By Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie
Noho Film & Television for Channel 4
Friday, 23rd December 2016
‘[I]t was a referendum and we must respect the public’s decision.’
This isn’t the EU referendum, but the one that closed the first series of The Windsors, when the public voted for Prince William (Hugh Skinner) to replace Charles (Harry Enfield) as first in line to the throne. This is the backdrop to what Harry (Richard Goulding) refers to as Christmas ‘with the rellies’. The setting is the royal family’s preferred Yuletide residence, Sandringham.*
The royals beetle off to Sandringham in twos and threes. None has a line that isn’t intended to exhibit the defining characteristics familiar to viewers of Series One (and, in several cases, earlier depictions): Charles is a pompous bore (‘It was Gordonstoun that fucked him up’), Edward, a.k.a. Rock-steady Eddie, (Matthew Cottle) is a failure (‘I’m Santa at Debenhams, King’s Lynn), Princess Anne (Vicki Pepperdine) is austerity personified, Prince Andrew (Tim Wallers) loves practical jokes at the expense of his dim wife, Fergie (Katy Wix), and their children, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (Ellie White and Celeste Dring), are Internet-enabled Sloanes.†
Over the course of this one-hour special, Fergie moves from the stable block to the house, Harry invites some homeless people around to impress a girl, Catherine (Louise Ford) talks Anne out of lobotomising her and cooks a traditional Christmas dinner of ‘pike schnitzel mit crispy spätzle’, and the Ghost of George III-cum-Christmas Yet to Come (Paul Whitehouse) convinces William to ignore the result of the referendum and make Charles first in line again.
However, as the drama nears its close, Charles uses his newly regained authority to declare war with the EU. A nuclear strike is only averted when Catherine guesses the password of the EU’s automatic defence system – ‘farageisawanker’ – allowing the royals to negotiate with a robot called Gargantuan (which speaks English in a German accent):
WILLIAM: No! Only the prime minister can declare war. It was just Dad!
GARGANTUAN: No, the head of state declares war, and Prince Charles is your acting head of state.
WILLIAM: Look, the title is ‘head of state’, but monarch is just a ceremonial position.
GARGANTUAN: Does not compute. What would be the point?
WILLIAM: I don’t know. We’re just a weird hangover from the past, like the Channel Islands or televised snooker. […]
GARGANTUAN: But the monarch has to ratify all your legislation.
CAMILLA: It’s just a rubber stamp. The royal veto hasn’t been used since the 1700s.
GARGANTUAN: Interesting, but I need to hear this from Prince Charles.
WILLIAM: Father, sit there and tell them we are completely irrelevant. It’s the only way to stop a nuclear war!
CHARLES: But I’m the Evening Standard ‘Londoner of the Decade’.
WILLIAM: Do it! […]
CHARLES: All right. I’m utterly irrelevant. […]
GARGANTUAN: Three… Two… One… Launch protocols… Halted! […]
CHARLES: I did it! I saved the day again!
To my mind, this exchange is more Eurosceptic than Europhile and more monarchist than republican. In any case, The Windsors isn’t satire, because it is devoid of moral outrage. But nor is it trying to be satire – Channel 4’s description of it as a ‘comedy soap opera’ is right. Even an ostensibly satirical line, like the one spoken by a pleb to William at Sandringham’s gate – ‘You’re so normal, despite being inherently better than us’ – is actually quite a good distillation of the sort of paradoxical thinking that keeps the monarchy with us. As with the Royal Family in Spitting Image, these characters are essentially likeable, despite the rude jokes made at their expense. In fact, there’s probably an inverse relationship, in depictions of royalty, between number of rude personal jokes and genuinely subversive intent. In The Windsors, many of the rudest jokes are about the future king. Harry Enfield plays Charles – a part he didn’t get to do in Spitting Image – with relish:
This Christmas special, which is just as good as the first series, will be most enjoyed by those who quite like the royals but aren’t deferential enough to mind them being compared (clockwise from top left) to Gollum, Nazis, Big Brother housemates, and, er, that one.
* William pronounces it /ˈsɑːndrɪŋəm/, which in reality must join plɑːstic and Glɑːstonbury in the box marked ‘try-hard’.
† Princess Anne was once unkindly described as a ‘A Sloane sans charm’. Here, Pepperdine (apparently wearing her false teeth from Up the Women) plays her as frosty, dour, and repressed.