obsessed with glorifying the royal family, even the Actual Literal Nazi is painted as a tragic figure, who’s unlucky because he’s only slightly less rich than his rich family.
(I suspect my disdain for The Crown is becoming apparent.)
(Alex of May 2018 interjecting: I don’t remember being quite so annoyed by The Crown on the basis of the above, but apparently it wound me up quite a lot.)