Spoilers: Season 3 of The Crown
In Season 3, Episode 3 of the Netflix-original drama The Crown, tragedy struck Wales —more specifically in the mining village of Aberfan.
On October 21, 1966, there was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at approximately 9:15 in the morning. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip, which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings.
Children were buried alive by coal waste.
They were in school, eager to begin their day, sing their songs, and play with their friends when a rush of toxic waste buried them alive.
Horrific doesn’t quite begin to explain it.
When Prime Minister Wilson learned of the disaster, he goes to visit the village. It’s as awful as to be expected. Parents were searching for their children. The whole town stood broken in body and spirit. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares, and in seeing this, Prime Minister Wilson asks the Queen to go.
She tells him no.
It’s not the norm; it’s not the protocol; it’s not an expectation of The Crown. The Crown does not visit scenes of tragedy and horror —that’s the role of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Wilson politely disagrees and tells her that the people need comfort and that it would be best if that comfort came from their leader, the Queen.
Her answer remains “no.”
When she gets a tip that the newspapers will be running a story about her and her lack of empathy for the people of Aberfan, she finally agrees to go, as there is such a thing as bad press for politicians and royalty alike.
She comforts the people of the village. She goes to visit the village, and accepts their gifts, and shakes their hands.
She goes back several times after that, more than any member of the Royal Family. It is said that she does this because she wishes she had gone sooner, and regrets letting protocol and precedents dictate her actions.
Sometimes, precedents are good.
Sometimes protocol is needed.
But sometimes, things need to change.
Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for change, growth, or a shift.
At the moment of the Aberfan disaster, the protocol didn’t matter. There was an entire town that was hurting and grieving and broken. They needed comfort and a display of humanity, empathy, and generosity.
They needed to be supported by their Queen.
Perhaps that’s the greatest lesson in all of that — that in times of disaster, people need people. It doesn’t matter what the precedent is or how different the communities are or if people are on the same side of politics or live within the same culture.
When disaster strikes, humans must stand up for one another —to hell with the protocols. They support one another and show up for one another, too.