Watch ‘Private Lives of the Windsors’ While You Wait for ‘The Crown’

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images/Smithsonian Channel

Can’t wait for The Crown‘s return? Jump back a generation for a gossipy three-part wallow in the intrigues and scandals that could have brought down Britain’s royal family in the early 20th century.

“The potential for disaster was huge,” declares royal biographer Christopher Warwick. With access to revealing letters and diaries, Private Lives of the Windsors recalls how in post–World War I Europe, monarchs were something of an endangered species: King George V (grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II) was, after all, first cousin to ill-fated Tsar Nicholas of Russia and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm.

To save the family business, where image is everything, George turned to his children. And while eldest son Edward (who would later abdicate the throne) led a charm offensive on an international tour of the British Empire, his ambivalence and reckless appetites proved bothersome in a climate of working-class unrest. Which is how sheltered sister Princess Mary’s 1922 marriage to an earl became known as “the people’s wedding,” a propaganda event foreshadowing the lavish ceremonies that still attract global audiences.

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From Elizabeth to Prince Charles to Margaret Thatcher, these actors certainly look the part.

Private Lives of the Windsors, Series Premiere, Monday, October 7, 8/7c, Smithsonian Channel