DECEMBER 27, 2017
“The only members of the party not perhaps completely happy are the corgi dogs, feeling apparently just a little bit out of the picture.” – “Royal Family on Holiday” (1960)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again…
I never wonder this more often than I do when watching Netflix’s The Crown. However, the recent second season—which premiered on Netflix earlier this month—took my questioning to absurd degrees. It’s no secret that Queen Elizabeth II loves corgis—indeed, has loved corgis since before she was ever what she is most known for now, which is the longest-reigning British monarch, though even that is debatable because, Christ, the lady LOVES CORGIS. She loves them publicly. They love Meghan Markle. We saw them all over The Crown: Season 1. When I heard that there would be more seasons, I thought to myself: Ah yes, There Will Be Corgiez.
Where, then, exactly, in The Crown: Season 2, are they?
Here we glimpse them for the first time in Season 1—a total of THREE episodes in and during a flashback to Dec 10, 1936 (the day of King Edward VIII’s infamous abdication) no less:
During this first view of corgis (“Where are the corgis?” “There they are finally!”), we never see more than two corgis in one frame. Yet, we hear the girls on bikes (here, the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) repeatedly shouting, “Gina! Carina! Ella!” while the dogs bark along, which suggests that there are in fact three corgis. As though to avoid any confusion about what “Gina,” “Carina,” and “Ella” rigidly designate, we see young Elizabeth turn a corner towards a corgi while saying, “Ella! Ella.”
Now, I always thought this scene was fishy. According to my records, Elizabeth never even owned any corgis under the names of Gina, Carina, or Ella. And it’s even more unlikely that she would’ve had all three of them in 1936, given that Dookie—Elizabeth’s first corgi—was introduced into the household only three years prior in 1933. (Something I recently learned was that, when selecting her first corgi puppy, Elizabeth went for the one with the slightly longer tail “so that we can see whether he is pleased or not.”) Dookie was followed three years later—aka 1936, during which this scene is set—with corgi Lady Jane (who Dookie actually didn’t really take to, but that’s another story), so it seems even more implausible that the princesses would be hanging around with Gina, Carina, Ella, et al here. Some further googling of these three names together leads me to one Maria Carter, who is the owner/trainer of—yes—three show corgis with these exact names (see here; they’re also supposedly featured in this advertisement for London, if you care to compare to image above).
It seems more than a little possible, then, that the actresses portraying young Elizabeth and Margaret in this scene are simply calling the actual names of the three show corgis, which doesn’t even make that much production sense if we assume that they hired these corgis to act and thus presumably respond to names that might not be their own. (Corgis have the IQ of a 5 year old FWIW…BUT CAN AN ANIMAL REALLY ACT?) This seems borderline offensive to me, especially if we remember that this is the first time we see any corgis on a show that is literally about the life of a famous monarch who basically “made corgis happen” and because it’s a bracketed representation of a historical date in what is already a historical drama! I get why the show needs to dial up the unreliable intrigue when it comes to Philip’s affairs, Jackie Kennedy, and whatnot, but there is zero reason why anyone needs to lie about how many corgis 10-year-old Elizabeth had or what their names were. And honestly, given Elizabeth’s penchant for liquor, “Gin” would have a far more plausible name than “Gina.” There’s simply no excuse for this shadiness.
Sit down folks, we’re going to be here all day.
The second time we see corgis on The Crown is in S1Ep7, during a meeting Elizabeth has with Winston Churchill. Here they are:
The middle one is drooling with excitement, and the one on the far right seems completely starstruck about meeting the Bulldog. Corgi on the left seems more chill, like maybe he could take it or leave it, but for now this is fine.
Moving on to the next corgi appearance, here they are in the following episode, appropriately titled “Pride and Joy”:
Our three corgis sit obediently near Elizabeth while she works. Corgis apparently come in threes in the Queen’s household. At this point, I’m starting to get a little suspicious. Is The Crown simply reusing the same three corgis for all their corgi scenes? Actors are expensive these days, but do they really need to skimp on corgis?
And given the primacy of Susan—Elizabeth’s famous “foundational bitch” from which all her current corgis derive—at the time, it seems more than a little egregious to represent the corgis of her early reign as some mere indistinguishable pack. Elizabeth and Susan (an 18th birthday gift following the unfortunate death of Lady Jane by car) were historically inseparable. Susan went with Elizabeth and Philip on their honeymoon to Scotland, after all! I would’ve liked to see more one-on-one with Susan in The Crown, and the level of deception and assumed ignorance on behalf of viewers is unsettling. Corgis are not simply background features in the Queen’s life. In fact, Elizabeth had to train Susan to accept the presence of new human offspring Charles when he was born, with tricks like introducing Susan to the baby while “stroking Susan all the time” and also to “when nursing baby let Susan have a nice saucer of milk or tea [???] beside you.” This corgi drinks tea. The corgi is part of the royal family, not some kind of quaint joke accessory.
Even more unforgivable is the fact that the corgis acting on The Crown are Pembrokes with a nontrivial amount of white fur. The Queen’s corgi aesthetics famously tended toward Pembrokes of the darker red persuasion (as the breed more commonly used to be), and with very little white on them. As Vanity Fair has reported, Elizabeth once remarked upon one of the corgis of the chairman of the Welsh Corgi League with the following disapproval: “Oh, he’s got a lot of white on him, hasn’t he?” What we have on The Crown, it seems, is the Americanization of the corgi. (To be sure, one of my favourite corgis is an all-white albino corgi named Winston, but that’s no excuse for period piece inaccuracy.)
Compare the above images, then, with an actual photograph of Susan:
Where is the white chest fur here? Exactly.
I bet the actual Queen cringes each time she sees a corgi on The Crown, if she’s even still watching, because this level of corgi-washing is unbearable.
Alas, onwards. Elizabeth returns from her 23-week tour of the Commonwealth countries to her children and corgis and doesn’t bend to hug either one:
DEAR GOD, SOMEONE GIVE THIS CORGI SOME LOVE!!!!
Look into the corgi’s desperate eyes, for they are trying to tell you something.
Now onto Season 2, where the corgis are at least introduced a bit earlier this time with their first appearance occurring near the end of episode 2:
Captions are featured here because at least someone cares to be specific about the corgis on this goddamn show.
Here we see them, leaving the car with the Queen as God intended them to. This is the only time The Crown alludes to the fact that Elizabeth travels everywhere with the corgis. Half of the public photographic record of the Queen’s corgis involve them getting in and out of cars, or up and down airplanes, so you’d think the show would make a point to feature travel scenes with corgis. This is not the case. When Elizabeth flies on The Crown, there are no corgis ever in sight.
Look, all I’m trying to say here is that the Queen goes everywhere with her corgis and The Crown doesn’t even try to respect this fact.
Beggars, it seems, cannot be choosers, so back to regular programming: after the corgis bound from the cars, they scurry inside, and we find the family sitting around the radio in anticipation of Philip’s Christmas speech:
Elizabeth isn’t even making eye contact with the corgi here.
The next time we see corgis in Season 2 is near the end of Episode 5, when the Queen invites a bunch of semi-commoners into the palace at the end and the corgis join too, presumably for promotional reasons? As if the corgis aren’t genuinely an integral part of Elizabeth’s daily life?
Once again, three corgis. Always (the same?) three corgis…
Near the beginning of Episode 8—otherwise known as The Kennedy Episode—we see three grumpy corgis (you can always tell by looking at how their ears begin to droop) at the back of her Land Rover:
Sure, give us corgis in vehicles only when the corgis appear to be suffering. These corgis are going through hell. I hope they fed them plenty of tea after this shoot.
And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for since you hit that click button and started reading this piece: The Corgi Room Scene. This scene is arguably the heart of the episode, which is further centered around the key to, yes, Elizabeth’s heart. In a moment of intimacy, the Queen takes Jackie Kennedy into the Corgi Room (this aspect of The Crown is at least accurate) and introduces her to Sugar and her puppies Whiskey and Sherry.
It’s a touching scene—a moment of what appears to be sincere empathy and affinity between the two women who bond over having each found themselves rather unwillingly in the public spotlight. Both Elizabeth and Jackie self-identify as the “shy” one between their respective sisters, and as “deep down […] happiest with animals.” Corgis are not simply background effects here, then. Instead, they crucially mediate the newfound closeness between Elizabeth and Jackie as well as become the literal topic of conversation. In this scene, corgis are both form and content. They are revealed as the background—the hidden Corgi Room—that in fact grounds the very core of what makes The Crown, well, uniquely Elizabeth. Viewers see this scene as a turning point for Elizabeth, as she opens up to Jackie on what is very much her turf. Both women are brought just a little bit more down to earth, as often happens when one is around corgis. And as if to allay any anxieties that the show might be recycling the same three corgis, the three corgis here are noticeably neither Gina, Carina, nor Ella as evinced by their darker markings and varying sizes. Viewers are further drawn then to understand this scene as a turning point for corgi representation on The Crown as well, in which the animals are finally recognized for the key figures they are.
Alas, for anyone who watched through to the end of the episode, this scene is yet another disappointing mirage. Elizabeth and Jackie aren’t really friends. Susan, Whiskey, and Sherry aren’t really the corgis we are led to believe they are. L To begin, the real Susan looked like this:
Yes, folks, she is a lovely deep-hued red corgi. And the Susan on The Crown is, oh dear, a tri-colored corgi:
Equally troubling is the fact that while Whiskey and Sherry were born in 1955, the Kennedy visit to Buckingham Palace didn’t happen until June 1961. The most generous reading of the artistic decision to play fast and loose with dates here is that The Crown is replicating the illusion of corgi-lubricated intimacy played out between Elizabeth and Jackie here by simultaneously pulling the wool over viewers’ eyes with a bald lie about Sugar, Sherry, and Whiskey’s biographical details. Did they think we’d eat out of the palm of their hand here because of how naming Sugar’s puppies Sherry and Whiskey is SO HECKIN’ CUTE? How we move on from this I don’t even know.
It should go without saying that I adore The Crown so much, and, perhaps against my better judgment, still do. I’ll take any corgis I can get. But this season, especially, I felt increasingly that the corgis were featured as Easter Eggs—popping up here and there, always in threes—rather than what they actually are, which are living, breathing, frapping members of the royal household. Check yourself, The Crown, before you etc.
For instance, I started listing the moments where the show would be more plausible if there was a corgi in the scene. Besides almost all the scenes featuring a vehicle, think also about those where Elizabeth is sitting around the television. The Crown does excellent work of always reminding viewers that Elizabeth’s reign follows the arc of television’s increasingly everyday presence in people’s lives by having Elizabeth follow real-time world historical news on her television. Beginning with the televizing of Elizabeth’s own coronation, The Crown frequently thematizes how Elizabeth’s understanding of how the public views her through the medium of television is a first-order experience of how we as Netflix viewers come to understand Elizabeth through The Crown. In other words, there ought to be more corgis.
The TV they are watching is so small they could definitely fit a few corgis in here:
They even rented a TV for watching the Kennedys!:
You would think the Queen would definitely nap with corgis:
It just doesn’t add up! If The Crown is about both realism and entertainment, then wouldn’t both beg the presence of more corgis? It’s not like the show or the advertising around it isn’t already aware that corgis are a major selling point. All the articles featuring how the corgis “stole the show” on the red carpet, for example, led me to expect more of the same in the actual show itself. Consider too the enviable London promotion where one might “Borrow My Corgi” to binge-watch the premiere of the second season. Or The Crown’s little add-on spoofs featuring an all-corgi cast. I would have preferred if corgis weren’t treated like fluff to be paraded as some paratext to the show, and were actually taken seriously as the heart and spirit of the Queen—indeed, the Crown—itself. As with the first season, this one concludes too with a photographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth, except instead of a solo portrait, this time we have Elizabeth surrounded by her growing, bouncing, increasingly unruly family. This season, Elizabeth looks a little less put together, a little more dead inside:
Could it be because there is no corgi in the frame? That it is finally dawning upon Elizabeth that the corgis are being slowly erased from the life of the heroine? That, as Claire Foy sits here in her last appearance portraying the Queen on The Crown, she too is slowly coming to comprehend how the corgis have already gone long before her? A spectre is haunting Britain—the spectre of corgilessness.