New BBC2 drama King Charles III portrays a British Royal Family descending into chaos following the ascension of Prince Charles to the throne. Adapted from Mike Bartlett’s West End and Broadway hit of the same name, the show features a full-blown constitutional crisis and an appearance by the ghost of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The show – which the BBC has stressed is complete fiction – opens as the Royal Family gather at the funeral of Her Majesty The Queen and portrays Charles and William in conflict, with the Duchess of Cambridge as a manipulative, almost Lady Macbeth-like, presence.
A scene showing “Camilla” slapping “William” has already provoked backlash with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen telling the Mail on Sunday that it is “unfortunate the BBC would seek to promote this flight of fantasy, which many licence-fee payers will find distasteful and which I believe denigrates and undermines our royal family. I hope that the BBC will make clear that the production is pure fiction.”
Rupert Goold, the show’s Olivier award-winning director, spoke about the challenges of a production like this, telling the Radio Times, “Given what things could have been like, the BBC was very good… And you have to remember that even with the stage version, we’d been through long conversations with lawyers and certain actors refusing to be involved because of how it might affect their future relationship with the honours system.”
Actors who decided to take the risk included Tim Pigott-Smith, who passed away in April, who took on the titular role, which he also played in the stage version, and Richard Goulding who takes on the role of Prince Harry, which he also plays in Channel 4’s satirical The Windsors.
Oliver Chris took on the role of Prince William and called the scene featuring Diana as a ghost “pretty shocking” adding that “some people will bridle at it, but I hope it’s done with enough intelligence and sensitivity not to be gratuitous. I’m very conscious that it’s a real person and a real family.”
The play originally premiered at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, North London, before making its way to the West End where it won the Olivier and Critic’s Circle awards for best new play. When it premiered on Broadway, it was similarly lauded and received a Tony nomination.
The show will play on the BBC in the UK and PBS in the US. Executive producer Rebecca Eaton described King Charles III as “an ingenious play that promises to be as riveting on television as it was on stage. It’s a play set in the near future, but with Shakespeare never far away.”