The late Tim Pig­ott-Smith’s King Charles III a crown­ing achieve­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - NEAL JUSTIN

LOS AN­GE­LES — Tim Pig­ott-Smith has made one doozy of a stage exit. Be­fore pass­ing away sud­denly last month, the ac­tor recorded his Tony-nom­i­nated per­for­mance in “King Charles III,” a play that imag­ines Prince Charles’ as­cen­sion to the Bri­tish throne.

Premièring Sun­day at 9 p.m. on PBS, it opens with Charles at­tend­ing Queen El­iz­a­beth’s fu­neral, heart­bro­ken yet clearly pumped to wear the crown at last. His en­thu­si­asm is short-lived. One of the first or­der of du­ties is to sign off on a bill that would limit the rights of the Bri­tish press. Charles, while no fans of the tabloids, re­fuses to give his con­sent, in­fu­ri­at­ing the prime min­is­ter and Prince Wil­liam, who has his own urge to rule. What starts off as a po­lit­i­cal game of chicken quickly dis­in­te­grates into a power strug­gle that threat­ens the fu­ture of the monar­chy and fam­ily bonds.

Now Pig­ott-Smith’s achieve­ment can be shared with mil­lions of view­ers not for­tu­nate enough to see it on Lon­don’s West End or Broad­way.

“He some­how made the au­di­ence care pas­sion­ately about a man who was in some ways act­ing as a benev­o­lent dic­ta­tor,” wrote play­wright Mike Bartlett in the Lon­don Tele­graph days af­ter his lead­ing man’s death. “In other hands the part and play could have been just an ex­per­i­ment, or a crude satire, but Tim made it com­plex, lay­ered and rich.”

Wil­liam Shake­speare didn’t hang around long enough to spec­u­late this sce­nario him­self, but the play, which de­buted in Lon­don in 2014, owes plenty to the Bard with char­ac­ters break­ing the fourth wall, the ap­pear­ance of ghosts (in this case, a chill­ing Princess Diana) and the use of iambic pen­tame­ter.

Pre­vi­ously best known for por­tray­ing the vil­lain­ous Ron­ald Mer­rick in “The Jewel in the Crown,” Pig­ott-Smith ac­knowl­edged the Bard’s in­flu­ence dur­ing one of his fi­nal press ap­pear­ances ear­lier this year, but in­sisted the film could be ap­pre­ci­ated in its own right. True enough. The pro­duc­tion is as juicy and ac­ces­si­ble as an episode of “Em­pire,” but with the rhythm com­ing from the di­a­logue rather than the sound­track.

“As the fam­ily dis­solves and they row with each other, it gets very, very ‘King Lear’-like,” he said. “The au­di­ence picks up on that if they know ‘Lear,’ but the good thing about the play is that it doesn’t mat­ter, as we found on Broad­way, where au­di­ences were less fa­mil­iar with Shake­speare. They en­joyed it just as much.”

Also unim­por­tant is the fact that Pig­ott-Smith doesn’t look much like Charles — and didn’t make much of an ef­fort to do an im­per­son­ation, al­though he did find it help­ful to steal a cou­ple tics — like the way the Prince of Wales holds his hands out­side his pock­ets while never slip­ping them in.

“We dis­cov­ered that if you did too much of that, you didn’t give the au­di­ence room for their pic­ture of the per­son,” he said. “That was re­ally more im­por­tant than what you re­ally felt per­son­ally about that per­son.”

In other words, check your pre­con­cep­tions about the Royal Fam­ily. Also, be pre­pared to be shat­tered when the film ends with a ded­i­ca­tion its star, who was pre­par­ing for a new pro­duc­tion of “Death of a Sales­man” when he died.

As Willy Lo­man says, at­ten­tion must be paid. Thanks to “King Charles III,” it will.


Richard Gould­ing, left, plays Harry, the late Tim Pig­ott-Smith plays Charles, and Oliver Chris plays Wil­liam in the PBS adap­ta­tion of the hit play, "King Charles III" premièring on Master­piece Sun­day.

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