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King Charles III On Masterpiece

King Charles III on MASTERPIECE: The Broadway Hit Adapted for Television

Veteran actor Tim Pigott-Smith stars in his final performance for MASTERPIECE in King Charles III, airing Sunday, March 24, at 9:00 p.m.

May 2, 2017

Elizabeth II has been the Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and the head of a slew of Commonwealth nations) since 1952. For more than 65 years, she has been on the throne of a nation whose footprint once stretched across a quarter of the world. Her Majesty celebrated her 91st birthday last month and she appears to be in fine health. The Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mother) lived to be 101, so it may be many years before the heir apparent, Prince Charles, ascends the throne — or will it?

Intrigued by the notion of the future of “the man who would be king,” playwright Mike Bartlett created King Charles III, a futuristic what-if drama that premiered on the London stage in 2014 and on Broadway 2016. Like the new television adaptation, the title role was portrayed by Tim Pigott-Smith, who received rave reviews for his performance, as well as a Tony Award nomination. Long-time MASTERPIECE viewers know him well:  He has starred, or costarred, in a dozen or so productions over the years, monumentally as the tormented and twisted Ronald Merrick in The Jewel in the Crown (1985).

A combination of political thriller, family drama and social commentary on modern Britain, King Charles III will intrigue, entertain and raise more than a few eyebrows. The Queen is dead, long live the King! (Eeek. That is a very alarming thought!)

Here is a brief overview from the good folks at MASTERPIECE:

Prince Charles has waited his entire life to ascend to the British throne. But after the Queen’s death, he immediately finds himself wrestling his conscience over a bill to sign into law. With the future of the monarchy under threat, protests on the streets, and his family in disarray, Charles must grapple with his own identity and purpose, to decide whether, in the twenty-first century, the British crown still has any real power.

In addition to Pigott-Smith as King Charles, viewers will recognize other famous players in the royal entourage: Charles’ wife Camilla (now queen? *gasp*) played by Margot Leicester; Prince William (Oliver Chris); William’s wife, Princess Kate (Charlotte Riley); and Prince Harry (Richard Goulding). Is Harry still single? The suspense is killing me! The story even includes a ghostly appearance by Princess Diana — how could she not be involved in this fantasy?

It appears from the trailer that they have the uniforms and fashions right. Camilla’s hat looks spot on and Charles’ uniform looks as imposing as ever. I have not had the opportunity to view King Charles III in advance, but a close friend attended a local performance last fall at the Seattle Repertory Theatre and loved it. She is an ardent Anglophile and royal watcher, so I take this as high praise indeed and I look forward to watching the television adaptation.

While I was researching this blog, the sad news of the passing of Tim Pigott-Smith on April 7 was announced; what a shock and a great loss to stage and screen. Trained as a Shakespearean actor, his performances were always deep and nuanced.  I first became aware of his talents when The Jewel in the Crown aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 1985. His portrayal of the evil Ronald Merrick was so riveting that I still cannot hear “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy or see a riding crop and not think of it. Ronald Merrick may be his most memorable role — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that actors dream of, search for, yet rarely possess.  

We were lucky to enjoy so many of his characters on MASTERPIECE over the years. Some of my favorites (many of which are still available on video) include:  Sir Phillip Tapsell in Downton Abbey Season 3 (2012); Jasper Hammond in Inspector Lewis: One for Sorrow (2015); P. G. Wodehouse in Wodehouse In Exile (2013); Brigadier Timothy Wilson in Foyle’s War: The Russian House (2010); Dr. Lionel Woodward in Agatha Christie's Poirot: Taken at the Flood (2006); Capt. Thomas Hardy in I Remember Nelson (1982)  (sadly not on video); and two different roles spanning 29 years in North & South: Frederick Hale (1975), and one of my favorites on a list knee deep in diversity and awe, Richard Hale (2004) which did not originally air on MASTERPIECE, but later on PBS.

King Charles III will be your last chance to see Pigott-Smith in a new production for MASTERPIECE. Cherish it.


Laurel Ann Nattress

Writer, blogger, and editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress is a champion of Georgian civility, British culture and Masterpiece PBS. Visit her at and follow her on twitter as @Austenprose

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Hi laurel,I saw the trailer for this last week on the BBC facebook and just flipped!!! It looks like a good one and I loved the review. You just confirmed it im my mind that I will love it. I will be looking out for it in the USA. Thanks for the great information. :)

Tim Pigott-Smith was a superb actor and he will be much missed, but I found the program offensive.  There is something immoral about attributing to living people--who aren't in a position to argue back--fqualities, feelings and motives they almost certainly don't have.  The representation of Kate was particularly distressing.  One may disapprove of the institution of royalty, but there is no reason to believe that she is anything but a decent human being, not a Machiavellian back-stabber.