9/23/2020 From the Bookshelf: KING CHARLES III by Mike Bartlett
The Queen is dead. Long Live the King.
Charles, Prince of Wales is in his twilight years when his mother the queen finally shuffles off her mortal coil, leaving him King. Ish. Actually, since coronations are elaborate affairs taking months of development, he is, in law (and fact), just "filling the seat" until the coronation. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, Prince Harry has taken up with a free-spirited anti-Royalist with some nasty photos waiting on the internet to bite. (Yes, this was written before the real Prince Harry's marriage to Meghan Markel, but new revisions to the script have made the woman black and have added a scene in which Harry turns away from all royal duties.) William and Kate are obviously not content to follow in Charles' "waiting in the wings" life until it is "their" turn, and will do whatever it takes to ensure the succession of their heir (or his spare). And, most telling, Parliament has passed a draconian law limiting freedom of the Press (in the wake of the News International Phone Hacking Scandal.)
Considering what happened to Charles' first wife, Diana, you'd would think he would be rabidly infavor of such a bill. But Charles is a student of history and of government, and will NOT put his signature on such a bill. It's a mere formality -- the law has passed and is, de facto, the law of the land. But the Prime Minister knows that if the King remains obdurate, the influence of the royal family will be lost forever.
Constructed in classic Shakespearean History Play style, this five-act "future history" includes lines in verse, soliloquys and asides, Diana's ghost flitting about the palace, and naked ambition on display from (too) many of the characers. More to the point, it is an enormously compelling read in spite of some vary archaic and stillted lines to keep the meter intact. For example, the play begins with the following speech by Camilla:
My wond'rous Charles, you looked composed throughout,
You did her proud, for as she would have liked
You never showed your pain, but stood instead
A virtuous man of dignity and grace.
Immovable, inscrutable as stone.
Hi-falutin' indeed, but, as with Shakespeare himself, once the rhythm takes hold in your ear, it flows trippingly in the mind, a tempest of words and syntax, a veritable feast of lyricism, melody, and emotion.
These are all public figures (except for maybe Jessica, Harry's new girl griend, but it's easy to imagine her being played by Meghan Markle), who are given fictional life here. Yes, some of the characters are blatant opportunists, teflon-politicians, or tabloid "column inch" influencers. But none of them display stereotypical "political hatchet job" qualities, and all of them are fully developed, fully recognizable as human beings (if not their real-life analogs). They are written with respect and even affection.
So, is Charles a tragic hero here? I'm willing to go out on a limb and say "yes". His "flaw' may be a stubborn determination to stay apolitical, but his adherence to conscience is admirable, even spectacular. And his real downfall may be his love of his family, even the ghostly Diana. As the play ends (this may be a bit of a spoiler) and the coronation goes forth, I was so moved by the portrait of man who was "in the wings" for years, decades, his entire life, only to have his ascension to the throne challenged by a younger generation, who would give the throne a stability that could last for many many years.
As information, an abridged version of this script was filmed for PBS in 2017, and is available to rent (or own) on Amazon Prime. Of course I watched it as soon as I finished reading the script, and it is a gripping film, cast with "look alikes," and spoken with an ease and clarity that belies my earlier descriptions of "archaic and stiled." Tim-Pigott Smith is the King, and he is breathtakingly earnest, and careful. Every word, every thought seems deliberated and weighed with historical significance. Oliver Christ (Oberon in the "Midsummer" I reviewed a couple months ago) is William, at first seemingly weak-willed and controlled by Kate, but ultimately the very model of a future king. Also memorable are Margo Leicester as Camilla, Charlotte Riley as Kate, and Tamara Lawrance as Jessica. Departing from the original script, the "Opposition Leader" is cast as female (Priyanga Burford) and she is also very good indeed.
At this point, you may ask, what can Charles do, if his signature on the law carries no legal weight? What can he do when the bill is being voted on at eleven today, with the Crown disappearing forever in its wake? History buffs, familiar with the reign of William IV, may guess the answer. And its an action that leads to dissent, to chaos, and to armed tanks in front of Buckingham Palace,
I strongly recommend both this script and this movie!
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #KingCharlesIII)