16 January, 2008

What the Papers Say: "The Palace"

Nancy Banks-Smith, The Guardian,

"Valentinas Climas has the rottenest role ever written. King James III sounds promising on paper but he has only one line - "Is there a problem?" - and even that, you suspect, was dubbed, as Valentinas evidently comes from Lithuania, where The Palace (ITV1) was cobbled together. He dies in the royal box, ruining the opera and leaving the crown to his son, Richard (Rupert Evans), a wistful youth of tender years.

You bet there's a problem, Your Majesty. The Palace is the TV equivalent of balloon modelling. It feels like being shot to death with popcorn.

The new king has an accident-prone younger brother, George, exuberantly played by Sebastian Armesto, and a serpentine sister, Eleanor (Sophie Winkleman), who believes she could do the job better. However, half the fun of a monarchy is that you never know what is going to be next out of the bran tub. It is never quite what you expect.

I was touched to see how seriously the palace takes the press. When the Sun is tipped off that King Richard and a mystery woman were canoodling on the throne, the King decides to appear live on ITV to defuse the situation. Though the mystery woman, who is the prime minister's press officer ("Take me through how we sell the hospital cuts to the Guardian"), thinks the BBC would be a softer option.

The interviewer is the dreaded Joanna "She made Gadafy cry!" Woodward (Harriet Walter). I never fail to be amazed when decent actors - Walter, Marsden, Cranitch, Shrapnel - bob up in tosh like this. Couldn't they, as my granny used to say, scrub floors?

Provoked by Joanna, Richard is spurred to free speech. "I love getting drunk, clubbing, dancing, all of it. I tried drugs. I make a fool out of myself most of the time. I am ashamed and terrified that I'll never live up to my father's standards. I just want to hide, get drunk again, scream from the roof, and most days I feel like a little boy, a fool. But I love my country." And so on.

A Sky poll gives him 53% acceptability. Rupert Murdoch, if no one else, is going to like this show. Personally, I think the real thing takes a bit of beating. Who, slaving over a hot computer with an icepack on their head, could have come up with the Duke of Edinburgh?

Lithuania is so cheap that The Palace can afford two full-time sculptors. Beavering away, Simonas and Raimondas constructed a whole corridor of minimally different polystyrene busts. Or they may be the cast."


Brian Viner, The Independent

"Let's start with The Palace, basically a royal version of Dallas – "Pallas", if you will – in which Jane Asher, as old Queen Charlotte, plays a hybrid, or perhaps a high-bred, of Miss Ellie and Sue Ellen. She has Miss Ellie's dignity but also what Clive James once described as Sue Ellen's drinking prarlm. And like Miss Ellie she must not only cope with the loss of her beloved husband, but watch as her feckless son, not a patch on his papa, inherits the keys of the kingdom. I fear the prarlm will get worse before it gets better.

If there is a J R Ewing in this regal Southfork, however, it is the old Queen's conniving daughter, Princess Eleanor (Sophie Winkleman), who presents herself as a goody two-shoes while plotting to bury a stiletto into the head of her 24-year-old brother, the new King Richard IV (Rupert Evans). And while pretending to admire her brother's subjects, she clearly despises them. She is firmly of the "let them eat cake" persuasion, which is another reason to keep Jane Asher off the booze: they might need her lemon sponge.

Richard, meanwhile, is making every effort to shrug off his well-earned reputation as an irresponsible playboy, to which end he insisted on a live broadcast with a rottweiler of a TV interviewer, Joanna Woodward (Harriet Walter), a woman so savage that – my favourite line of the evening – "she made Gaddafi cry."

Woodward showed the young monarch no mercy or respect, particularly with regard to the rumour that on the eve of his father's funeral, he smuggled a mystery girlfriend – who turned out to be the Prime Minister's press secretary, though more Naomi Campbell than Alastair – into the palace and gave her a right royal seeing-to on the throne. "Apparently he was in the poodle position," muttered a camp courtier, in delighted outrage. The same courtier later turned up comforting Jane Asher. In this, as in many aspects of The Palace, Tom Grieves, the writer, had done his homework. Old Queens like nothing better than to surround themselves with old queens.

An indication of The Palace's level of sophistication as drama is that I watched it with my nine-year-old son, who can't wait to see episode two. But as comedy it works beautifully, overcoming the obvious problem of how to fictionalise the life of a family whose lives are already stranger than fiction by, in some cases, not really bothering. The King's hedonistic younger brother, Prince George (Sebastian Arnesto), is precisely the sort of fellow who would turn up to a fancy-dress party in Nazi uniform.

If I had to make a rough stab at guessing how The Palace will unfold these next seven weeks, it is that Richard will overcome the doubters and prove himself worthy, while Eleanor's chicanery will be exposed. And if by any chance Princes William and Harry tune in, they will recognise certain truths. Of all the virtues required of a 21st-century British monarch, they must above all be media-savvy. In which respect, Richard seems to have his head screwed on. He is the modern incarnation of the Sun King."


Andrew Billen, The Times

" The trick of Stephen Frears and Peter Morgan’s The Queen was to convince us that life in the Buck House (and Balmoral) was exactly as depicted. The Palace (ITV1) insists that it is no more a dramatisation of the home life of our own dear queen than Antony and Cleopatra was the Queen Victoria story on the Nile. It is something much sexier. When Tony Greaves’s eight-part comedy-drama began last night there was a king on the throne and lest we consider this a mere projection into the reign of Charles III, this king has sired four grown-up children. We are in an alternative universe comparable to The West Wing’s where Democrats permanently inhabit the White House and the Americans are sowing world peace.

The comparison ends there for Aaron Sorkin’s series was more interested in political than sexual machinations and infused with a sense of the public good. The Palace, although searching for a similar claustrophobia within a cavernous building, is scurrilous from the off. The monarchy as an agent of a higher moral good is not in the script. As an aide tells Prince Richard as she gets him out of a night at the opera: “Helping you shirk your responsibilities is what I was born to do.”

Richard (a likeable Rupert Evans) and his more reckless brother George (a brilliant frat movie performance from Sebastian Armesto) are soon off partying in a Sloaney club, but this is Richard’s last shirk. For the Wagner – dismissed by George as “a fat bird singing the same line again and again” – has literally killed the king. Prince Richard is now Richard IV.

Every relationship is transformed. A footman announcing his mother’s presence goes: “Your majesty. Her majesty, your majesty.” But it is the change in the siblings’ pecking order that matters. Thanks to primogeniture, the late king’s oldest, the publicity hungry Princess Eleanor, has lost out to her little brother and she finds the idea of “Rich” opening Parliament laughable. The plot here has a lot of work to do if it is to make any sense of Eleanor’s thwarted ambition leading to a palace coup. The constitution stands in the way. Happily, Sophie Winkleman’s Eleanor possesses a sorcerer’s charm that makes you think her capable of anything.

Her fears for Richard’s competence are soon born out when he calls in a girlfriend to “comfort” him on the throne. “King Dick” scream the tabloids. Eleanor thinks the people will burn them at the stake. “That’s witches,” her mother explains: “They cut off our heads.” “With Eleanor, they’d probably have to do both,” observes the young Princess Poppy.

In a desperate attempt to save himself, Richard resorts to patriotism and sincerity during a live TV interview. “Most days I feel like a little boy, a fool. But I love my country and whether it is in Cardiff, Edinburgh or divining over the Pennines, I have this incredible buzz. I could not be more proud and I hope one day to be able to repay the favour.” The country, naturally, forgives him. Now he just has to survive a PA leaking to the press, the below-stairs queens loyal to the ancien regime, the press hunt for his girlfriend (who works for the Prime Minister). And Eleanor.

My reviewing tag team partner, Tim Teeman, was unimpressed by Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach in ITV1’s 9pm slot last Thursday, but I am delighted that, as with The Palace, the channel is setting before us something other than a grim regional detective or a comedy drama about suburban adultery. The Palace inhabits an incredible world all of its own. In that respect it is believable: the real palace undoubtedly does, too."


James Walton, Daily Telegraph

"Yet, when it came to sheer weirdness, this was no match at all for
The Palace on ITV1.

The Palace’s opening titles are quite like those of The West Wing, which may have led some viewers to expect a fictional version of modern royal life that’s both intelligent and plausible. Such expectations, though, won’t have lasted long.

In the opening scene, the king and his family were off to the opera – all except Princess Isabelle (Nathalie Lunghi) who efficiently established her teenage credentials by saying “wicked” and “no way” into a mobile phone. Her two older brothers weren’t so keen on the trip, feeling that “opera is just some fat bird singing the same line over and over”. As a result, they faked a sudden request to visit a homeless shelter, and nipped off to a nightclub where they were soon ensconced with a couple of slimmer birds and a bottle of tequila.

But then, when Prince Richard (Rupert Evans) popped to the toilet, he was joined by a bodyguard with some news. The king had died at the opera house and Richard was now the monarch. Understandably, this sobered him up a bit – although back at the palace he responded to the news that the American president, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury all wanted to speak to him with the words, “I need a slash.”

He’d have been more nervous still, mind you, if he’d realised his older sister Eleanor (Sophie Winkleman) was already plotting his overthrow – or that his relationship with the Prime Minster’s glamorous press officer wasn’t likely to remain a secret for long…

In fact, the premise here probably isn’t a bad one. After all, none of us knows how a royal succession would work in our egalitarian, media-driven age. The trouble is that we can be fairly sure it wouldn’t happen like this.

Princess Eleanor’s plot wasn’t even the least convincing aspect of last night’s episode. Not when we had a live TV interview between Richard and a female questioner who set about him with wholly unbelievable ferocity. (“We all know the real you – caught with your pants down, bottle in one hand, crown jewels in the other.”) Or when the new king seemed to regard this as part of the normal cut and thrust of media debate.

The option of treating The Palace as a deliberate slice of camp fun is pretty much sealed off too – because there’s always a worrying sense that it’s meant entirely seriously. Already, for example, there are signs that the programme’s chief influence is Shakespeare, with Richard’s story intended as an updated version of Prince Hal’s transformation into Henry V."


Daily Mirror

"The king is dead - and the heir to the throne knows exactly what his first priority must be.

"Get me a Red Bull!" orders the future King Richard - a decree you'd struggle to associate with Queen Elizabeth II.

It's royalty - but it's not quite as we know it.

This daft, yet watchable comedy drama imagines what life might be like if a young, nightclub-loving, sambuca-drinking prince - not a million miles from William or Harry - were to suddenly be forced to assume the role of monarch.

Once upon a time you'd never get the royals lowering themselves to be on TV. Nowadays they're rarely off it. Barely a week goes past without a new behind-the-scenes documentary that details exactly how the Queen likes her Dubonnet.

Yet ITV have decided what the public wants is not fewer royals, but more royals - and fictional ones at that. So we see young King Dick (Rupert Evans) preparing for a live TV interview. And we see his horrified advisers cover their faces with their fingers while they wait for the car crash moment.

The below-stairs gossip machine goes into warp speed over the girl he was snogging in the throne room.

Meanwhile Princess Eleanor played by Sophie Winkleman (Big Suze from Peep Show) hopes he will screw up royally, so she can raise two fingers to those pesky laws of succession and become Queen in his place.

It's great fun - especially since, if you squint a bit, you'd swear our new ruler was David Platt from Corrie."


ITV, Mondays, 9:00pm

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