By Kahini Iyer Apr. 13, 2021
In The Crown, a generation, which might otherwise have written Prince Philip off as an out-of-touch old man, gets to see a different and more complex reality. He is biased, opinionated, bombastic, and therefore far more human than the Queen is allowed to be.
Only last month, an image of Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip in a car went viral online and instantly became a meme. Just released from hospital, the 99-year-old, people joked, looked like a zombie, with wide staring eyes and a grey complexion. Mean-spirited jibes that the Royal was being tethered to life by some arcane procedure only available to the rich and powerful ran rampant over social media, and the press speculated that he had been at death’s door during his hospitalisation.
In hindsight, it was a prescient moment for the internet, if not a tasteful one: Prince Philip died on Friday after an innings of nearly a century. The Queen, herself only five years younger, is without her consort for the first time since she took the throne in 1952; the Royal Family has lost its resident jester, straight-shooter, and, until recent years, headline-maker. Before the days of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle in the tabloids and Prince Andrew’s shady connections with peadophile Jeffrey Epstein, it was Prince Philip who courted controversy with his infamous gaffes.
The Prince’s irreverent personality is documented in the partly fictionalised Netflix drama, where he frequently falls into trouble for airing his less-than-diplomatic views: On a visit to Kenya, for instance, he pokes fun at a local monarch’s crown, and when Margaret Thatcher is elected Prime Minister, he bemoans the folly of the country being run by two women, one being his wife, the Queen. In real life too, Philip’s remarks often crossed the line into racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive territory.
If portrayals like that in The Crown are to be believed, the public, grimly humourous foreshadowing of the Prince’s death by meme would probably have been right up his alley. The beloved series has already been censured for its frank and at times, embellished versions of Royal history, but it takes on a whole new significance in the wake of Prince Philip’s demise. In many ways, it’s clear that the Prince had a colourful personality, and was a product of his age who saw sensitivity as weakness and couldn’t bear to proceed with caution. Yet, he has been dubbed as one of the most progressive members of an institution that relies on sameness and conservatism. He stepped down from his career as Elizabeth became Queen, at a time when men were not expected to make sacrifices, and it was the Prince who urged the Royal family to be more open to the media – something we see in the Netflix drama, The Crown, where he is seen convincing his wife that her coronation should be broadcasted. Eventually, the ceremony was televised and the BBC called it the “modernisation of the monarchy”.
In a world that is effectively post-Royal, the century-old legacy of Prince Philip comes across as strangely modern.
In The Crown, a generation, which might otherwise have written Philip off as an out-of-touch old man, gets to see a different and more complex reality. Thrust into the position of consort to the Queen as a newlywed, Philip rebels against his role even as his wife tries to honour her sense of duty. He has no patience for royal platitudes and the milquetoast inability of the Crown to take a stand on anything, lest they be perceived as biased. Philip is biased, opinionated, bombastic, and therefore far more human than the Queen is allowed to be. Perhaps even more than King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcée and cleared the way for Elizabeth II to become queen, Philip is the anti-Royal.
Exiled from his homeland of Greece when he was a toddler, with a mother who was put in an asylum and a father off with a mistress in France, Philip’s engagement to young Elizabeth was frowned upon. Since many English stigmatised him as an outsider, Philip went against Royal protocols right from the beginning. His very existence and the love match between him and Elizabeth was considered contrary to what was expected of the monarchy. As The Crown shows, Philip always had a healthy contempt for the senseless rules and regulations of palace life.
In a world that is effectively post-Royal, the century-old legacy of Prince Philip comes across as strangely modern. Although he often lacked tact, the Prince recognised that no system, however grand or important, is worthy of blind faith. He questioned it, railed against it, and ultimately, maybe he loved the Crown enough to keep it from slipping into an oblivion of antiquated mores and pointless rituals. How much more stuffy and hidebound would the Royal Family have been without his influence?
Despite his many mistakes, Prince Philip was unique in that he always had a perspective to share. And even the mistakes have, for the most part, been conducted out in the open. In a recent interview with Oprah, estranged Royals, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made some shocking revelations about the opposition they encountered in the palace, including a family member who was concerned their unborn son might be too dark-skinned. The couple clarified that Harry’s grandparents, the Queen and Prince Philip, had nothing to do with the racist remarks. Some were shocked that younger members of the clan would hold such backwards views – but it would be more shocking if Prince Philip did not give voice to his views, regardless of how politically incorrect they were.
Nowadays – after the scandal of Prince Andrew broke and Harry and Meghan spoke out about the harassment they’ve faced at the hands of the press and “the Firm”; after memories of Princess Diana’s ill-treatment have been stirred up once more; after austerity measures in the UK and post-colonial discourse around the world has left people resenting the cushy Royal lifestyle – the conversation around the Royal family is less complimentary than ever. The BBC received a record number of complaints for pulling shows to cover the death of Prince Philip, a sign of how the janata has come to view the monarchy: hypocritical, irrelevant, and cowardly. The Prince Philip of The Crown and of the public eye was none of those things.
Kahini spends an embarrassing amount of time eating Chinese food and watching Netflix. For proof that she is living her #bestlife, follow her on Instagram @kahinii.