In “King Charles III,” Charles waited his whole life to be king, but when he finally got his chance, he messed it up royally.
In the PBS Masterpiece movie adapted from Mike Bartlett’s play of the same name, when the Queen dies, Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) becomes the acting monarch immediately, even though the official coronation won’t take place for three months. During that time, however, he refuses to give his royal assent to a bill that had already passed both houses of Parliament. That refusal divides his government and the nation, inciting riots. Amidst this chaos, Charles’ son William (Oliver Chris) forces him to abdicate, and therefore when coronation day rolls around, it’s William and Kate (Charlotte Riley) who are sitting on the thrones, not Charles.
The late Tim Pigott-Smith spoke with IndieWire in January about “King Charles III.” As a self-described monarchist, the actor has a strong interest in how the real-life Prince Charles would act once the fateful hour were upon him.
“Listen, the Queen is . Her mother lived to 103,” said Pigott-Smith. “So say the queen lives another eight years. Just say eight years just for the sake it. Charles is going to be 75, 76 by that time. He might just say – I don’t think he will – but he might just say, ‘I think we should just go straight to William.’ You know, and let it bypass. He would have to abdicate.”
Although Pigott-Smith knows this is a possibility, he doesn’t think the situation will go quite that way. “I think he will want to do [the job]. Even if it’s just three or four years, he’ll want to be king,” he said. “And I’ve always thought he would be a good king. Because he’s a caring man and an intelligent man.”
At the Television Critics Association press tour panel for “King Charles III” later that day, he added, “Now interestingly, I don’t think there’s much desire for it. I think, 10 years ago, people sort of went, ‘Oh, well, maybe William and Kate would be a great young king and queen.’ I think now, actually, people respect Charles and would be quite happy for him to be king.”
Whether William becomes king earlier than expected or not, Pigott-Smith believes that the prince would be up to the task.
“There’s a big scene with Charles and William at the end of the play, and one of the things he talks about is recreating the brand of the monarchy to last another generation,” he said.”I think they will have to move towards a more Scandinavian or Spanish model of monarchy. I think when the queen dies, it’ll be okay for Charles for a bit, but then I think in order to survive really healthily, they’re going to have to move forward. But I think, funnily enough, that’s what they’re getting William ready for already. I think they’re preparing them for this different role of monarchy.”
The circumstances in which the movie’s Charles found himself, though, were also unusual. The bill he opposed sought to put limitations on the press, and he was fighting for their right to operate free of the government’s influence, as it should be. Although it seems highly unlikely that such a thing would pass both houses of Parliament, the recent political climate in both the U.K. and U.S. recently might indicate otherwise.
When it comes to British history, the abdication of King Edward VIII so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson was the only time a monarch voluntarily abdicated the throne. It was not a popular decision, though. During the Television Critics Association press tour in January, Bartlett also addressed the topic.
“I think Charles will almost certainly get the job,” he said. “The last abdication in Britain caused outrage. I remember my grandmother hated him and was absolutely shocked that it ever happened. I think, if that was to ever happen again, it would be a huge deal.”
“King Charles III” can be viewed online for a limited period of time on PBS.org.