Rupert Goold’s adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s Tony Award-nominated play imagines a brief yet tumultuous reign of the current Prince of Wales following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The new King Charles intends to be a more active participant than his late mother, and immediately creates a crisis by refusing to provide the ceremonial royal assent to a media censorship law that passed in Parliament. He also breaks with tradition by holding weekly meetings with the opposition leader as well as the Prime Minister. As this occurs, his younger son Prince Harry becomes romantically involved with a black woman who holds anti-monarchist views – and Harry is so smitten that he seeks to renounce his royal status and become a commoner. And if that is not bad enough, Prince William and his wife Kate appear to be a little too eager to see Charles’ reign brought to an abrupt stop while the ghost of Charles’ first wife, Diana, who haunts Buckingham Palace.
It’s all fairly melodramatic – perhaps a bit too much, as this adaptation clearly shows its theatrical roots, complete with its blank verse dialogue and intense soul-searching soliloquies by the title character, who is played with a tinge of Shakespearean angst by Tim Piggot-Smith in his final film role. The other actors seem to be playing caricatures rather than characters: Richard Goulding’s Harry is a dimwit, Charlotte Riley imagines Kate as Lady Macbeth in Alexander McQueen dresses, and Margot Leister offers Camilla as a modern-day Margaret Dumont.
Competent but not compelling, this royal fantasy produces mildly sour amusement for those who find fun in political catastrophes.