Looking Back At KING CHARLES III - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace takes the throne.
Perhaps the most enduring symbol of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is its monarchy. Despite its utter powerlessness, it remains a beloved part of the country, and it feels like Elizabeth II has been on her throne forever (I was once stunned by the realization that the portraits on the walls of the MI6 office in the Sean Connery James Bond films depicted the same Queen on the throne today!). However, we all know what is coming, and how she will meet her end some day, as we all will. In 2014, Mike Bartlett wrote a play about what could happen when she dies; in 2017, it was turned into a film directed by Rupert Goold: King Charles III.

One of the things that this film showcases is the fact that the United Kingdom is fundamentally a medieval state with about five hundred years of political philosophy inelegantly bolted onto it. In this age of secularism, it is not talked about much, but the official position of the British state is that the Monarch was ordained by God to rule, and the legitimacy of the state flows from that initial blessing; it is why the Monarch is the head of the Church of England (an institute of God that came into being through profoundly ungodly reasons). In his new role as King, Charles must spar with a government that passes a law that he despises.

That law is a Patriot Act-like restriction on freedom of the press. In objection to this, Charles denies the law Royal Assent, required for any bill passed by Parliament to become law; in our world, the Monarch has not used this power since 1708 (Americans, think of it like the President’s ability to veto bills passed by Congress). This throws the United Kingdom into turmoil; Charles has, in the name of democracy, denied a democratically elected body the right to pass undemocratic legislation by undemocratic means. This divides the Royal Family, with different figures taking different sides.

Much of the plot is concerned with Charles and Prime Minister Evans, who come to despise each other for obvious reasons. The crux of their dispute is the source of the legitimacy of the British state: do its medieval origins still define its operation, or is it now, in fact as well as rhetoric, a modern state deriving its legitimacy from the people? Interestingly, Charles does not invoke God, but rather the people, and his role as a servant thereof, when defending his denial of Royal Assent to that bill.

The dialogue is written in iambic pentameter, as the plays of Shakespeare were. Watching this film, I finally began to see why such a meter was seen as resembling the speech of the common people in the Bard’s day; the dialogue sounds very natural until it makes a turn for the poetic at times (and I mean that in a good way). It is elegant in the way that few films are in this regard.

The film’s major weakness is its plot concerning Prince Harry (which, incidentally, seemed to predict the whole imbroglio with Meghan Markle). It is a plotline that never quite chooses to go in one direction or another, and the end result feels wishy-washy.

King Charles III is an oddity: a Shakespearean play for the modern day, steeped in political philosophy and written in the style of old masters. It is simultaneously political drama and political debate, and it is profound for that.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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