Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shakespeare's "King Charles III"?

I watched the last hour of this PBS Masterpiece broadcast Sunday night; the show is available until May 28 online.

It is based upon a play written by Mike Bartlett as a Shakespearean History Play, although it describes events in the future, beginning with Queen Elizabeth II's death and the accession of Charles, the Prince of Wales as King Charles III. It even features the Ghost of Princess Diana--who is a confusing oracle indeed, predicting that both Charles AND William will be the greatest king that England has ever known!

The story is about a constitutional crisis based on the history of King William IV and the 1831-1832 Reform Act:

When the House of Commons defeated the First Reform Bill in 1831, Grey's ministry urged William to dissolve Parliament, which would lead to a new general election. At first, William hesitated to exercise his prerogative to dissolve Parliament because elections had just been held the year before and the country was in a state of high excitement which might boil over into violence. He was, however, irritated by the conduct of the Opposition, which announced its intention to move the passage of an Address, or resolution, in the House of Lords, against dissolution. Regarding the Opposition's motion as an attack on his prerogative, and at the urgent request of Lord Grey and his ministers, William IV prepared to go in person to the House of Lords and prorogue Parliament.[74] The monarch's arrival would stop all debate and prevent passage of the Address.[75] When initially told that his horses could not be ready at such short notice, William is supposed to have said, "Then I will go in a hackney cab!"[75] Coach and horses were assembled quickly and William immediately proceeded to Parliament. Said The Times of the scene before William's arrival, "It is utterly impossible to describe the scene ... The violent tones and gestures of noble Lords ... astonished the spectators, and affected the ladies who were present with visible alarm."[76] Lord Londonderry brandished a whip, threatening to thrash the Government supporters, and was held back by four of his colleagues. William hastily put on the crown, entered the Chamber, and dissolved Parliament.[77]

As in King William's day, so in Charles's putative reign: the monarch is defending progressive policies (in Charles's case, he's against a law restricting the Freedom of the Press). The twist is that in some ways, the Duchess of Cambridge (former Kate Middleton) is the Lady Macbeth of the piece, convincing William to dethrone his father (not murder him, of course). She has the ambition and desire to protect their son's right to the throne and believes that Charles is destroying the monarchy. Kate is trouble from the start, protesting that Charles isn't king until he is crowned. Camilla sets her straight on that.

According to PBS:

King Charles III Adapted by Mike Bartlett from his Tony-nominated stage play, and with Tim Pigott-Smith (Jewel in the Crown, The Hour) reprising the title role, King Charles III is a timely examination of contemporary Britain--part political thriller, part family drama.

Prince Charles has waited his entire life to ascend to the British throne. But after the Queen's death, he immediately finds himself wrestling his conscience over a bill to sign into law. His hesitation detonates a constitutional and political crisis and William (Oliver Chris, Breathless) and Kate (Charlotte Riley, Close to the Enemy) start to worry. With the future of the monarchy under threat, protests on the streets, and his family in disarray, Charles must grapple with his own identity and purpose to decide whether or not, in the twenty-first century, the British crown still has any real power.

This adaptation retains the daring verse of the original text while director Rupert Goold (The Hollow Crown) creates the ambitious scale and spectacle suggested by the play-from Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace to the restless streets of London.

Fascinating. Tim Piggott-Smith recreates his stage role in the movie; he died earlier this year.

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