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Exclusive Access to 'Prince Charles at 70'
March 24, 2019  | By David Hinckley

If a new documentary on Britain’s Prince Charles should become the definitive video summation of his life, it’s safe to say his rehabilitation is complete.

Prince Charles at 70, which airs at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on PBS (check local listings), is the sort of film one might see at a memorial service, radiating richness and goodness with no hints of any untidy or less flattering moments.

Watching John Bridcut’s hour-long documentary, which was filmed over the course of a year, one would never guess that 20 years ago Prince Charles was widely viewed as a cad.

He was the man who callously shut out and ultimately abandoned his young bride, Princess Diana, so that he could resume a long-standing affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The Charles/Diana estrangement spurred such international interest that both went on separate television programs to, in effect, state their case. It’s fair to say Diana won that faceoff, and only in part because she was blonde, beautiful, the mother of Charles’s two sons and clearly the less powerful party.

Then Diana was killed in a Paris automobile crash, and Charles’s image was solidified, particularly among women, as one more egregiously self-serving member of a seriously dysfunctional royal family.

While the royal family, in general, seemed to recognize this and made some discreet moves toward rehabilitating its image, Charles never really changed course.

After a suitable interval, he married Camilla, who is now the Duchess of Cornwall, and they waited out the inevitable wave of residual resentment.

He seemed to patch up any rifts with his sons William and Harry, who were devoted to their mother, and the rest of his life stayed resolutely on course.

He traveled the country and the world, warning that we need action on climate change and other environmental issues. He worked to promote and maintain the Prince’s Trust, a work and educational program for young folks.

Prince Charles at 70 says that’s what he’s still doing today. He has gradually taken on more royal functions as his mother, approaching her 93rd birthday, cuts back on matters like extended international travel. In between, he keeps trying to convince the rest of us we need to become far better stewards of the Earth’s finite resources.

Presuming his mother will not live forever, and he will, in fact, become king, he tells Bridcut that will change his focus. The constitutional role of the sovereign is far different, and in many ways more restricted, he allows, than his current gig as the Prince of Wales.

As he has explained in the past, in some ways he has had to invent his current role since previous holders of the position have not always had the same priorities.

Charles’s mission is actually quite simple, says his wife: “He wants to save the world.”

Bridcut spends much of the film showing the ways he hopes to do this, buttressing those scenes with commentary by just three persons: Camilla, William, and Harry.

They all stay on message, addressing the ways in which Charles carries out his royal role. We hear not a whisper about his personal life or his past, which presumably was the promise with which Bridcut and the producers sold Charles and the Palace on the whole project.

Prince Charles at 70 presents its subject as serious yet not humorless. He’s driven and tireless, particularly by the standards of 70, and he’s become very good at not saying anything that might sound insensitive or off-putting, a skill not entirely in evidence 20 years ago.

Those who might like to see any other side of Prince Charles will have to look elsewhere. At the very least, one imagines he will come across a bit differently when The Crown gets to his grownup years.

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