“A cri de cœur, rather than a coup de grâce?” Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) asks towards the end of The Crown’s season 3 finale, giving the episode its title, “Cri de Coeur.” The subject of her question is her youngest daughter, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), who has just been found unconscious after taking a large amount of the sedative nitrazepam.
Both the Queen Mother and The Queen herself, oldest daughter Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), want to understand if the medical emergency was a cry for help that accidentally became extreme or a purposeful attempt at death by suicide. The answer to that question, and exactly how the royal family handles it, sets the foundation for the future of The Crown.
“Cri” centres around the crumbling marriage of Margaret and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (formerly Matthew Goode, now aged-up to Ben Daniels). As we see at the beginning of the episode, Tony has taken up with a much younger woman, Lucy Lindsay-Hogg (Jessica de Gouw). The affair pushes Margaret and Tony’s always-tumultuous relationship into volatile territory, where violently throwing things quickly turns to violently making out.
Margaret, heartbroken over Tony’s prolonged and increasingly public betrayal, heads to a friend’s home in the country. There, she meets Roddy Llewellyn (Harry Treadaway), a 20-something posh boy and gardener 17 years the princess’ junior. In response to Tony’s affair, Margaret begins an equally passionate and obvious dalliance with Roddy. The tryst sours when paparazzi spot Margaret and her “toy boy,” as the Brits say, canoodling on a Mustique beach in the Caribbean in 1976. All of this happened in real life.
In “Cri,” Margaret arrives home from Mustique pap-hounded and with Roddy in tow. There, she finds Tony waiting for her. An explosive argument is followed by Tony and Margaret’s dangerous love-hate relationship on full display. Roddy flees. When Margaret tries to follow Roddy, Tony announces shouts that he is ending things with his wife. While it’s unclear if this exact confrontation occurred, Anne de Courcy’s 2008 biography Snowdon says the princess was “shattered” by the abrupt loss of her paramour and the concurrent ruination of her marriage.
We see Margaret respond to the romantic catastrophe by taking a number of packets of nitrazepam. In reality, the British tabloids were full of rumours about a possible Princess Margaret death by suicide attempt since the mid-1970s, during the Roddy Llewellyn fiasco. Multiple outlets (including the de Courcy and the Telegraph) report the royal did take multiple tablets of Mogadon, the brand-name version of nitrazepam, during the period.
Yet Princess Margaret, who died in 2002, denied that her Mogadon use at the time was a deliberate attempt at self-harm. Instead, The Telegraph reports, she said of the emergency, “I was so exhausted because of everything that all I wanted to do was sleep … And I did, right through to the following afternoon."
The Crown’s version of Margaret has a more tragic outlook on the situation. When the Queen asks her sister if she “meant” the near death by suicide, Margaret answers, “I don’t know. Possibly.”
It’s a heartbreaking admission that accomplishes The Crown’s apparent goal in the final hour of season 3. After a turbulent season of their own, Buckingham Palace’s sisters form a united front. You can sense how genuinely concerned Elizabeth is for her devastated sister. “Of all the people everywhere, you are the closest, and most important, to me. If by doing this, you wanted to let me imagine for one minute what life would be life without you, you succeeded.” the Queen says, tearing up. “It would be unbearable. ”
This is the most emotion we have seen from Elizabeth all season.
And in response, for once, you can see Margaret fully support Elizabeth as queen (a spotlight position The Crown's Margaret has always believed she deserved more). Margaret is the one who urges Elizabeth to lead her 1977 jubilee, a celebration of her 25th anniversary of being queen, and reminds her sister of her primacy in British life. “You cannot flinch. Because if you show a single crack, we’ll see it isn’t a crack, but a chasm.” Margaret tells Elizabeth. “There is only on queen.” It’s these words that push Elizabeth to close season 3 — and head into season 4 — with her head held, despite the current mayhem in UK politics.
It’s a good thing the sisters are now closer than ever. Terrible anxieties lie ahead for both of them. In Margaret’s case, she is looking at her 1978 divorce, just two years away, marking the first such split in the British monarchy since Henry VIII’s 1540 divorce from Anne of Cleaves. Elizabeth is facing the the looming chaos of 1980s England, as photos of Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher keep reminding us. These two are going to need each other more than ever.
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.