'King Charles III': How play about British monarchy is winning over critics

'Charles' recently opened on Broadway and envisions a future in which Britain's Prince Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) has ascended to the throne. 'Charles' is far from the first to recently depict current royal figures on the stage and screen.

Joan Marcus/The O + M Co./AP
'King Charles III' stars Tim Pigott-Smith.

A new play that envisions the future of the British monarchy recently opened on Broadway and is winning raves from critics. 

“King Charles III” stars Tim Pigott-Smith as Prince Charles, who has now, in the play’s story, ascended to the throne following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Upon becoming king, Charles finds himself involved in a controversy over a bill that would increase the right to privacy of individuals, thus affecting how journalists report on a story. 

Margot Leicester stars as Charles’ wife Camilla, while Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding portray his sons William and Harry and Lydia Wilson portrays William’s wife Kate.

Reviewers are also noting the play’s nods to Shakespeare, especially “Hamlet” and “Macbeth,” what with the play’s focus on a monarch, the important part played by a ghost of a relative (in “Charles,” it’s a person who seems to be the deceased Princess Diana, portrayed by Sally Scott, who appears to her relatives), and the importance a prophecy has in the actions of the living. 

People playing British monarchs onstage is a familiar sight to Broadway lately. Actress Helen Mirren portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in this spring’s “The Audience” and won a Tony Award for her work (it was a role she’d previously taken on for the 2006 movie “The Queen” as well). And this year’s play “Wolf Hall” centered on political advisor Thomas Cromwell but featured Henry VIII and his wives Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn as central figures. 

British monarchs being portrayed on stage and on film is nothing new. However, in the past, there were sometimes more obstacles to doing so – until the 1960s, current monarchs could not be depicted onstage by the order of the Lord Chamberlain, who could control what was staged in Britain. This is obviously no longer the case. Besides “Charles,” the current royal family and their relatives have also recently been the subject of film stories, with Mirren starring in “Queen” and the 2010 movie “The King’s Speech” centering on the current queen’s father, King George VI, and his reign as well as the queen’s mother (Helena Bonham-Carter) and uncle, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). The queen herself and her sister are depicted in the film by young actresses. “King” went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

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