Nathan Abrams looks forward to finding more Jews in The Crown‘s new season.
Season Four of the Netflix drama The Crown is about to drop. ‘This drama’, as its official website states, ‘follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.’
Seemingly, nothing could be less Jewish than that description or the British monarchy. For much of the existence of any sort of monarchy on these islands, Jews have been absent. They were only permitted to move here shortly after the Norman Invasion of 1066 but then expelled some 200 years later, in 1290, by Edward I not to be readmitted until 1656.
But, as with everything else, absence doesn’t mean that there isn’t an interesting relationship between the modern Royal Family and its Jewish subjects some of whom rear their heads during the first three series of The Crown.
This is possibly because The Crown’s showrunner, Peter Morgan, had a Jewish father. Arthur Morgenthau, was born in Germany and fled the Nazis, arriving in London in 1933.
When Princess Elizabeth is crowned as Queen Elizabeth 11 in June 1953, her anointment owes something to Jewish tradition. Indeed, this is acknowledged in the show, as in reality, with the recital of I Kings 1, 39, 40 which reads, ‘Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king’.
Antony Armstrong -Jones, the first Earl of Snowdon tells his wife, Princess Margaret, and his friends, that she ‘looks like a Jewish manicurist’ whatever that may mean. This may be because she had her hair cut by famous Jewish hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon. Although Sassoon does not appear in the show, he is mentioned.
While it might seem to be an antisemitic comment, Armstrong-Jones’ mother was of German-Jewish origin. The casting of the older Margaret in season three picks up on Snowdon’s characterization in having Helena Bonham-Carter (who, of course, has a Jewish background) play her.
Season Two opens with the Suez Crisis of 1956 and even shows Israeli tanks invading Egypt.
A recurring figure in the early seasons is Baron who was a society photographer of Jewish heritage. He became friends with the Duke of Edinburgh and was hence appointed as a Court Photographer to the British Royal Family, taking the official photographs for many occasions including the wedding of Philip to Prince Elizabeth in 1947, the christenings of their children Charles and Anne and other occasions.
As Michael Berkowitz recounts here, ‘Baron asserted that he was close to the royal couple, and especially friendly with Prince Philip. Baron was one of the founders and masters-of-ceremonies of the social club that met above Wheeler’s Oyster Bar in Soho after World War II, which counted Philip as a member. (It is depicted a number of times in The Crown.)’ Baron is portrayed by Julius D’Silva whom I suspect is Jewish (but am not certain).
Both Prince Philip and Prince Charles were educated at Gordonstoun founded by German Jewish émigré and educationalist Kurt Hahn founded in 1934. He is portrayed in the film by Burghart Klaussner.
(Another tenuous connection is that the Prince of Wales’ investiture was filmed about ten miles from where I live, in Caernarfon castle, which may well have been built with Jewish financing under Edward I. Had I answered the casting call, I may well have appeared in that episode. Instead, you can look out for me in Watchmen instead.)
And Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, sheltered Jews in wartime Athens for which, in, 1993 Yad Vashem bestowed her the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
A key figure in the third series is Edward VIII (David Windsor, a.k.a. the Duke of Windsor), the Queen’s uncle who abdicated the throne. While the circumstances, and consequences, of the abdication are treated in depth, as has been pointed out elsewhere, The Crown glosses over his pro-Nazi sympathies and deal he made with Hitler to restore him to the throne. The duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Nazi Germany in October 1937 and met Hitler, Himmler and other top Nazis. He was photographed giving and returned several Nazi salutes. If anything, he was a not unwilling figurehead for the Third Reich. He held racist views and not unopposed to Nazi treatment of the Jews. He enjoyed the support of the British Union of Fascists. On the other hand, both David Windsor and Wallis Simpson had Jewish friends.
I am looking forward to this forthcoming season, not least because The Crown is a cracking watch, and it will unfold on more familiar territory as it moves closer to our own era. At the same time, I hope it will develop its links between the Crown and its Jews further.
On this front, it promises much. This new season focuses on two new women with Jewish connections. Lady Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher both of whom feature heavily in the trailer for the fourth season.
I read here that it has been speculated that the late Princess Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, was born a Rothschild and that Diana herself was actually the biological daughter of Sir James Goldsmith, also Jewish.
And given Thatcher’s propensity for ‘old Estonians’ over ‘old Etonians’ in her close circle, one can expect to see quite a few Jews on screen.
The Crown is on Netflix from November 15.
[* This is an update of an earlier blog I wrote and kudos to my wife for suggesting this title.]