Based on a play, KING CHARLES III (aired in 2017 on BBC Two and PBS Masterpiece) is about Charles, Prince of Wales, taking the throne after Queen Elizabeth’s death and subsequently using his powers to make a name for himself, nearly breaking the country. The result is a highly compelling modern Shakespearean tragedy.
It’s a fictionalized 2017, and Queen Elizabeth has died. Charles assumes the throne as King of the United Kingdom. We see familiar faces from the royal family: Camilla, William, Kate, and Harry. When Charles meets the prime minister for the first time, he objects to a bill that would regulate the free press and refuses to provide royal assent. When parliament retaliates by threatening to strip the throne of any remaining powers, Charles uses one of those powers in an extraordinary political step that threatens to break the country and his family apart.
The script is written in blank verse. That and other conventions give the whole thing the air and feel of a Shakespearean tragedy, notably KING LEAR and RICHARD III. Charles is motivated by wanting to take a real role in power and serving his country, thereby serving his own vanity in wanting to be known as a great king. This puts him on a collision course not only with parliament but with his own children, who see their own future and the future of their children threatened as part of the monarchy. The fictionalized versions of the royal family are brilliant, feeling both familiar and accessible and in these current days even prescient to a degree.
The result is a highly compelling political thriller. It took a lot of flak from the British press and some viewers, but I loved it.