I have a confession to make. I binged watched Season 4 of The Crown on Monday night, November 15, 2020, the day after it was released in the U.S., and I finished the final episode bleary-eyed at six on Tuesday morning.
The scene that stands out for me above all others in those ten hours of drama takes place in Episode 7: The Hereditary Principle. In it, Princess Margaret’s seminarian friend Derek Jennings tries to convince her to convert to the Roman Catholic Church. And he gives her some pretty persuasive reasons. Which made me wonder if the writer might be Catholic. And if there was actually anything to that part of the story in real life.
The episode starts when Derek Jennings arrives at Princess Margaret’s private quarters. She drops the phonograph needle on a vinyl record of David Bowie singing Let’s Dance, and they engage in a crazy no-holds stagey lot of prancing around, pausing only to sip from their wine glasses, until they collapse breathless next to each other on the couch at the end of the song.
Then, when Princess Margaret starts making eyes, and lips, at him, Derek breaks the news to her: he is going to join a seminary and become a priest. Princess Margaret then kicks him out.
Princess Margaret starts to confide in her sister the Queen over lunch the next day.[Margaret] There was a time when the men I love would simply leave me for other women. Now they leave me for the Church. [Elizabeth] Who? [Margaret] Derek Jennings. [Elizabeth] Dazzle? [Margaret] Yes, Dazzle. [Elizabeth] What were you doing with him? [Margaret] Falling slightly in love. . . . Because he has found happiness as elusive as me, so we discuss all the different ways that we try to find joy and calm. . . . And Dazzle has found the thing that works best for him. [Elizabeth] Which is? [Margaret] The priesthood. [Elizabeth] Catholic priesthood? [Margaret] Yes. [Elizabeth] That’s the second reason he was never the right man for you. [Margaret] The first being? [Elizabeth] Well, he’s, you know . . . a friend of Dorothy.”
I had to look that one up. After you too are done googling “friend of Dorothy,” we can go on to the rest of the story.
Fast forward. Princess Margaret has lung surgery. Princess Margaret becomes despondent for many reasons. The next time we see her with Dazzle, he is supposed still a seminarian but is wearing a Roman collar. She is driving erratically, with him clutching black rosary beads and saying the Hail Mary in Latin. (Note the chronological missteps: there was little chance a seminarian at a diocesan seminary would be wearing a Roman collar or saying anything in Latin in the mid-1980s.)
Fast forward again. Margaret is complaining to Dazzle that a therapist told her to take medication, start therapy, get more exercise, and stop drinking alcohol. And then comes the apologetics part that surprised me so much.[Dazzle] You could always convert. Become a Catholic. That’s the only thing that’s worked for me. Before I became a Catholic, I attended church. After I converted, I found a faith. The difference is night and day. [Margaret] Now you’re being evangelical. [Dazzle] I feel evangelical. It’s not just the beauty, it’s the rigor of the Catholic Church. It demands complete submission, which strong, willful characters like mine, and, I would suggest, yours, Ma’am, need. [Margaret] Hmm. [Dazzle] One cannot fully receive God until—one has submitted to something larger, and the moment I did— [Margaret] Don’t tell me. The lights went on, you found happiness? [Dazzle] More than happiness. Ecstasy. And the gloom we talked about so many times . . . the emptiness . . . has gone.
Long pause.[Margaret] How nice. [Dazzle] So come over. [Margaret] I would, but in case you hadn’t noticed, Dazzle, I‘ve already submitted to something larger. The royal family of the United Kingdom. If I became Catholic it would be a national scandal. There would be talk of betrayal. A second Reformation. No, they’d make me give up my title and kick me out. [Dazzle] Would that be so bad? To free yourself once and for all? To find happiness?
I’ll let you watch that episode and find out for yourself how the Princess Margaret character answers those questions.
Once again, Dazzle is ordered to leave, and this time he is told never to come back. But then there’s this parting request.[Margaret] And should you ever . . . find a moment . . . perhaps you will pray for me?
As it turns out, also thanks to Google, I was able to find out that series writer Peter Mason, who is the son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, does not seem to be a practicing Catholic. But having a Catholic mother may have given him the insights he showed in the dialogue. And yes, there actually was some reality behind this episode. Margaret was attracted both to Derek Jennings, nicknamed Dazzle, and to Catholicism, and Dazzle did try to convince her to follow him into the Catholic faith.
The roots of this storyline in The Crown seem to have come from a Princess Margaret biography published in 2002, very shortly after the Princess’s death. The author, Noel Botham, claims in his book ‘Margaret: The Last Real Princess’ that Margaret did seriously consider becoming a Catholic – and that Dazzle was involved.
“According to Botham, Dazzle himself was convinced that Margaret wanted to convert. However, Margaret apparently felt she could not convert because of her loyalty to her sister, who – as Queen – is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”—Who was Dazzle, Princess Margaret’s Catholic priest friend in The Crown? at the RadioTimes
Princess Margaret did not break off with Dazzle, and she was one of many friends (including Alec Guinness) who visited him when he was dying of lymphatic leukemia when he was 48, ten years after he went away to study to be a priest.
Weren’t those interesting points the Dazzle character made? How did it strike you when he said, “It’s not just the beauty. The Catholic Church demands complete submission, something that strong willful characters like ours need”?
I nodded my head.