Did we like it?
Not quite the rotten atrocity we had feared, and quite entertaining in parts, largely thanks to a cast who have been pressganged from a BBC political thriller and forced to star in this else they will be damned to an eternity of Holby City. But contained within almost all the characters is a fathomless void it would take Captain Kirk & Co far longer than five years to explore and even then the only scraps of life would be the odd, sporadic guttural scream.
What was good about it?
• Rather like with Sam Allardyce’s recent sacking at Newcastle – where it’s obvious that he is still a good manager despite an awful few months – the same confidence exists in the talent of the assembled cast despite the ropey production.
• Jane Asher can still crush souls when she narrows her eyes; John Shrapnel has competently played irascible politicians in modern classic movies; Roy Marsden has sneered down his nose with all the gravity of an Alpine avalanche; Lorcan Cranitch still jabs like Ali with his uncouth tongue; and Harriet Walter has an enigmatic smile that would make the Mona Lisa jealous – their unquestionable talent isn’t the problem here.
• Rupert Evans pumps some air into the moribund, deflating lungs of Prince/ King Richard as he struggles with the labours of being king: grappling with the endless formal meetings, the senseless traditions and the impossible task of living up to the public image of his father because of his decadent indiscretions with drink, drugs and sex. The face he pulled when he was being mauled by TV interviewer Joanna (Harriet Walter) more than anything else instilled his indelible noble artifice for all to see – it was an expression not born of human reaction but of 30 years of having etiquette hammered into your brain like nails and to become incapable of a spontaneous emotion – which made his subsequent tantrum at the end of the interview all the more gripping.
Sebastian Armesto peculiarly looks and sounds like a younger Charlie Brooker.
What was bad about it?
• We’ve said that Rupert Evans as Prince/ King Richard is impressive. But we can’t work out if this is because of his acting or because he, much like Will Smith in I Am Legend, is the last remaining human alive and the rest of the cast inert, sterile ciphers of their supposed respective doppelganger.
• Everyone else orbits Richard focusing all their attention on him, and each has absolutely no chance of changing their ways or seeking redemption. And this is the problem, rather than journeying alongside the characters – bar Richard – you can already see them far off in the distance at the finishing line waving to you with the same selfish expressions they have worn all their fictional lives.
• Whether it’s his conniving big sister Princess Eleanor, whose envy that the eldest son rather than eldest child should become monarch took root long before theses events, and as a consequence her face, beneath the desertscape make-up, bears a permanent twisted expression of a Chinese burn.
• The same goes for Eleanor’s equally conspiring aide Simon (David Harewood) who is jealous of Richard’s favoured aide Abigail (Zoë Telford), who in turn is plotting with a journalist to write an expose about life in the palace.
Richard’s brother George isn’t really a person, but more the man-sized manifestation of the apocryphal little devil that sits on your shoulder telling you to do bad things. He seems to drink more than Richard, treat the servants with more disdain than Richard and yet retains his brotherly affection.
• While Richard’s teenage sister Isabelle introduced herself by nattering on her mobile phone such phrases as “wicked” and “stressed out”, thus effectively separating her from her stuffy siblings yet it also tosses her on to the choking pyre of teenage homogeneity.
• The game of Chinese whispers that took place understairs after Jimmy glimpsed Richard and Miranda snogging on the throne. It stereotyped all the footmen and servants as camp Billy Talon clones aged 18-80, while the maids were a whirling gin-soaked dustcloud of foul-mouthed slappers, all of whom were all schooled in the Heat approach to gossip, i.e. build the nonsensical hearsay up so high that it scrapes along the undercarriage of Heaven’s wine cellar.
• For all the scripted scandal, there was also a definite air of timidity as if ITV was worried that the obvious parallels between the characters – Richard and ‘Wills’, George and Harry, Isabelle and Beatrice, Queen Charlotte and the late Princess Margaret – might somehow compromise and sully their relationship. And this meant that even the more serious of the plotlines such as George’s debauchery or Eleanor’s mendacity had a cartoon element about them.
Corpses move with more élan and grace than the people dancing in the nightclub, in fact corpses would blush crimson with the last few droplets of blood in their veins if they danced as badly as that lot.