It seems like the British Royal family is always a topic of interest in the world of pop culture. Photos of little Prince George on his first day of school become headline news, and people (like my mother) celebrate royal weddings and births like the royals are their own flesh and blood. This constant fascination with the happenings of the royal family has fueled many a TV series, film and play, from E!’s campy “The Royals” to Helen Mirren‘s Oscar-winning role as “The Queen.” Recently, I watched two very different representations of royal life, “King Charles III,” a play currently running on Broadway, and the BBC America comedy series “Almost Royal.” The connections between the two offer up a very interesting view of what being “royal” really means.
In “King Charles III,” Queen Elizabeth II has died and Prince Charles (played excellently by Tim Pigott-Smith) is finally set to ascend to the throne. When given the task to sign a bill into law that he doesn’t fully agree with, he quickly learns that being King is not all it’s cracked up to be. By the end of the play, the makeup of the Royal family is irrevocably changed and the audience leaves wondering if it really is great to be king.
“King Charles III” geniously pulls the curtain back on how much power the Royal family really has. It paints them as powerless figureheads, symbols of an era long gone. The decision Charles and other members of the family have to make in the play is whether or not they are willing to maintain this charade for the sake of their own image. It’s an interesting aspect of modern royal life (That, it’s important to note, may or may not be true. The play is, of course, a work of fiction.) that is rarely seen or discussed elsewhere.
While “King Charles III” looks at royal status as a somewhat aging artifice, “Almost Royal” sees it as an opportunity to shine. “Almost Royal” is a faux documentary series chronicling the adventures of Poppy (Amy Hoggart) and Georgie (Ed Gamble) Carlton, two very very distant relatives of the Queen. (According to episodes from season 1, their place in the order of succession varies from 51st and 52nd to 74th and 75th on any given day.) At the request of their deceased father, they’re visiting the states (with a film crew, of course) and taking in all that makes America great, one brilliantly deadpan joke at a time. The show plays like a somewhat classier “Borat,” as Poppy and Georgie regularly interact with unsuspecting Americans who believe that they are meeting two members of the royal family.
Poppy and Georgie seem to understand that their status in the order of succession means little to nothing in terms of actual power. Instead, they use it in the way that seems to be most popular these days: to get attention. They’ve met with a U.S. Congressmen and judged a beauty pageant all because people believe that they have some sort of connection to the royal family. While the Charles in “King Charles III” isn’t willing to play the royal game, Poppy and Georgie welcome it with open arms.
Both “King Charles III” and “Almost Royal” feed on the public’s interest in the lives of the royals. Where the former sees the throne as a place of status but not much else, the latter sees it as a chance for attention and some level of power. Maybe not one that can decide on the law of the land, but at least one that can get Mario Lopez to sit down for an interview on beauty.
So what do you guys think about the royal family and their portrayal in pop culture? Have you seen “King Charles III” or “Almost Royal?” Let me know what you think in the comments. And, by royal decree…