King Charles III is both well acted and written, and makes for compelling viewing.
King Charles III is an epic of Shakespearean proportions. Adapted from the 2014 Mike Bartlett play of the same name, it documents a future where upon the death of the Queen, Prince Charles ascends to the throne and refuses to sign a bill put before him by parliament. Bartlett (Doctor Foster, Doctor Who) also wrote the screenplay for the BBC drama, applying political intrigue and scheming to the House of Windsor to make this a must-see piece of television.
The entirety of the ninety-minute drama is scripted in iambic pentameter, which only adds to the Shakespearean feel, whilst also enhancing the intensity of the show. Overall, the scripting of the drama is outstanding, both intellectual but also relevant, and this is a credit to Bartlett’s writing.
Tim Pigott-Smith is impressive in his role as King Charles, his last piece of acting after his death last month. Not only does Smith effectively capture the mannerisms of Prince Charles in a very true to life depiction, he also adds speculative fictional layers to the character, creating a side to him that the public does not often see. Smith depicts Charles as a man of conscience torn between the ghost of his mother and what he feels is his moral duty as King, whilst also faced with the betrayal of his sons, who eventually force him to abdicate the throne he has waited his whole life for.
Charlotte Riley, who plays the Duchess of Cambridge, is scene stealing and there is little doubt over her talent as an actress. Saying that, her portrayal of Kate as a Machiavellian plotter is deposing her father-in-law in favour of her husband will no doubt be controversial; she is presented as the real power behind the crown. Due to this, the character feels at times one-dimensional – especially alongside Smith’s levelled portrayal of Charles – though this seems mostly the fault of the scripting rather than Riley.
The acting and scripting of the drama is superb, but that is not to say it is not without its flaws. One particular weakness is the plotline involving Prince Harry (Richard Goulding, who also played the role in Bartlett’s original play) leaves something to be desired. Harry is shown battling with his desire to lead a normal life with Jess (Tamara Lawrence), his newfound anti-monarchist girlfriend from a council estate, and his duty as the son and brother of a King. This part of the story feels rushed and compressed, focusing on the sensational rather than adding any accurate depth to the character. It serves only to flesh out the concept of the House of Windsor as the scheming bad guys, and as a viewer you are left feeling that maybe this story is better executed in the play.
King Charles III is controversial to say the least, and it is highly probable that the royal family will be unhappy with how they are depicted. With the focus on portraying the royal family as scheming, privileged and shambolic, this drama is definitely targeted at those with republican leadings. The drama certainly focuses on the sensational, both in the main story arc of the King’s refusal to grant assent to a bill (which would never happen in real life), and the more direct claims made about the parentage of Harry.
Whilst the viewer can accept this to a degree as dramatic license, it’s hard to stomach the scenes of the revenge-filled late Princess Diana haunting her ex-husband and sons. Whilst this serves to propel the story forward, the scenes are badly executed and don’t add much to the story itself. These aspects of the show are clearly designed to hype up the contraversy; and this is achieved by the superb acting and use of iambic pentameter in the script.
King Charles III is both well written and well-acted, and the drama makes for compelling but shocking viewing. Though the more sensationalist aspects of the plot are perturbing, Bartlett has successfully written an alternative future which is not far removed from the epic political dramas of William Shakespeare himself.
King Charles III aired on BBC Two and is available to watch via BBC iPlayer.