The Crown references Bloody Sunday, but doesn’t go into much detail about one of the most significant events in the history of Northern Ireland.
The Crown season 4 begins in 1979, with Lord Mountbatten’s assassination at the hands of the IRA, and the aftermath of mass protests and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland. Although The Crown doesn’t focus too heavily on the unrest in Northern Ireland, the episode “Gold Stick” highlights the tension and violence at the peak of The Troubles. However, The Crown doesn’t truly tell the story of Bloody Sunday, which remains the worst mass shooting in the history of Northern Ireland. The thesis of “Gold Stick” emphasizes how out of touch the royal family was in regards to The Troubles, contrasting the formality of Lord Mountbatten’s (Charles Dance) funeral and Princes Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) speech with real-life footage of protesters marching against the violence of the British army.
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Bloody Sunday took place seven years before the events of “Gold Stick,” on January 30th, 1972. The city of Derry in Northern Ireland was experiencing a rise in violence and unrest in the years leading up to Bloody Sunday, with a violent uptick after internment without trial was introduced in 1971. Internment without trial resulted in rioting and increased IRA presence in Derry, and parades and marches were banned in 1972. One week before Bloody Sunday, an anti-internment march was held and paratroopers violently attacked unarmed citizens.
The protest that turned into Bloody Sunday began with 10,000-15,000 people who planned to march to City Centre and hold a rally to peacefully demonstrate against the occupation of the British army in Derry, and the violent attacks on protesters that took place a week before. The march was stopped along the way by British Army barriers. Although the bulk of the citizens were planning to regroup and choose another path, protesters spotted paratroopers occupying a building that overlooked the crowds and began throwing stones at them – and that’s when the first shots of Bloody Sunday were fired.
On the order of Colonel Wilford, the paratroopers took over the streets and began violently beating protesters, clubbing them with rifles, firing rubber bullets at close range, and threatening to kill them. More than 100 rounds were fired by soldiers at unarmed protesters and 26 people were shot, with a total of 13 people killed. All eyewitnesses maintained that protesters were unarmed, and that soldiers were firing at people who were fleeing, or at people who were helping the injured. However, the official army position was that paratroopers were reacting to IRA bomb threats and nail guns. The extreme brutality and violence massively increased tensions in Northern Ireland that culminated in Lord Mountbatten’s assassination in 1979.
Because The Crown season 4 has to compress a decade of history, from 1979-1990, into ten episodes, “Gold Stick” is the only episode of The Crown that touches on The Troubles, and primarily focuses on Lord Mountbatten’s assassination by the IRA. The episode juxtaposes Prince Charles speaking at Lord Mountbatten’s funeral against footage of the civil unrest in Northern Ireland, and shows footage of protesters holding black coffins painted with the words “Bloody Sunday.” A recurring theme in the series is showing how out-of-touch the royal family is compared to the real-life events in the United Kingdom. Contrasting Bloody Sunday against the personal grief of the royal family is an excellent distillation of that theme, and a fantastic way to begin The Crown season 4.
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