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"Everyone smile and look delighted, or else."
--King Richard IV, The Palace
A short-lived 2008 ITV series about the machine behind the British Crown. Originally conceived as a West Wing-esque program about "a woman operating within the shadow of power", what resulted instead was a tongue-in-cheek soap opera in the style of Dynasty centered around a spectacularly dysfunctional fictional royal family.
King James III has just died, and the Prince of Wales--who initially fulfills every stereotype of the debauched young royal--suddenly inherits the throne. Not only does Richard have to contend with a public prepared to eat him alive at any wrong step and a hostile Prime Minister, but he has his family to deal with, as well: his party animal younger brother George, his wild card little sister Isabelle, the conniving Dowager Queen Charlotte, and his older sister, Eleanor, who has her eye on the crown herself.
Richard isn't alone, though; helping him spin the family's numerous scandals are his Press Secretary Jonty Roberts, his Private Secretary Sir Iain Ratalick, and his APS Abigail Thomas--with whom he quickly finds himself falling in love, but who happens to have signed a deal to write an expose on the royals.
Complementing the upstairs shenanigans of the Royal Family are those of the palace staff. Assorted footmen, valets, maids, and pages, all with their own agendas, keep things running more or less smoothly as they jostle for position and play out their own downstairs dramas.
Note: all spoilers below are unmarked.
- Almost Kiss: Boy howdy, David and Neil are awful moment killers, aren't they?
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Abigail and Richard repeatedly, but the best example is near the end of the final episode.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: George and Izzy.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Though far from of all of them, and at least one of the villainous characters is a commoner.
- Armour Piercing Question: When the Prime Minister learns who will be interviewing the king live on the air, he thinks the royal PR team is mad: "You know she made Gaddafi cry?" Later, the journalist does indeed push Richard's buttons, particularly by asking him what his father thought of him.
- At the Opera Tonight: The whole family is supposed to go to a Wagnerian opera at the start of the first episode, but Izzy flakes out by claiming she has to study, and Abigail gets Rich and George out of it by lying for them. Richard later expresses regret at "bugger[ing] off to the club," since his father dies during the opera.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Richard's coronation in the finale.
- Bastard Bastard: Subverted with George in Episode 8. Richard's legitimacy is in doubt, and all four royal siblings are asked to take a Daddy DNA Test just to be sure. Thinking he might turn out to be the rightful heir to the throne, George asks Iain and Jonty for advice with undisguised enthusiasm. The show really makes it seem like he will turn out to be illegitimate, so it's surprising when it doesn't happen.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Abigail, specifically, but Jonty and Sir Iain count too.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: And how.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Eleanor, who also qualifies as a Manipulative Bitch.
- Jeremy keeps Queen Charlotte's diary in his room every night for safekeeping, although he has never read a word of it. Jimmy steals it and hints at all the shocking stories he will reveal if Jeremy doesn't wait on him hand and foot. It works, but Jeremy's misery at having failed the queen eats away at him, ruining Jimmy's fun. Jimmy eventually gives back the diary, admitting that he was just bluffing about the scandals -- the diary is, in fact, quite dull.
- Eleanor exploits Abi by threatening to show Rich the tell-all manuscript, but Abi eventually just confesses to the king.
- Black Sheep: In episode 3, Sir Iain delivers some background information about James's estranged brother, Prince David, who "lives in a little cottage these days, miles from anywhere." Apparently he got divorced, then lost his whole estate after his business went bankrupt. He had (and perhaps still has) problems with drugs and alcohol. As for the bad blood between James and David, we'll never know its exact source, but Iain hints that it was David's fault and warns George not to let the same thing happen to him.
Sir Iain: I suppose losing all that was what brought on the breakdown. And all because of a silly joke at King James's expense. But then that's what happens when you incur the wrath of the monarch.
- Bookcase Passage: Of the "not necessarily a bookcase" variety; Isabelle joins her birthday guests via a disguised door.
- Bottle Fairy: Isabelle sure loves her vodka.
- British Royal Family: An AU version, anyway (possibly the Stuarts -- there was at least a James II in the show's universe).
- The Chains of Commanding: Richard struggles to reconcile his role as monarch with his political views, love life, and so on.
- Confessional: Eleanor informs the Archbishop of Canterbury of her mother's affair by pretending to confess her "anger" to him; of course, her real intention is to make him doubt her brother's legitimacy.
- Contrived Clumsiness: George takes out his anger on Rich by hitting him with a cricket ball. Hard.
- Daddy's Girl: Eleanor, with the late king; there does seem to be a good deal of Parental Favoritism going on, with George and Izzy generally neglected.
- Don't Call Me "Sir"!: In the first episode, Rich can't bear it when his mother and Eleanor curtsy and call him "Your Majesty" for the first time. Averted otherwise.
- Double Entendre:
George: I bet she's rubbish at cricket.
Rich: Well, she's got a nice reverse sweep.
- Double Standard: One of the prevailing themes of the show is the fact that royalty are not held to the same standards as the rest of society, sometimes to the point of absurdity. It occurs within the royal family as well, however: George calls Rich a hypocrite for forcing him to confess his hit-and-run to the victim (which could have resulted in jail time) while Rich hides his relationship with the Prime Minister's (married) secretary.
- Doubling for London: Lithuania, in this case.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Embarrassing Nickname: Alice "Fatty" Templeton (though Richard uses it more as an Affectionate Nickname, and the now-thin Alice laughs it off).
- Ermine Cape Effect: Even ignoring the coronation scene, they're generally primed and polished whenever they're seen in public. Well. Except for Izzy.
- Everyone Can See It: Alice can, anyway.
- Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Nothing annoys the palace-dwellers more than a piper in the courtyard.
- Evil Matriarch: Charlotte is generally well-meaning, but she's got more than a few tricks up her sleeve and treats most of her children horribly at various points.
- The Evil Princess: Eleanor.
- The Ghost: Prince David (George even says he is "like a ghost").
- Gossip Evolution: Jimmy sees Richard and a woman (Miranda) making out on the throne, and tells his fellow live-in workers about it. Within twenty-four hours, the story has reached the national media -- in a much more salacious form.
- Heir Club for Men
- Honey Trap: Eleanor gets Simon to seduce Abigail in order to learn the King's secrets.
- Hurricane of Puns: Rich's staff anticipating how the press will break his "sex in the throne room" scandal.
Jonty: Do you know what they're going to say? It's going to be vicious. Something like... "What a Right Royal Dick" or... "Royal Member Gets a New Job."
Abi: "Bonk-ingham Palace."
Sir Iain: Yes, thank you, Abi.
Jonty: "Crown Jewels Get a Fresh Polish."
Abi: "My-penis-mer Abbey."
- Hypocritical Humour: Vinny and Ruby assemble a collection of hair, toenail clippings, etc. left behind by the royals and search the internet for a weirdo willing to pay for it. Their plan works, as they find someone who offers two cigarette butts smoked by a member of the Manic Street Preachers:
Vinny: His actual butts? The actual ones that were actually in his mouth?
Ruby: And all they want is some old toe clippings?
Vinny: Oh my God!
Ruby: What a bunch of losers!
- Invented Individuals: "Tom and Jessica Howard," the couple Richard is supposedly visiting when he's with Miranda.
- It Doesn't Mean Anything: So Richard tells Abi after she kisses him in Episode 5.
- Moral Myopia: Various characters exhibit this. Abi draws attention to it in Episode 2: "Can I just be sure we're all clear here... this is a hit-and-run, a man could die, and, well... we're happy to cover that up?"
- My Name Is Not Durwood: George keeps calling Jimmy "Johnny."
- Narcissist: Eleanor. She actually gives Ray a signed photo of herself as a retirement gift.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted with Jeremy.
- No Hero to His Valet: Abigail agreed to write a tell-all about the royal family in part because of her contempt for them.
- Old Retainer: Jeremy, a footman with a particular devotion to Queen Charlotte, and Ray, a security agent who is about to retire.
- One Steve Limit: There are two characters named David, but one of them is a Prince David, and never appears onscreen anyhow. Then there's the late King James and the footman named Jimmy, who is addressed as "James" at least once.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat
- Plot-Triggering Death: King James. Poor guy is onscreen for a few seconds, doesn't even get a line, and dies before the opening titles.
- Pretty in Mink
- Prop Recycling: Eleanor gleefully runs her hands through newspaper clippings disgracing Richard, but it's obvious that some of the clippings are identical -- a rare example of recycling props within a single shot.
- Rebellious Princess: Isabelle, when she tries to renounce her HRH and runs away.
- Relationship Upgrade: Abigail and Richard post-Episode 7, but it doesn't move past Secret Relationship (we're left hanging after the finale).
- Right in Front of Me: Happens a few times with Miranda before other characters learn that she is Richard's "mystery woman."
- Royal Blood: The central question of Episode 8.
- Royal Brat: All of them qualify at some point in the series.
- Secret Relationship: Rich and Miranda until the truth comes out; Rich and Abigail later.
- Slave to PR: The royals, whether they like it or not.
- Smug Snake: Eleanor and George to everyone else.
- Spare to the Throne: George. For most of the series, he shows no interest in ever being a monarch, and tells Eleanor that if Rich dies, she can be queen. However, when Rich's legitimacy is challenged in Episode 8, making George's accession an imminent possibility, he starts to think that it might not be such a bad deal.
- Spy Speak: Peter Bayfield informs Richard of his father's passing with the words "tower bridge."
- Stealth Hi/Bye: Used to a rather silly degree.
- A pensive Rich disappears during a conversation with George... in the middle of a golf course.
- In another episode, George is enjoying a nice bath until he opens his eyes and jumps, startled. Not only has Sir Iain entered the room without a sound, but he's casually perched on the side of the tub.
- Straight Gay: David and Neil, at least compared to Jimmy and (especially) Jeremy.
- Strip Poker: The "downstairs" staff are seen playing it in the first episode.
- Taking the Heat: Ray feels partly responsible for the hit-and-run because he didn't persuade George to stop the car. He also feels that the prince shouldn't go to jail. He offers to go to the police and tell them he was the one driving, but neither the king nor his staff consider it seriously.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Richard, sitting in the car after learning his father has died.
Abigail: Sir. [no response] Sir. [still no response] ...Your Majesty. [Richard snaps out of it]
- Troubled Fetal Position: In the first episode, Richard excuses himself from an overwhelming Walk and Talk to collapse in the corner of a bathroom, breathing shakily.
- Unequal Pairing: Abigail and Richard.
- Unreliable Expositor: George, describing the hit-and-run. Peter Bayfield doesn't buy it.
- Upperclass Twit: George is the prime example.
- Upper Class Wit: The royals have their moments.
George: It's just another story for the comics. Half the country will be thinking "what a lucky bastard"!
Eleanor: Yeah, and the other half will want to burn us at the stake.
Charlotte: That's witches, sweetheart. They cut our heads off.
Izzy: With Eleanor, you'd probably have to do both.
Isabelle: Keep the gags coming, fat boy.
George: Oh, hello there, nutter. Didn't recognize you without your straightjacket.
- Walk and Talk: Given that the creators were inspired by The West Wing, this one was inevitable.
- The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Eleanor tries to position George as this. In Episode 8, she starts a rumour about Rich's possible illegitimacy so that he will be forced to take a paternity test before his coronation. She knows that if he is indeed illegitimate, she will become queen, as the Prime Minister would never allow the supremely unsuitable George to become head of state. However, it turns out that Rich is indeed legitimate, so George remains a prince.