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King Charles is a walking, breathing, polo-playing mascot for a gloomy nation

Patrick Freyne: Britain’s new monarch is speaking his truths. I’m reaching for my truth in the thatch as I watch

There’s a bit in Charles R: The Making of a Monarch (Sunday, BBC One) where the youthful Charles kneels before his mother as she pulls an ermine robe around his shoulders and places an ornate crown on his head. Some of you will have found this part of the documentary very relatable. Many Irish men of a certain age have also experienced this from their mothers, but rarely has it been so meticulously filmed. “I, Charles, prince of Wales, do become your liegeman of life and limb and of earthly worship,” Charles says, which is probably something you said to your mam too and are now working through with your therapist.

Charles is the new king of Britain, which is that place you can see over there across that small sea. Ah, you know it, you do – The Beatles, Shakespeare, Tesco, the Black and Tans, Showaddywaddy, Jilly Cooper, Bovril. That one. Charles is a walking, breathing, polo-playing mascot for that gloomy nation. Personally, I think that this job should have been put to a vote. But given the choice between a drunk St George’s cross named Flaggy, two Oxbridge graduates dressed as a pantomime unicorn, and Boris Johnson in a fake moustache (probably the options), they’d still end up with this melancholy posh man as head of state. Though they’d probably name him Kingy McKingFace, not Charles III (III is his new surname).

Do we not all lark with our siblings the corgis in the grounds of our palace? Do we not all observe our mother’s face being minted upon the nation’s coins? Are we not all cheered by adoring crowds as we ride by in a literal golden carriage?

This is a show cobbled together from many decades of news footage and “never seen before” home-movie footage. Think of a Facebook Memories montage set to an insistent score of pizzicato violins, tinkling pianos and sweeping string chords. This, coupled with frequent use of slow motion, adds a lot of gravitas to proceedings. If you were to speed up the footage and add The Birdie Song it would be a very different film, and I urge you all to do this. The heraldic soundtrack doesn’t even slip into a slap-bass sequence during the sexy bits. This is because there are no sexy bits. If those home movies exist they were not part of the television deal.

At the outset we see the youthful Charles with his siblings the corgis, larking about in the palatial grounds. We see a lot of home-movie footage of royals of different sizes gambolling about in the bits of Britain they own. At one point they are even filmed around a bonfire (possibly roasting a peasant; it’s unclear). “Look, we’re just regular folk like you,” this footage seems to say. “Do we not all lark with our siblings the corgis in the grounds of our palace? Do we not all observe our mother’s face being minted upon the nation’s coins? Are we not all cheered by adoring crowds as we ride by in a literal golden carriage?”


Charles had an inkling from a young age that something was up. Asked as a young man when he knew he was different, he says: “It’s something that dawns on one in the most ghastly, inexorable way that people are interested in one and that you have a certain duty and responsibility.” Haven’t we all tweeted similar sentiments?

The programme is broken into sections preceded by subject headings. “A lot of laughs” is the name of one bit in which we are convinced the royals are a bunch of divinely appointed japesters. (I’m sceptical, because they haven’t used Cilla Black’s superiorly humorous “a lorra laughs” spelling.) “I’m a private person” is another, although this is a dubious statement given that his head is literally embossed on his nation’s coins. A section titled “Succession” comes up towards the end – although, unlike on the TV show Succession, there’s not a lot of suspense about whether he’s going to inherit the family business. Mercifully, the words “My struggle” never flash up on the screen.

If you like pomp and ceremony and know your place, you’ll be thrilled to find a lot of footage of cheering crowds, mounted guardsmen and people in big hats blowing bugles. There’s footage of Charles being made prince of Wales surrounded by bishops and dignitaries (a scene you’ll remember from paragraph one). He calls it a “humbling moment”. I don’t really believe him. I’d prefer if he had just said, “This is a very glorifying and exalting moment. It is clear to me now that I am the best. I mean, that’s the bishop of f**king Canterbury over there, and he’s bowing to me. I am literally wearing a crown. This is the complete opposite of humbling.”

Charles has also been something of an action prince. He boats a boat. He flies a plane. He rides a small horse. He rides a big horse. He skis. He waterskis. He pedals a pedal car. (I’m not listing these chronologically.) We see footage of his first wedding, which was a fancy-dress affair, with Diana dressed as a meringue and Charles dressed as a 19th-century army general. Marital unpleasantness is deftly skipped over. Though the dreadfully sad footage of his children at Diana’s funeral is not.

Later he likens the fact that William will follow him as king to being “a farmer’s son”, which probably means the royals have their eye on more agricultural subsidies. But it’s possible he believes it. He’ll be saying kinging is a trade next, a trade Harry was too good for, swanning off to Los Angeles with his middle-class notions and forgetting his poor old pa slaving down the palace (“there’s trouble down palace,” etc). Charles and his ilk should really seize the means of production. Oh, that’s right, their ancestors already did.

Over the course of the programme there are both hints of hidden depth and nods towards alienation. At one point there’s some footage of Charles as a toddler grappling with a telephone receiver while the adult Charles talks about how much time his mother spent travelling through the Commonwealth without him. This makes me feel sad for him. There’s some focus on Charles establishing the Prince’s Trust, thus helping disenfranchised young people, and his prescient focus on environmental issues. (I guess it’s obvious to worry about planet Earth when you literally own so many chunks of it.) This suggests that he might be capable of doing a lot of interesting things if he weren’t committed to the job of being a living symbol of a nation.

But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like, “The whole idea of monarchy, certainly as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, is as a family and that somehow everybody belongs.” This sort of sentiment is referred to by historians of colonialism as “hallucinatory bollocks”. I guess when we all go to family therapy we can speak our truths too. (I’m reaching for my truth in the thatch as I watch.) All in all, if you already enjoy monarchy or Netflix’s The Crown, you will appreciate this clip show culled from the odd and melancholy life of King Charles III. And now there’s a whole weekend of historical re-enactments, neomedieval Victoriana and Union Jack bunting to look forward to. God bless us, every one, or whatever it is royalists say.