One of the most striking, impactful episodes in The Crown Season 4 is Episode 7, “The Hereditary Principle.” The episode focuses on Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) as she hits an uncertain and lonely chapter in her life. After spending the majority of her life as a central member of the royal family and a kind of bon vivant status in society, Margaret feels suddenly adrift as a 50-something divorcée with no concrete duties tasked to her by her sister, Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman). Over the course of “The Hereditary Principle,” The Crown explores this uncertain time in Margaret’s life as she adjusts to her new circumstances, while simultaneously uncovering a dark family secret involving two disabled cousins who spent their lives in an institution.
Bonham Carter had the chance to discuss Margaret’s standalone episode and the princess’s diminished role in Season 4 during a recent press junket Collider participated in. The actor opened up first by saying, “It was a wonderful episode. It was wonderfully written. Really Margaret, her story, I don’t feature that much in Season 4 and that’s kind of Margaret’s part in real life. As she got older, she became more and more marginalized within the family and felt so. There’s a sort of ironic thing where the more children her sister has, it means the lower she goes in the pecking order; she becomes more and more irrelevant.”
“Episode 7, which is called ‘The Hereditary Principle,’ starts with you seeing that Margaret is middle-aged, the divorce has happened, she’s on her own, she’s trying to have a relationship and it doesn’t really work out. She has a lung operation, which happened and [the tumor] was benign, but it was still scary and major. Then just when..she’s really floundering for some kind of identity, I think coupled with being in her mid-50s — was she? I don’t know, that’s what I am but I’m overidentifying — but in the middle of her life and having a crisis.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t an easy solution to Margaret’s problems, because as Bonham Carter explained,
“She goes to her sister and asks for more work and at that point she’s told she’s actually going to lose work and status because Prince Edward has become of age. So, she really has depression (which she was very prone to in life), and she seeks therapy. It’s in the context of the therapy room that she discovers the other cousins who had mental health issues that were utterly different to hers. It’s known, the press found out about it but I can’t remember when — in the ‘90s, I think — of these Bowes-Lyon cousins who were institutionalized. It’s the story of that and how she generally feels treated by her family and the harshness of their treatment although, at the same time, always remaining very, very loyal to her sister, too. It’s complicated. It’s a sad episode, but it’s wonderful. It was a gift.”
Bonham Carter then focused on how “The Hereditary Principle” discusses Margaret’s mental health journey, comparing and contrasting the attitudes around seeking treatment for depression in the 1980s versus seeking treatment today: “There’s no doubt that if [Margaret] had lived in a different time, she would have had an entirely different life. She would have fared far better now. It is so much more forgiving in some ways, and in other ways, we’ve got extreme intolerance, but that’s a reaction to the huge amount of tolerance that we have about talking about things like mental health. It was not on to have depression in her time and certainly wasn’t on really to have depression in that family.”
The actor concluded with a sharp observation about Margaret’s situation at the time and the effects of the attitude that a family’s stance like the one shown in “The Hereditary Principle” could have on a person: “It’s very Victorian, and it’s very, almost, military-like and unforgiving of any kind of human emotional frailty.”