Re-creating the royal wedding -- and network news troubles
The Great Transatlantic Royal Wedding Race has finally reached the finish line, and it looks as if ABC has won out over CBS in getting its entry here first.
ABC's electronic re-creation of the romance and marriage of Charles and Diana , titled Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story, airs tonight from 9-11 p.m. It features a slew of British actors, many of whom will be recognizable to American fans of British TV and films. Caroline Bliss, who is perhaps the least recognizable of the leads, plays her first starring role as Lady Diana; David Robb (of ''The Flame Trees of Thika'') is Prince Charles. Queen Elizabeth is played by Margaret Tyzack (of ''The Forsythe Saga''); Prince Philip is played by Christopher Lee (also known as Count Dracula in English horror films); the Queen Mother is portrayed by Mona Washbourne (the nanny in ''Brideshead Revisited'') and Lord Mountbatten is played by David Langton (Mr. Bellamy in ''Upstairs Downstairs'').
Directed by Emmy-winner James Goldstone from a screenplay by John McGreevy, this version of the story was shot mostly at the actual places where the events occurred. It follows the royal couple from their first meeting, through their courtship, to the wedding that was ''attended'' electronically by around 55 million Americans.
The CBS version, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, airs this coming Monday (9-11 p.m., check local listings). Another new actress has been given the part of Diana - Catherine Oxenberg, a model born in the United States but raised in England. Prince Charles is played by Christopher Baines (a BBC ''Hamlet''). The parts of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother were cast with actors well known in American movies - respectively, Dana Wynter, Stewart Granger, and Olivia De Havilland.
Produced by Linda Yellen, who also did the controversial Vanessa Redgrave TV drama ''Playing for Time,'' this CBS version of the royal fairy tale was written by Robert L. Freedman and Selma Thompson and directed by Peter Levin. Also shot mainly in England, it traces the relationship of the royal couple from their meeting at a garden party, when Diana was a child, through the spectacular wedding.
ABC was determined to get its teleplay to American TV screens before the CBS version could appear, and both networks have scheduled and rescheduled the air dates several times in maneuvers to beat each other to the punch. ABC made its last-minute switch to outmaneuver CBS just a few days before air time.
Neither show was ready for previewing before press time, and requests by this critic to see them were greeted with laughter and, in one case: ''Are you kidding? They're still gluing the tape together.''
Will they be worth watching? For many of those who rose early in the morning on July 29, 1981, the day of the wedding, probably both re-creations will be a must. For others, the main interest may lie in comparing the two shows. But chances are that both TV productions - done in such haste, with an eye mainly to timing - will shine in spectacle rather than drama.