Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, and Vincent Regan
My rating: ★★★1/2 stars
The king is down!
The Royals finally comes into its own. This is what I knew the show could be when I committed to watching it. This is melodrama at its finest.
In this episode, the king finally does what he has been threatening (or promising—depending on the point of view) to do all season—call for a referendum to abolish the monarchy. When that happens in the middle of the episode, it is only a matter of time before the other shoe will drop, as I knew it had to. Even though I predicted the ensuing assassination attempt (a potentially successful one—we’ll have to tune in next week), it is still a stunningly powerful development that caps off an episode full of dramatic conflict.
The crisis begins when the tabloids publish photos taken out of context from the young royals’ trip to Monaco in the previous episode.
Joan Collins, whom Elizabeth Hurley has been channeling in her performance since the beginning of the series, guest stars as the queen’s mother, the Grand Duchess of Oxford. Does the U.K. have a rank of “grand duchess”? I don’t think so. Regardless, she’s a duchess, and she’s grand. She comes to comfort her daughter in the midst of the crisis—although her brand of comfort initially seems like something most people would rather do without.
The episode emphasizes the parallels between Queen Helena and her mother, dressing them with similar accessories and nearly identical shoes and shooting them arguing in mirror poses on identical couches. The grand duchess also seems to have attended the same parenting class as the queen when she tells her daughter, “You have failed—as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, and, most devastatingly of all, as a queen.” Collins delivers her biting criticisms with flashing eyes and delicious flair, as we expect of her.
Yet, when the king makes his announcement about asking Parliament to launch the referendum, the duchess provides encouragement to her daughter to persevere and fight to maintain her position at all costs. Such support is probably more important to Helena than sympathy.
The episode is loaded with parents criticizing their children. Both Ophelia and Liam, now united as a couple, must explain themselves to their disappointed parents and then face the judgmental and omnipresent paparazzi. This subplot proves again to be the weak part of the episode. When Ophelia passes through the paparazzi and reaches her dance class, I didn’t buy that the class would proceed as usual. Nor did I believe that she would be offered an audition to a New York dance company without anyone involved in the class mentioning that photos of her topless were plastered all over the tabloids, that the crown prince was casually sitting there watching the rehearsal, or that she and said prince were now an item. The writers obviously didn’t want to take time on the reactions of characters we never have seen before or probably will again, but it strained my belief. I don’t expect realism from the show, but I want consistency within the world of the show. If everybody in Britain is supposedly talking about Ophelia and Liam, then everyone should be talking about them.
More importantly, I’m not impressed with the potential conflict that Ophelia faces over the choice to pursue her career in New York or to stay with Prince Liam. That conflict seems tired. My problems with the Liam and Ophelia subplot, however, are minor and barely blemish an otherwise fantastic episode.
Ted (Oliver Milburn), the head of security, who hasn’t had much screen time since the pilot, gets a great scene this episode. He must stand there mutely as the queen turns her anger at her children, her mother, and her husband on him. As she disparages his daughter, Ophelia, Milburn shows Ted’s embarrassment about Ophelia’s behavior, as well as a complete sense of impotence in his inability to defend her to the queen. He has few lines in this scene, but, with his reactions, he makes the most of every second he’s on camera.
Ted isn’t the only one having problems with his daughter. In a devastating moment, Princess Eleanor asks the king to overlook Liam’s latest embarrassment, as the incident was not his fault and he’s trying to be a good person and proper royal. Vincent Regan, who is magnificent in this episode, finally shows the power and the vigor that we expect from the king, as if the king’s taking action has broken him out of the somnambulant state that he’d been in for some time. Regan displays King Simon’s regret in regards to Liam, as if he knows the young man’s efforts have come too late or that he knows that his action has cut his son off from the life he expected to have or both. But, then, Simon delivers an even more rueful speech to Eleanor, with whom he’s always been close, expressing how disappointed he is in her and his dissatisfaction in himself for letting her spiral into such an out-of-control state. We feel for Eleanor in this moment, but we also know how much this honesty has cost the king. We feel sorry for him that he has to say it.
This episode shows great visual style. The show has always had gorgeous interiors in which to film, but, for the first time, the cameras seem to linger on their grandeur. In one spectacular shot, the queen sits in the throne room, positioned in the background of the high angle shot in the bottom of the frame, as the magnificence around her completely dwarfs her. We sense that the power of the monarchy is not only larger and more important than the individual but that the immensity of that legacy can be overwhelming and dehumanizing.
The best visual metaphor in the episode begins during the opening credits when the queen receives a gold massage. I’m not sure what the skin benefits are of being massaged with gold, but the opulence and excess of such a practice are clear. Later in the episode, we see the queen in a tense moment distractedly scratching the gilding off the palace decorations. As the stakes of the episode grow larger and the crisis becomes crushingly enormous, she compulsively scratches at the gilding of the throne itself. The metaphor works on multiple levels. At once, it calls to mind the luxury and power of the monarchy, the façade of power the royals have as figureheads, and the veneer that Helena strives to present the public, and all of that is being chipped away.
This episode, which clearly is an important one in the narrative arc of the season, shows the care that was put into it. We can hope that the series will be able to maintain this level of quality and ability to captivate and entertain the audience in the final few episodes of the season.