How King Charles reign was predicted in stage show

Whether or not it speaks to the genuine Charles, the fact this premise strikes a chord reflects how entrenched this idea is in the English psyche – that Charles will be a king sorely tempted to stick by his convictions rather than play the constitutional lever, pulled at will by prime ministers, that his mother became.

Bartlett is not the first to imagine Charles on the throne. And, uncoincidentally, others predicted he would cause trouble.

In the early 1990s To Play the Kingthe second part of the House of Cards trilogy (the original and best TV adaptation of the books, not the Netflix remake), Michael Kitchen plays a newly crowned (and unnamed) king who deeply disapproves of his Conservative government led by the Machiavellian PM Francis Urquhart (played to perfection by Ian Richardson ).

Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original House of Cards.

This King, too, starts meddling in politics, to the horror of Urquhart, pushing for urban regeneration and making public statements implying criticism of Tory policies.

Urquhart hits back by feeding lurid stories to the tabloid press and maneuvering to get the next royal generation onto the throne.

Here, again, fiction almost supernaturally predicts real life: the explosion of a public housing tower block and resulting deaths put the Tories on the back foot and allow the compassion of the royal family to come to the fore.

But, again, the writer cannot imagine a Charles on the throne for long – Urquhart has the last laugh by winning an election against the King’s open opposition, and successfully demanding he step down in favor of his son.

Author of the House of Cards books Michael Dobbs was a Conservative Party aide who served as Margaret Thatcher’s chief of staff in the mid-1980s – so he was well familiar with where real power lurked in Whitehall, Westminster and Windsor.

He wrote the book in 1990 “partly because I believed that the royal yacht was heading for turbulent waters”, he said in its introduction. He insisted his fictional king “isn’t simply a version of Prince Charles – there have been many heirs to the throne who have gotten themselves into difficulties, and I took a little inspiration from more than one”. Nevertheless, his king “replaced his complete lack of material concerns with a lifetime of tortured spiritual questioning, and the strain was evident”. Hint, hint.

And this king is desperate to use his power to improve his kingdom. In his first meeting with the PM, he asked him to cancel the “modernist” redevelopment of an old city site.

Urquhart is dismissive, saying: “The King’s job is to give garden parties and to save us the bother of electing someone else president”. Later, in a vicious encounter with the King, he tells him “politics is about the attainment and use of power… no place for a king”.

Loading

The King replies: “Did I miss a mention of morality there, prime minister?”

Urquhart: “Morality, sir, is the monologue of the unexcited and the unexcitable, the revenge of the unsuccessful, the punishment of those who tried and failed, or who never had the courage to try at all.”

Fiction that predicts the future usually underestimates the scale of change and overestimates its pace. If that proves true of King Charles III, we’re in for an interesting few years.

A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Sign up to our Culture Fix newsletter here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: