‘The Crown’ Season 4: What Was Margaret Thatcher’s Relationship With Queen Elizabeth?
The Season 4 teaser for The Crown offers fans a glimpse of X-Files alum Gillian Anderson in character as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, bowing down before Queen Elizabeth II, played by returning star Olivia Colman. The Crown creator Peter Morgan has plenty of fodder for such scenes: The Queen’s relationship with Thatcher, who died in 2013, has been the subject of press fixation for decades now. Suffice it to say, their relationship was complicated, if not downright contentious.
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The Independent outlined some core differences between the two women in 2013: Thatcher was conservative, for example, while the Queen tends to be more centrist and even “a bit of a leftie,” according to historian Ben Pimlott. And the Queen is known for her dry wit, while Thatcher reportedly didn’t have much of a sense of humor. (When Thatcher’s speechwriters urged her to include a Monty Python joke in one of her addresses, she reportedly asked, “Monty Python—are you sure he is one of us?”)
Late journalist and royal biographer Kenneth Rose, meanwhile, spilled some tea on the two women in his private diaries, selected entries of which The Daily Mail published in 2019.
In his entry from September 18, 1985, Rose revealed something he had heard through the grapevine: “The Queen said of the PM, ‘She stays too long and talks too much. She has lived too long among men,’” he wrote.
And then there’s Rose’s June 1, 1997, entry: “Both the Queen and Thatcher came to a gala at Covent Garden, but sat in different parts of the house. In the interval, the Queen let it be known that she did not want to meet Mrs. Thatcher—who was sent to an upper room for drinks … Thatcher then said she would like to say goodbye to the Queen, a request that was ignored.”
In a 2017 Daily Beast article, A History of Modern Britain author Andrew Marr shared another example of the Queen’s alleged shadiness toward Thatcher. During one of the former Prime Minister’s visits to the royal family’s Balmoral estate, she tried to help the Queen pass around plates at an outdoor barbecue. “Will somebody tell that woman to sit down?” the Queen reportedly complained.
“The story seems emblematic of their relationship,” Marr observed. “A prime minister with a strong sense of authority and deference only trying to help, and a Queen who cannot help feeling irritated by her.”
The relationship may have been fraught, but it wasn’t without moments of magnanimity. When Thatcher’s own cabinet forced her out of office in 1990, the Queen invited her to a horse race as a gesture of good will, according to The Independent. Thatcher didn’t feel up to the occasion, as friends told the newspaper, but she was touched by the invitation.
The Queen also chose to appoint Thatcher to the Order of Merit and the Order of the Garter, and in 2005, she attended Thatcher’s 80th birthday party, under no obligation to do so, the newspaper reports. “Stories of clashes between ‘two powerful women’ were just too good not to make up,” Thatcher wrote in 1993. She insisted her weekly audiences with the Queen were “quietly businesslike, and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience.”
Morgan—who previously dramatized the Queen’s meetings with Thatcher and other British prime ministers in the 2013 West End play The Audience—explained what united the two women in an interview with Vanity Fair last month.
“When I found out that they were born only six months apart, that was a big breakthrough for me,” Morgan said. “Because of their generation, they had a lot of things in common—they’re both very resilient, very committed, work incredibly hard, have an extraordinary sense of duty. They both have a strong Christian faith. They’re both girls of the war generation who switch the lights off when they leave a room. But then they had such different ideas about running the country.”
While the Queen and Thatcher were close in age, however, “their differences were such that you could understand why they would rub against each other,” Anderson told Vanity Fair in January. “They were the antithesis of each other.”
And viewers will see the two women square off in Season 4. “There are a few audiences where they push each other’s buttons,” Anderson told RadioTimes.com earlier this month. “They certainly don’t raise their voices, but they definitely push each other’s buttons.”
The Crown, Season 4 Premiere, Sunday, November 15, Netflix