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The Reign of ‘King Charles III’ on PBS
May 14, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 6 comments

If you want almost all your current perceptions of the British royal family obliterated, tune in King Charles III, a 90-minute movie airing Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

The PBS movie is adapted from the original Mike Bartlett stage play that opened in London in 2014 and had a short run on Broadway at the end of 2015.

As the title suggests, it imagines the death of Queen Elizabeth II, which means the very patient Prince Charles (the late Timothy Pigott-Smith, top) has, at last, come in line for the throne.

Despite a lifetime of theoretical preparation, Charles seems oddly schizophrenic about what lies ahead.

On the one hand, he is almost overwhelmed by the responsibility and historical importance of the British throne. On the other, he is determined to leave his own imprint.

What he is not prepared for is the crisis that arises from an action he takes before coronation – or the response that action triggers within his family.

The first domino comes when Parliament approves legislation clamping stricter controls on press freedom. This was a hot-button issue in real-life Britain in 2014, following a scandal over media hacking of sensitive and personal government information.

Fictional Prime Minister Tristram Evans (Adam James) brings this legislation along on one of his introductory sessions with Charles.

The monarch still must sign all legislation, a vestige of long-ago regal power that has long since been downsized to pure ceremony.

Charles, it turns out, has grave reservations about the legislation, despite the savaging his own family, including his ex-wife Diana, has taken for decades from a headline-hungry press.  

So he refuses to sign, arguing it is his duty to protect the people from reckless knee-jerk laws that do not serve their long-term interest.

Charles argues that members of Parliament are elected for a short time by a small constituency. The monarch, on the other hand, represents every person in the whole United Kingdom and has done so for almost a millennium.

The theoretical merits of royal power and press freedom are soon subsumed, in any case, by the practical implications of Charles refusing to sign the new law.

As Charles’s battle with Parliament escalates and the stakes rise, Evans tries to enlist other members of the royal family in a face-saving compromise.

Prince William (Oliver Chris, left), who in real life has been considered the stabilizing son who restored equilibrium to the royal family, takes a much different tack here.

But William’s turnabout is dwarfed by that of his wife Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley, left), who in real life has been Britain’s biggest feel-good love story.

Here she’s more like Lady MacBeth.

Prince Harry, in real life seen as an amusing playboy, here becomes a brooding chap who yearns only to escape the royal prison into which he was born.

Then, at the end, he switches roles and attitudes again, possibly jeopardizing his first genuine romantic relationship.

Diana makes a couple of cameos as a ghostly vision. Her successor as Charles’s wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles (Margot Leicester), comes off mostly as a nuisance.

It’s all pretty dark, literally and figuratively. Perhaps because it was created as a stage play, it has almost none of those lovely outdoor vistas we normally see in British dramas.

Then there’s the dialogue, much of it written in a Shakespearian style. It’s at times jarring, though it fits the general tone and style of the show.

Those who saw King Charles III in its stage incarnations should be aware that the TV adaptation is only a little more than half as long. Some subplots and scenes have been truncated or eliminated.

What remains is a play/movie that’s unsettling, even back here in the Colonies.

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In poor taste and insulting to the Royal family in their entirety. written for personal gain. You would indeed be fortunate to miss it.
May 16, 2017   |  Reply
I enjoyed it. I looked at it as historical fiction. The blank verse was beautiful.
May 16, 2017   |  Reply
Janice Maricondo
I did NOT like this rendition of what might happen after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. After watching this PBS program this evening, I am more prone to want Prince Charles to be king until he ‘voluntarily’ abdicates, not being blackmailed into it, etc. It is awful how this turned out in this PBS program of “Charles III”. After viewing such a performance, I changed my mind in being in favor of Prince William and Kate and liking them. Before this watching this performance, I held them in high favor or regard but after viewing this program it left me having a ‘bad taste’ or dislike of Prince William and Kate with little respect for them and liking Prince Charles more but he ‘gave in’…to them. Awful.
May 15, 2017   |  Reply
That was the most disgusting thing I have ever watched! Using Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate like that made me sick to my stomach!
May 15, 2017   |  Reply
Janice Maricondo
Agree...totally. It was awful.
May 15, 2017
marann edwards
Disgusting portrayal of the character of the children of Charles. I am outraged and I am an American. Plus, Charles was right to defend freedom of the press and freedom of the press was the loser in this piece of garbage. Greed seemed to be the winner.
May 15, 2017   |  Reply
marc h riedler
I like the britsh.
May 15, 2017   |  Reply
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