Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Tea with the queen. Imagine… Buckingham Palace, a Royal scone and a spot of Earl Grey, pinkies in the air and some ceremonial chit-chat about corgis. Fun times. Unless, of course, it’s Liz rather than Elizabeth sitting across the doily, in which case ‘tea’ would most likely happen in a cocaine encrusted cocktail bar with conversation gyrating around sex, sluttery and how to kill a king. (Possibly more fun still, if that’s your bag.)

Helena Henstridge (played by home-grown honey Elizabeth Hurley) is England’s campy, vampy Queen consort in reality TV channel E!’s first ever scripted series, The Royals – a monarchical satire that is both appalling and appealing with strange, simultaneous effect.

Show mastermind Mark Schwahn (also the creator of One Tree Hill) imagines a Royal family that has embraced modern living with an enthusiastic hedonism that makes the Osbournes comparatively docile in temperament. The Royals kicks off with the recent (and dubious) death of older brother Robert, also heir to the throne of England, which throws the family into disarray (at least, more than usual).

Adding insult to injury is a threat by King Simon (played by Vincent Regan) to disband the monarchy. Simon calls his once proud and principled family “a pack of zoo animals” whilst acknowledging, “I am the product of a medieval hereditary sweepstake. Here by chance, not by divine right as was once believed”. It’s an astute argument and many will cheer but don’t be fooled into thinking that The Royals is anything more than leftovers; the kind that have been in the fridge for more than a week – we know we should bin the slightly suspicious bolognese but secretly, when no one is looking, we eat it anyway because in spite of the fact that it’s rehashed, we hope that it will taste good. And we’re hungry.

The Royals is like the rotten residue that we consume in spite of our better judgement. Not even the show’s Shakespearean undertone can redeem its overwhelming grossness. Loosely based on Michelle Ray’s teen novel Falling For Hamlet, The Royals adopts the bard’s tried and tested ‘girl-next-door falls for unattainable guy’ script. Ophelia (played by Merritt Patterson), draped in an unassailable array of putrid pastels with hair styled to Middleton perfection, gets her jiggy on with Prince William… ehem, Liam (played by William Moseley from The Narnia Chronicles).

The paparazzi gives them a hard time, so does Queen Helena. But they do have at least one supporter: Princess Eleanor – Liam’s twin (played by Aussie actress Alexandra Park), who would chop her arm off if her mother forbade it. Eleanor (or Lenny) lives on “coke and caviar”, eats men for breakfast and spends a lot of time flashing her illustrious labia at tabloid mongrels – her efforts landing headlines that read the likes of “ROYAL BEAVER”, mentioned by Hurley in Episode 1 with a poker-straight face (Emmy alert!).

The scandal that envelops the Royal family, the real one as well as the pretend version, exposes the fallibility of those elevated by noble birth. Ultimately people are people, echelon irrespective

Lenny is vile – on purpose; she is the personified perversion of all it means to be Royal. The dignity, decorum, morality and social propriety supposedly synonymous with upper class aristocracy is entirely refuted by the Henstridge family’s licentious lifestyle. Blue blood does not equal congeniality. Neither does money. The Royals cries HYPOCRISY with brutal exclamation, dethroning convention with crass hyperbole. And the show’s shoddy production merely adds to the overall effect. The Royals doesn’t need witty dialogue and original plot-line (good thing, because it doesn’t have any) to snare viewers; Schwahn sells something better – depravity, lots of it.

No matter how high we crank our pedestals there is something that draws us to the debauched failings of our fellow man – the broken relationships and bitter consequences; because they make us feel better about our own problems. Or could it be something more sinister; that dark thing inside of us that incites us to examine the road-side carnage at the scene of an accident or to pick up the newspaper with the headline screaming sensationalism.

Of course, the obvious irony is that Schwahn has centuries of scandal to inspire his royal reprobates. The English monarchy has a penchant for illicit affairs and diabolical divorces (or if you don’t like your wife, just chop her head off), not to mention a duchess with a foot fetish and another with bare breasts (check out The Royals, Episode 6), a son who smokes dope and thinks Nazis are funny, and a prince who dreams of being a tampon. And there’s certainly more where that came from, much to the delight of the general public – and the writers of The Royals.

The scandal that envelops the Royal family, the real one as well as the pretend version, exposes the fallibility of those elevated by noble birth. Ultimately people are people, echelon irrespective. Push us too far and we’ll snap. It happened to Hamlet. The Danish prince, desperate to avenge his father’s death but confined by the constrictions of his birthright, was forced into a duplicitous game that brought into question his mental stability. Although Liam and Lenny don’t have a dead dad (yet), their behaviour is a tad bi-polar. Could The Royals be a very badly executed comment on the repercussions of repression?

The pressures of a predetermined existence are undeniably stifling– whether it’s kingship, marriage or well-meaning parents pinning all their hopes and dreams on their doomed-before-they-know-it children. Shakespeare wrote: “Our wills and fates do so contrary run/ That our devices still are overthrown” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2) – our desires and our destiny are so much at odds with each other, that things never work out the way we plan. Such is life – prince or pauper. Sometimes all we can do is face the music and make the best of it, in the hope that everything will work out eventually. We can also be entertained as we watch other people do it.

More in Features

Writers Bloc #1 Val McDermid

By , 25th September 2018
Features, Regulars
From imposter syndrome to plotting, in a new series for Marie Claire authors give me chapter and verse on how the writing process works for them - starting with multi award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, who has written 32 books in as many years

The Lives of Others #6

By , 23rd July 2018
Education, Features, Regulars, Travel
Georgie Higginson moved from the UK to Uganda 14 years ago. After losing their daughter to stillbirth, she and her husband were inspired to build a lodge on the banks of the River Nile, overlooking Murchison Falls National Park - an area once occupied by LRA rebels

Global Village #6

By , 9th July 2018
Design, Features, Regulars, Travel
Designer Kate Pietrasik lived in London, Edinburgh, New York and Byron Bay before moving to a town near Biarritz when her daughter was four years old. She reflects on life as a 'blended family', running her own business, and the joy of being rootless

Global Village #2

By , 7th May 2018
Features
Bridie Woodward swapped London for New York 'for a few months', six years ago. She reflects on accidentally making a life for herself, between an apartment in the city and a cottage in Montauk

How to… Go plastic-free

By , 4th May 2018
Features
Mother-of-two Bettina Maidment has spent the past 18 months living almost entirely without plastic, while reducing her overall waste so significantly that she only takes out the bins once every few months... Here is how