TV COLUMN: King Charles III, The One Show, General Election update

James Waller Davies
James Waller Davies

Line of Duty (BBC1) confirmed itself as the television event of the year so far with a thrilling finale.

Twitter is a contrary critic, bouncing from sycophantic eulogising, to wrathful expletive-bound tirades in less time than it takes to refresh your feed. This was no more evident than during this week’s royal drama, King Charles III (BBC2).

Mike Bartlett’s imagining of a perilous and turbulent short reign of a future King Charles was always going to be an obvious target for the vagaries of the Twitter commentariat. Some called it ‘royal bashing’ and ‘monarchy bullying’, whilst others – many, many others, to be fair – praised the inventiveness of the drama and recourse to Shakespearian form.

Certainly, the use of verse was novel for a modern drama and a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions was more than believable within the established context.

Setting this Charles’ conscience as his hubris above the will of parliament does not seem such a stretch of the imagination given what we know of the principled heir to the throne. But whether, as Shakespeare, who trod this ground long before Bartlett, put it, is this “play’s the thing to uncover the conscience of the king” is open to question.

King Charles III was powerful, no doubt. But it had many pitfalls. Writing consistent dramatic verse is no mean feat and if you set out to use the language and form of Shakespeare, you invite comparison with the best there’s ever been.

Whilst the soliloquies mostly held their own, some of the dialogue tripped clumsily over its own metrical feet with some clunking bum notes – more a case of iambic pit-stop than pentameter.

The abundance of other Shakespearian tropes were often a distraction. Diana returning as a Banquo’s ghost, a Lady Macbeth reincarnated as Kate and a Harry reverting to a Prince Hal predecessor were unnecessary nuts cracked with a clumsy sledgehammer.

Then there was the problem of television itself. Live theatre has a different conventions governing our suspension of disbelief, whereas television has weaned us to a heightened sense of realism. This way a play better staged than screened.

Olive Chris, who played William, had just a touch to much of the Nicolas Lyndhurst about him that I found it difficult to shake image of Rodney Trotter from my mind. He was also rather more hirsute than prematurely balding Duke – more ‘hair to the throne’ than heir.

But let it be said, Tim Piggott-Smith as Charles was superb. The irony of what may end up being a career defining performance aired a few weeks after his death has a ring of tragedy that Shakespeare himself would have nodded to.

Failing, as I’m sure many would have hoped, to fall into either tragedy, comedy or even farce, was Theresa and Philip May’s appearance on The One Show (BBC1).

It was what the media spinners call a ‘soft interview’, a nice safe cuddly meeting on the sofa with, if the polls be true, the future first family. Politically, it told us nothing, but then it wasn’t meant to.

It was a slightly uncomfortable affair, a bit like meeting ones future in-laws for the first time over Sunday afternoon tea. It’s always nice to know that your future in-laws aren’t a bunch of raving loonies, but equally you can see more than a few dull Christmases and family gatherings in the future.

That was the revelation: in a world of the political personality, the Mays were just an ordinary, slightly boring to strangers, dull couple, just like the rest of us.

She does the cooking. He puts the bins out. She likes shoes. He dabbles in ties. Considering the news that comes daily from the wacky world of America, shoes and ties seem rather reassuringly harmless.

The highlight of a quite general election on TV, was a BBC cameraman being run over my Mr Corbyn’s car.

Depending which version you got, it was either a minor accident involving no more than a few toes - or it was Corbyn and his Tom Cruise lookalike driver recreating Mad Max Thunder Road in Islington, carving a motorised massacre through the media. The story will continue. Still another month to go.