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A Closer Look at The Royal Rebel – 'Margaret: The Rebel Princess' on PBS
February 10, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Britain’s late Princess Margaret, a tabloid regular for much of her life, has resurfaced the last two years as the free-spirited and often suppressed Royal sister in the Netflix series The Crown.

Now a PBS documentary suggests that with a few exceptions, The Crown pretty much got her right.

Margaret: The Rebel Princess will air on PBS the next two Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, after Victoria (check local listings).

The Rebel Princess paints Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, as a fun-loving party gal with sort of a split personality.

On the one hand, she loved being a Royal, with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining. She enjoyed the spotlight and the adoration, liked that people would bow and curtsy in her presence and had no trouble savoring a life where one never had to worry about anything material.

On the other hand, once Elizabeth had ascended to the throne, Margaret became part of Britain’s Royal overpopulation. The country had and has far more Royals than it can possibly employ in any useful capacity, so even someone as high on the ladder as Margaret was kept busy primarily at ribbon cuttings and feel-good welcomes to hamlets or B-list visiting dignitaries whose names she was reading from a piece of paper.

That is to say, she was often bored, glancing enviously at ordinary people who were not so tied down and restricted. This is not an uncommon sentiment among fringe royalty, and like many of the others, Margaret dealt with the situation by looking for ways to lose herself in the gaiety of a moment.

Put more bluntly, The Rebel Princess reports, Margaret became a party animal. Her interests ran far more toward music, theater, and the arts than to the stuffy pastimes of the aristocracy, so she found ways to hang out with people from the world of popular culture.

That most famously led her to marriage with Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a hip-and-cool photographer. It was the first time in 400 years a member of the Royal Family had married a commoner, and it cemented the reputation Margaret had already earned.

It might have been far more scandalous had Margaret not warmed up the country several years earlier by almost marrying Peter Townsend, a divorced member of her father King George VI’s entourage.

That prospect so shocked the Royal Family and the Church of England that Queen Elizabeth ordered the couple to postpone their plans for two years, citing laws passed in the 1770s under King George III.

When the two years had elapsed, they decided not to marry, amid reports the decision was still not theirs. 

The Crown showed Townsend being virtually ordered by the Queen’s private secretary to back off, leaving both Townsend and Margaret devastated.

In one of its more notable breaks with The Crown, The Rebel Princess has a real-life confidante of Margaret’s saying the princess was not heartbroken at all but had decided she wasn’t ready for the domestic life she would have had with Townsend.

Even after marrying Armstrong-Jones and having a family with him, Margaret kept up her late-night lifestyle in between a modest string of Royal duties.

In the larger picture, The Rebel Princess suggests Margaret’s life was marked by frustration – that she was not given a better education, that she could not make more of her own decisions.

It also suggests, more obliquely than overtly, that Margaret’s lifestyle, wildly freewheeling by the standards of the Royal Family, provided a valuable service to that Family.

Margaret helped catapult the Royals into the 20th and 21st centuries, The Rebel Princess suggests, and that was vital to preserving the monarchy itself. She made Royals seem human and even relatable, qualities that her sister the Queen did not have the luxury of displaying in ways that were not stiff and formal.

Margaret didn’t exactly do it her way. She may have never even figured out what she wanted her way to be. But she had a lot more fun than most of those other surplus Royals.

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I always thought that if Diana and Margaret were close in age, they might have made a fearsome duo.
Feb 15, 2019   |  Reply
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