Thoughts on “King Charles III” on PBS

Thoughts on “King Charles III” on PBS

I’m a bit late to the King Charles III party. It aired here in the US last Sunday on PBS, but I haven’t had time to watch it until now. It’s pretty bad, you guys. I know some of you had a lot of problems with The Crown, but man, that show was way better than this movie. BTW, spoilers ahead.

I actually think this premise – what will happen in the days following Prince Charles becoming King – had a lot of promise. It could have been done well and been very interesting, but it wasn’t. I liken it to the Star Wars prequels in that way. The Star Wars prequels could have been House of Cards in Space, but it wasn’t because of terrible writing and directing. King Charles III could have been House of Cards with Royals, but it wasn’t because of terrible writing and directing. And the reason I bring House of Cards into this is because both Charles and Kate talk to the camera ala Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

Back in March, the Guardian wrote up a long but fascinating piece about what will happen when Queen Elizabeth II dies, called ‘London Bridge is down’: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death. If King Charles III had been a realistic portrayal of that plan, it would have been amazing. If King Charles III had been a realistic portrayal of what would happen if the monarch took more power/went against Parliament, it would have been amazing. But the movie was so melodramatic and fake Shakespearean that nothing felt real and every decision and line of dialogue seemed so stupid.

I’ve bullet-pointed some of my thoughts:

  • I hated that Charles talked directly to the camera like he was Frank Underwood in House of Cards. And I hated that Kate randomly talked to the camera for one scene halfway through the movie. I get that this comes from the fact that this movie was adapted from a play, but it did not work for this movie.
  • The Shakespearean-ness of the dialogue was distracting. It may work in a play, but in a movie you cannot have Shakespearean language in a modern day setting. It is so contradictory that every time they spoke it completely pulled me out of the story.
  • The fact that William and Kate were ignorant of how the monarchy and British government worked bothered me greatly. William should already know that the new monarch becomes the new monarch as soon as the old monarch dies. He shouldn’t have to be told that. And if the writers just need to impart that information to the audience, they should have picked different characters to give that information to so that it doesn’t make William and Kate seem ignorant – especially since William and Kate were supposed to be the smart heroes.
  • I was also bothered by the fact that William kept referring to himself as Prince of Wales. If Charles hasn’t even been coronated yet, then William most certainly hasn’t been installed as Prince of Wales yet.
  • I don’t understand the point of the hallucinations. If it had just been Charles having the Diana hallucinations, I would have eyerolled because they were stupid, but it would have made some sense since the writers were out to make Charles look a bit insane – having hallucinations, seizing power and being forced to abdicate. But both William and Harry had the Diana hallucinations, too. Was the purpose to make all of them seem like they have mental illness? William is supposed to be the sane hero, so why is he having the same hallucinations as his father?
  • I very mush dislike the portrayals of Charles, William, and Kate. I think Charles is much smarter than the movie portrayed him as; I think William is much more tantrum-y than the movie portrayed him as; and I think Kate is far less confident than the movie portrayed her as. However, if the writers were going to go that route with these characters, they didn’t do a good job. Charles wasn’t as terrible as the writers wanted him to be; William wasn’t as smart as the writers wanted him to be; and Kate wasn’t as scheming as the writers wanted her to be. Overall, the writing was just terrible.
  • Harry was all sorts of stupid. That questioning Harry’s paternity scene was stupid. The fact that Harry could randomly be everywhere without his RPOs was stupid. His moping was the worst. And then it made no sense that he would dump Jessica at the end. That makes no sense, especially since Harry says it was William who wanted Harry to dump Jessica when William is supposed to be the likable hero. Again, the writing was terrible.
  • The secret meeting between Jessica (Harry’s love interest) and the palace PR guy did the opposite of what I think the writers intended it to do. The two met and Jessica tells the PR guy that her ex is blackmailing her with nude photos, and the PR guy tells her he can’t help her, to which she says: “If this was Harry or the king, you would do something.” The PR guy then replies: “You don’t understand, miss, you’re not part of the family.” I think the writers intended me to feel sympathy for Jessica here, but I actually came away disliking her and thinking the PR guy didn’t have a strong enough comeback. I think this interaction makes Jessica seem narcissistic and stupid. If she had a problem she wanted the palace to help her with, she should have gone to Harry from the beginning to ask him to get the palace to help her (which she did after the nude photos were published). Thinking that the palace would help her with her problem even though she’s not a royal and the palace doesn’t work for her is narcissistic and stupid. She should have been smarter and known that the palace wasn’t going to help her out unless Harry did the asking.

Overall, I think this movie was terrible. The writing and characterization were awful. But there were two parts that I did like: Charles throwing something at the PM, and Camilla slapping William. Those were fun.

46 thoughts on “Thoughts on “King Charles III” on PBS

  1. Happily I have not seen this as generally American PBS shows don’t air in Australia – or if they do there is a delay. It might be available via one of the online streaming services but I won’t be searching for it !

  2. I’ll have more to say on this later but I saw this on the Court Circular: The Duke of Cambridge this morning attended a Meeting of the Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying at Buckingham Palace.

    Remember, we were asking what had happened about William’s talk of cyberbullying (which only applies to him it seems since everyone’s so mean to him)?

    All the reviews I’ve seen for this have been mostly stellar but it seems colored by the public opinion of Charles bad/William good.

    Kate is due to join the Queen and Prince Philip at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on the 22nd. No sign of William being there. Also found it interesting the Order of the Garter service is indeed on the schedule for the 19th of June…

    1. I don’t know how or why the reviews for this movie have been good. The writing is terrible.

      1. I could see the Shakespearean style working in a play (obviously), but when you adapt this to a TV audience it just doesn’t work. I remember reading reviews of this as a play and everyone was in contortions over how great it was! I am kinda meh on seeing it in general but even moreso after reading your review as I have a feeling I’d come away with the same opinions as you.

        I do love the idea though. Charles going against Parliament–and quite nobly too regarding Parliament wishing to curtail freedom of speech–could have been done so better rather than casting him this villain.

        I need to go to bed… lol

        1. I think as a play the Shakespearean thing would work fine. But as a movie it just doesn’t work. It was clearly adapted from a play and not written as a movie.

          1. Kenneth Branagh is a shakespeare fanatic. You see it in every film he writes/ directs, including THOR.

            If this play wanted to do shakespearean cosplay, they should have hired him to do it.

            Then again, i think he is besties with Charles and wouldn’t want to spit on him.

            I loved your review. Whilst i haven’t watched this film, i could imagine it based on that review.

            The things you point out would be irritating, and you didn’t even touch upon the production which tells me how irritating the plot/dialogue is.

          2. Kenneth Branagh is fantastic and his movies never seem stilted – although I found Thor far too predictable. I think he would have elevated this story into a much better film.

  3. Oh I saw this as I was in the UK holidaying. It was terrible but utterley fascinating! How the characters were portrayed and the power struggle and the story-line. I expect members of the royal family were all at home watching, alternately guffawing, sobbing and throwing things at the tv!

    1. Yep. When the Star Wars prequels references come out, you know your movie is in trouble.

      1. As a huge Star Wars fan, I pretend the prequels don’t exist. It is the only rational way to handle them. They are truly the lowest of the low.

        1. I don’t mind them much.

          I blame George Lucas. Man, have you seen the ‘behind the scenes’ of him telling everyone how to speak and how to say his garbage and the actors like OH GOD NO?

          Hayden Christensen may have made a fortune to set him up for life but he was quite amazing in Shattered Glass and Life as a House…

          1. I have a friend who attended one of George Lucas’ Christmas parties one year, and she said he acted very strangely. He’s a strange dude.

  4. I sometimes feel kinda bad as I haven’t bothered to watch new series/movies my friends watched yet, but often it’s not even a bad thing as it’s either not smt which interests me or sometimes it’s just done so badly… ofc there will be mistakes or not everything can be accurate but when they do not even get simple facts right it’s so frustrating and makes it hard to follow.

    Not sure if (I guess someone has mentioned it) s.o. brought it up, but ever since reading it, I wonder how I had felt when the crown prince/king would have been the pilot, maybe reason to choose KML dx

  5. Oh, I tried. Tried to watch it but after the first several minutes I hated it. Plays become very static on film unless you have someone who can adapt for the movies. I did *not* like the portrayal of Charles as a self-absorbed, uncomplicated weakling. Worse, they gave Kate articulate speech and a brain. I still have it taped but doubt I will watch the rest of it.

  6. I doubt I even made it through the first full 15 minutes of this program, and even immediately deleted the DVR recording–something I never do with Masterpiece. I usually give programs at least several tries before trashing them. With The Crown, I keep going back to it hoping to get hooked, but that still hasn’t happened. Not giving up on it yet though.

  7. I enjoyed it but not becuase it went what could really happen when the king dies, it went the fluff route. I generally read nonfiction but sometimes I enjoy a good mystery in between. I liken this to that.
    Except for Camilla-they went worst possible scenario with a hint of realism thrown in.
    Jessica essentially telling Harry he’s been rudderless since leaving the army-we’ve all said that and toeing the line his brother wants
    Showing what could happen to Charles’s meddling now that he’s king. I found it ironic that Charles was championing the free press considering how much he dislikes the press. He just came off as a sad and I don’t see that Charles.
    I don’t see William as the weak and clueless buffoon as portrayed but I see him stabbing his dad in the back to get what he wants
    Kate well we know she’s not that smart but I laughed at using George as a way to manipulate William-cuz isn’t that what they try and do to the general public? =)
    And I love the iambic pentameter!

  8. Couildn’t watch it either. Maven, you are so right about plays becoming so static when transferred to television.

  9. I’ll go against the crowd here and say I liked it. I’m a Shakespeare fan and loved how well the iambic pentameter worked. I think the language fit the royal setting. Diana’s ghost is also part of the Shakespeare oeuvre. It has nothing to do with mental illness (Heads Together notwithstanding) and everything to do with driving the plot. Like the ghost in Hamlet, Diana’s spirit comes back as wife and mother to tell her loved ones what she feels they need to know. They act on that info, and so we have a plot. The monologues are also Shakespearean and do work much better in a play, but I was cool with it here.

    I don’t see Charles as being weak here. He stood up for a principle central to the spirit of democracy, against his (or Harry’s in this play) better interests, to protect the British people. He was on the verge of perhaps making his point when his son (advised by his grasping wife and career bureaucrat assistant) betrayed him.

    We’ve talked about Carole’s machinations to get Kate on a throne here. This play (I agree, this film shows as a play) presupposes that Kate was the architect of her own ambition. The family dismisses her as hair and fashion, but she opens up to the audience about her raw lust for power for herself and her children and her future descendants. The ignorance she reveals when she doesn’t know that Charles becomes King with the death of his mother and that the coronation is the showy representation of that plays into her unsuitability for genuine leadership. The irony and tragedy are that by getting what she schemed for, she sacrificed any real power her husband or descendants will hold.

    This is a Shakespearean tragedy. The PM severely damages democracy. The ghost of the king’s wife (who died tragically before she could be crowned Queen) visits to provide empathy and prediction for the future (but ghosts are all about the past) and spurs the king to act. He doesn’t have much power, but he’s determined to protect his people and is willing to sacrifice popularity and the easy way to do it. His son, who knows his duty is to support the monarch the way his father did, is weak and listens to his ambitious wife and his father’s faithless servant. As a result, a good king is toppled from his throne, the third leg of British government irreparably damaged, Harry loses his love, Kate’s husband and child lose future power, and British political life takes a significant step away from democracy.

    The Harry plotline is to show how good King Charles thought only of his son’s happiness as opposed to weak King William who would sacrifice it for a meaningless show. It’s no coincidence that nude photos were the weapon of destruction, either.

    So I liked the show, but I’m a bit odd.

    1. I really like your take on this, graymatters. I might give it another shot. Or maybe not :). I’m not a fan of plays on film, and could live without that particular meter. Still, you have me intrigued now. Thanks!

    2. You’re not alone, I also was very intrigued by it.

      Thanks for writing this out so beautifully graymatters. I didn’t have the energy to show the links to Shakespeare and honestly wouldn’t have done as good as job as you. I had not thought of the Harry plotline in the way you just wrote it and it made total sense. The Harry portrayal was the thing I really didn’t like, but now that you said he was there to show the contrast between William/Charles I don’t mind it. He was there solely as the foil to them and meant to show their characters. Hmm, good catch 🙂

      I think it helps if people like Shakespeare and know his tragedies when viewing this. Like Shakespeare, this play is not everyone’s cup of tea.

    3. So the monarchy ends under Charles III in this film-play? Because of something the PM does and Kate’s nude photos? If they billed it like that, like this utterly fictitious Shakespearean trage-drama, then I might have watched it. The few reviews I read made it sound like a serious biography.

      1. Not the monarchy itself, just the power of signing/not signing bills into law. In the play, the PM gets a bill passed that would restrict the freedom of the press. In the weekly meeting, Charles points out that it’s undemocratic. PM points out that Charles (and later we see that other members of the royal family) would benefit from such a law. Charles doesn’t believe that its best for the nation (the leader of the opposition says that she always beleived that the monarch would refuse assent to any bill supporting a Nazi party as an example of what powers a monarch still has) and refuses to sign. He actually dismisses Parliment to give himself time to sort it out and on the verge of perhaps ending the standoff, Will makes his move. The result is a diminished freedom of speech and a monarchy that has lost the power to dismiss Parliment or refuse to sign a bill. Will’s actions killed the substance of the monarchy, but Kate makes sure the show will go on.

        The nude photos are of Harry’s girlfriend. She’s thrown under the bus — because restricting the powers of speech only benefits those already in power — and Harry dutifully follows William into a life of what looks to be loveless misery. Harry’s referred to as “Invictus” showing how he’ll work on the public’s behalf, as his father does.

        1. I don’t know what happened there. I’m undefined (Ha!) and I added a bit to say that I agree with Overit’s comments below on the Jessica character.

    4. Graymatters, I love your comments and unique insights.

      I thought the idea of Charles as a man who waited 70 years to ascend to the throne was an interesting subject that they didn’t explore enough. His comment that he had lived a life that protected him from failure, that he was a man who had spent his life trying to figure out how to be a decent, principled thoughtful man which of itself might make him unfit to be a rubber stamp monarch — I thought these ideas weren’t explored well enough for my tastes.

      I would suggest the BBC version of The House of Cards for anyone interested in a story about a Charles like character entangled by politics. The second episode in the trilogy has a believable Charles figure whose high mindedness creates quite a problem for the monstrous PM Francis Urquhart (aka FU). It’s one of the best BBC productions ever and has a heavy post-Margaret Thatcher brutality to it. Much more sophisticated and biting social and political commentary than the US version.

      1. ‘His comment that he had lived a life that protected him from failure, that he was a man who had spent his life trying to figure out how to be a decent, principled thoughtful man which of itself might make him unfit to be a rubber stamp monarch — I thought these ideas weren’t explored well enough for my tastes.’ – Quite! Hasn’t Charles said this very thing? He’s spent his life trying to make purpose for himself when the Prince of Wales traditionally has no role so he created one so he isn’t aimless and useless. Some may disagree of course with that role he has made but he’s done something with his life that has in many respects benefited others greatly.

        I loved the British House of Cards. The US one is lame. But BBC dramas are always far, far better than any American counterpart we come up with here IMO.

        1. Ellie, So glad to see another fan of the BBC House of Cards. FU’s occasional breaking the fourth wall is masterful and frightening, all done with a slithering charm.

          1. I liked it, too, but “Daddy” as a lover’s term of endearment is always creepy, and I always think of that when I think of that film.

          2. @Graymatters Horribly creepy. It gave an incestuous meaning to a relationship involving a member of the press in bed with a politician literally and figuratively. But that’s what makes the BBC’s House of Cards so brilliant–it was unafraid to show absolute corruption.

  10. I don’t agree that Charles III would have been good if it was based off of the real plan of when the Queen passes. The whole point of this play/film was a satire and wasn’t supposed to be based in reality. It was a ‘what if’. After the play the director talked about it being a different reality. It wasn’t supposed to be realistic and I think a realistic portrayal would have been in the poor taste since The Queen is still alive.

    I liked the iambic pentameter since this story was based off of Shakespeare’s tragedies. This was following suit with Shakespeare and in that manner makes total sense.

    I didn’t like it in the sense I would own it. But I did find it fascinating and it really made me think, which is what it’s point was. I liked it overall and I’m glad I watched it.  

    I won’t touch on each of your points KMR, but regarding the Jessica encounter with the Royal adviser, I don’t think you were supposed to pity her. That scene to me felt like it was supposed to show her double standard. Before that all she did was preach about everything wrong with the monarchy and yet when something bad is about to happen to her she goes running to them for help. It showed how hypocritical she was. Every character was shown two sides in this film and that showed hers-she wasn’t this totally righteous character as first perceived. I actually found the writing very quick and intelligent. But that is what is fun about opinions, we all see things differently.

  11. I have just finished watching this on iplayer. It really needs a second viewing but I did quite like the glimpse of royal life in the palace. It was disconcerting about the Queen passing. But you could see that Charles was a decent man who had waited a long time.

    I think it was rather confusing but William was a lot stronger and decisive. William’s bad temper was down played and Kate was scheming compared to being deferential and needing her hand held.
    I quite liked the relationship with Harry and Jess. But it was predictable and the outcome was the only one that could have occurred.

  12. I really enjoyed it, and thought it was good. I liked the iambic pentameter and thought it was a clever nod to Shakespeare’s king plays, with a king facing challenges in his realm. I thought the ghost and the scheming daughter-in-law (“I am column inches”) were good devices.
    I teach A level Politics, and we discuss Royal Assent. My students always say “but what if it was withheld?” and I say “it wouldn’t be” and they say “but what if it was?”… if course, a constitutional crisis. I like Charles going into the Commons Chamber, like Charles I, which of course precipitated the English Civil War and the end of the monarchy for a while……

    1. What is interesting is – what IF this situation did happen, the monarch withheld assent? Technically, they can, right, but it is of course not really, er, constitutional is it?

      1. It’s a very interesting point. The whole system relies on the monarch acknowledging the political supremacy of parliament. I would love to see King Charles barge into the Commons to assert his sovereignty! (not really :0)
        As my students keep asking “but what if Assent was withheld?……”

  13. I’m waiting for the free version to come out, I refuse to pay so much as a penny. However, in my search I did see that the actress who played waity, I mean Kate was feeling pressure. **snicker** if she only knew, or maybe she does and that’s where the pressure is coming from. This has to be one bizarre acting gig. Maybe I’m wrong since I haven’t watched the movie but:)
    This is in and of itself highly entertaining.

    1. Usually pbs plays their masterpiece theater on their website too. Sometimes you can catch items on YouTube. they had their making of Hamilton on there. That might have been American experience or great performances tho

  14. Willnot as conniving was realistic, cannot as scheming and intelligent..hmmm. Charles as unable to stand up to his son after shutting down parliament rather unrealistic. A mindless bit of fluff on a Sunday evening.

  15. KMR, thank you for the link to the Guardian’s London Bridge article. Fascinating, and for me at times, very affecting.

  16. I view this movie the same way as I view the E! series The Royals. They both seem sensationalist with little to no basis in reality. I haven’t seen King Charles III yet. I don’t know if I will. It seems cringeworthy.

    Also, do we know if Charles intends to keep his name when he becomes king? Has he made any statements or are there reports from any of his friends about what he intends to be called?

    1. He says he would indeed be Charles, as it’s his name. Sort of like the Queen saying, “Elizabeth,of course,” when asked what her regnal name would be.

    2. There was a tester balloon floated a few years ago of George 7, but i guess that didn’t catch on, and the subject has been dropped.

      It wouldn’t be farfetched of him since George is one of his names.

      1. Lord knows Charles is not exactly a storied name for British kings considering the fates of Charles I and Charles II…

      2. New age, new day. I’m guessing like the rest of us contemporary ignoramuses anything other than Charles would be puzzling. Besides, it suits him. I would want to keep my name in this day and age.

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