The Crown “Aberfan”

I consider watching The Crown to be a guilty pleasure more than anything else. I know these people generally aren’t good people, and the institution that protects them is even worse. (Please someone put Prince Andrew in prison already.) So I don’t really watch it to feel emotion, just to marvel at the costumes and cinematography and occasionally learn something new about recent history.

“Aberfan” was different, though. I already knew the basics about the Aberfan disaster, how it could easily have been prevented and how most of the victims were young children. But that didn’t prepare me for how it’s all portrayed in this episode. You get to know the kids and their parents a little bit before the opening credits and then fifteen minutes later the adults are frantically digging through rubble with their bare hands to find their children. Most don’t succeed.

116 children altogether died at Aberfan. It wasn’t that long ago, 1966, and there are still survivors alive. Some of them consulted with Netflix on this episode, which was absolutely the right thing for Netflix to do when releasing an episode about something like this. There’s an article about it from the Radio Times here which has some words from the survivors and it also mentions how Netflix provided a psychologist for them. That’s good too.

This is a stunning episode of television. It’s beautifully shot. All through it you feel like an outsider observing terrible grief from a safe distance, which is exactly what the Queen does in this episode.

The bosses who allowed the accident to happen are given no sympathy here, none whatsoever. The episode also kept in the most famous quote regarding the tragedy –

The brave front of the people of Aberfan cracked on Monday at an inquest on 30 of the children.

There were shouts of “murderers” as the Coroner of Merthyr, Mr. Ben Hamilton, began reading out the names of the dead children.

As one name was read out and the cause of death given as asphyxia and multiple injuries, the father of the child said “No, sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”.

from here

I don’t know the name of the person who said that either in real life or in the show, but it’s in there.

All in all this feels like a respectful treatment of a terrible event, but at the same time… I wish it hadn’t all been squished around a plot about the Queen trying to explore her emotions. In terms of The Crown itself it’s good character development and all but I kinda feel like something like Aberfan is bigger than one episode of a TV show. It’s good in terms of getting the story out there, because I’m pretty sure the disaster is completely unknown of outside the UK, but I wish it hadn’t taken a million-dollar high-profile show like The Crown to get to tell the story, you know? We should have talked about the tragedy more without having to drag the Queen, who was barely involved, into things to make it more interesting/marketable/what have you.

I have really mixed feelings about all of this, you can probably tell. But I was sad watching it, and I did cry. Partly because I feel like, you know, a few more seasons to go and The Crown can do an episode about Grenfell, and by the time that happens there’ll probably have been at least one more preventable disaster caused by faceless corporations, and then there’ll be another one after that and after that and after that, long after the Queen is dead and The Crown is done.