King Charles III – the title made me think “What? Another labourious period drama? …Oh, hang on, we’ve never had a third King Charles”. And then the penny dropped.
Mike Bartlett has adapted his own play for the screen with the late Tim Pigott-Smith in the titular role. It’s a time in the near future when both Prince Philip and the Queen have passed away, the latter just recently and as he explains, “My life has been a lingering for the throne” and speculates about whether he should have taken over the throne earlier, but how waiting means that “one is protected from the awful shame… of failure”.
From time to time, he talks to camera like Francis Urquhart in the original House of Cards, the drama resting on his passing of a Bill regarding press privacy, which sets restriction on the freedom of the press. This leads to intransigence between the King and the Prime Minister, Tristram Evans (Adam James), the latter of whom states he’ll still aim to pass the bill even without Royal Assent, as if he’ll do anything to get what he wants. Charles is laso wrestling with his identity in terms of how his reign will be defined by the public, given that his mum spent time with the likes of Churchill, so he worries how can he match that?
Elsewhere, Harry (Richard Goulding, who also played the Prince in Channel 4’s The Windsors) sleeps with a commoner, Jessica (Tamara Lawrance), whilst on a huge night of partying, leading to him speculating on whether he might lean more towards a non-Royal lifestyle from this point onwards, but whilst it doesn’t always work as well when it diverts towards the others’ storylines – making it rather uneven at times, Tim Pigott-Smith is on first-rate form, here and it’s horrendous to know that he was taken from us recently. Plus, both Harry and Charles (Oliver Chris) have their moments, amongst a story that’s touches on treachery and back-stabbing as well as (for a geek like me who thinks about these things), clever lighting on the cast in dark scenes.
There’s also the occasional ghostly figure of Princess Diana, which was a bit odd.
If I could change one thing, it’s that the dialogue gets a bit Shakespearean at times which isn’t my bag, but towering above that is the late, great Tim Pigott-Smith, who’s a powerhouse in this, and his performance in King Charles III serves as a fitting epitaph to a great actor. How about a posthumous BAFTA
King Charles III is available to pre-order on DVD, ahead of its release on May 15th. If you missed it, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission, and click on the DVD packshot for the full-size version.
Director: Rupert Goold
Producer: Simon Maloney
Writer: Mike Bartlett
Charles: Tim Pigott-Smith
Prime Minister Tristram Evans: Adam James
William: Oliver Chris
Kate Middleton: Charlotte Riley
Harry: Richard Goulding
Camilla: Margot Leicester
Paul: Nyasha Hatendi
Coottsey: Max Bennett
Mrs. Stevens: Priyanga Burford
Jess: Tamara Lawrance
Clerk of the House of Commons: Neil Broome
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.