The Crown Recap: Responding To A Crisis The Aberfan Disaster

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Summary

The Crown Season 3, Episode 3, “Aberfan” provides emotional subtlety and wonderful performances surrounding the Queen’s biggest regret.

This recap of Netflix series The Crown Season 3, Episode 3, “Aberfan” contains significant spoilers. You can read the recap of the previous episode by clicking these words.


Episode 3, “Aberfan”, was broken down in days to highlight the events followed The Aberfan Disaster.

Thursday, 20th October 1966

Episode 3 opens up in Aberfan, Wales — it’s an extremely rainy day, opening up a sombre but emotionally touching chapter of The Crown. Children are nearly breaking up for half-term, practising songs for the break. Men are coming home from work from the mines. The town feels still.

Friday, 21st October 1966

And then Friday comes — a couple of miner workers head up to the large coal tip to see that it is starting to collapse on the mountain. In a panic, they rush down to the bottom of the mountain to report the incident, but it’s too late. There is a horrifying scene where a teacher looks out of his window and sees the collapses rushing towards the school and he demands that the children go under the desks.

While news spreads, Prime Minister Harold Wilson is making a speech about a “Hyper Market” in Huddersfield. He and the Queen are alerted.

The Prime Minister learns that there was too much coal in the tip and it did not fit regulations in size and capacity. He visits the scene, watching the community do all they can to dig out bodies of adults and children, and a momentary whistle to alert everyone to be silent in case they can hear anyone under the rubble. The locals are angry. Harold is clearly moved by the events.

Saturday, 22nd October 1966

Harold reports to the Queen regarding the death toll and the missing after the disaster in Aberfan. Harold asks if Elizabeth can attend. She responds promptly that she believes the Crown attending will serve as an inconvenience to the emergency efforts. Earlier in the episode, she said the same statement to her advisor- – “the Crown attends hospitals, not the scene of the crime”.

Sunday, 23rd October 1966

The Aberfan Disaster had emotional ramifications up and down the country that touched the Royal Family. Antony rang Princess Margaret the night before about how he attended the site. He described to her how they were digging for children.

Monday, 24th October 1966

The people of Aberfan are angry and understandably upset and ask the Coal Board to accept the blame, but they deflect, claiming they are not accountable for the weather. The Coal Board also try and deflect, stating that the coal tips were made during Tory rule. There is real pressure on Harold Wilson to deflect the politics in “Aberfan”, and his closest advisor asks him to “grow a pair of balls” in an emotionally charged conversation. She is angry at the Prime Minister for not attacking back at the Tories and the Queen who has not attended the site, despite being a supposed socialist leader.

Thursday, 27th October 1966

With the Queen still delaying her response and attending Aberfan, Philip attends the scene and the funeral. There is a line of coffins. Philip is visibly upset by what he saw. When he returns to the palace, the Queen asks Philip how it was. He describes how they sang, how sombre it was. In a strange question, she asks if he wept.

Friday, 28th October 1966

The media have finally turned on the Queen for not attending Aberfan after the disaster in a statement approved by the Labour government. Elizabeth has no choice not to attend and her Royal Advisor advises that Wales will expect a display of emotion.

For the remainder of the chapter, The Queen meets families of lost ones and speaks to the community. She provides a display of emotion. On the way back to the palace she asks if she can hear a recording of the singing Philip described.

Infuriated by the actions of the Labour party, Elizabeth requests the attendance of the Prime Minister — “Church would have had the courage to talk to me face to face”. She is angry, but Harold Wilson blames his team for leaking the approved statement but says that her attendance at Aberfan was necessary. And then she blurts a shocking statement:

“I dabbed a bone dry eye and luckily no-one noticed”.

She goes on to explain that she struggles to cry or show emotion; during the Blitz, family deaths, the birth of her children — she believes something is wrong with her. Harold Wilson responds with his own downfalls; how he has never done manual work all his life, that he does not like beer, and that he prefers a cigar over a pipe — all the opposite traits the public would not expect from a socialist leader. Harold explains that they have to make themselves more approachable for what they stand for, and states her absence of emotion is a blessing, as there is no need for an irrational head of state.

The Crown Season 3, Episode 3, “Aberfan” closes with the Queen sat in reflective thought listening to music, signifying a lonely position. A single tear leaves her eye slowly, solidifying another brilliant performance from Olivia Colman. The credits roll with some facts regarding the disaster (see below).

Her Majesty’s Archives (HMA)

  • The Aberfan Disaster claimed 144 lives, of which 116 were children.
  • According to those close to her, The Queen’s delayed response to the disaster remains her biggest regret as sovereign.
  • Since 1996, The Queen has returned to the village more than any other member of the royal family

You can read the recap of the fourth episode by clicking these words.

Daniel Hart

Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.

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