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30 April 2023

The Windsors is the most painfully accurate depiction of the royals on TV

Forget The Crown – the uncanny veracity of this wild satire rings out like the dinner gong at Balmoral.

By Rachel Cooke

Please, charge your glasses, whether with a large Corgi Cosmopolitan or a small Sussex Spritz, I do not care. For the King’s big day is upon us, and we must mark it, in this case with The Windsors Coronation Special. (I know: anti-climactic, but do feel free to open that box of Duchy Originals shortbread as well.) Not that The Windsors is no good. Judi Dench and others may worry we receive Peter Morgan’s The Crown as the gospel truth (which it definitely isn’t). But of the two shows, it’s Bert Tyler-Moore and the late George Jeffrie’s wild satire that feels the more painfully accurate, its uncanny veracity ringing out like the gong at Balmoral at dinner time. The Windsors’ exaggerated but well-ordered lies reveal truths The Crown must at all costs avoid: truths to do with stupidity and venality, and also with the fact the Royal Family now counts (checks notes) a former tequila brand ambassador among its number.

“Shots!” cries Jack Brooksbank (Tom Stourton), in this special, opening his coat to reveal a long row of tiny glasses attached to a belt like ammunition. (To be accurate, he actually cries “sha-a-a-a-wts!” because he is both posh and a bit thick.) Poor Jack. Princess Eugenie’s husband doesn’t know what a brand ambassador is – but then, nor do I. And in any case, this hardly worries Eugenie: she believes a pine cone may be eaten like an apple.

Yes, I understand that you, dear readers, may not think of this branch of the family often (or at all), but I don’t believe there’s any going back once you’ve seen Eugenie and her sister Beatrice as they’re played here, by Celeste Dring and Ellie White respectively. Their performances, in which both actresses deploy a contorted Sloane speak so outrageous it practically requires subtitles, are genius: every word so absolutely wrong, and yet, so absolutely right. Personally, I can’t see either of them in real life now without sniggering, which makes reading Hello! at the hairdresser quite a marvellous new experience, I can tell you.

[See also: BBC One’s The Gold review: outstandingly enjoyable TV]

The running gag here is that the princesses are afraid they may not be invited to the coronation. “We are absolutely not being sidelined because of daddy being too honourable,” says Bea, preparing to make a tit of herself on TikTok. Meanwhile, Wills (Hugh Skinner) and his Aunt Anne (Vicki Pepperdine, looking like some terrifying cross between Mrs Danvers and Miss Trunchbull) are keen to cut the ceremony’s budget: forget Westminster Abbey, what about a Holiday Inn in Slough? But the King (Harry Enfield) and Camilla (Haydn Gwynne) disagree. What’s the point of the royals if not to put on a show? The point, says Wills, is to “bind a diverse nation together with bland statements on mental health and carefully staged photos of our children”. Camilla calls him Little Lord Fauntle-twat, and you can see why.

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I’ve been told to avoid spoilers, so I can’t tell you whether Meghan (Kathryn Drysdale) and Harry (Richard Goulding) attend this version of the coronation. They do make an appearence in the show, struggling somewhat because the real Meg and Haz are now, I think we can all agree, far beyond parody. “You can only live in your full knowing if you stand in your full knowing,” instructs Meghan – a line that (look, I’ve read Harry’s wretched book) cannot be separated by a single cigarette paper from something the real M might say. “He had a Star Wars duvet and I had Paddington, which was babyish,” moans Harry – and again: the closeness of art and life.

At a meeting with Netflix, the couple pitch their latest idea for content: Tiffany the Turtle, an animation (“That’s a cartoon, Harry”) about “strong” turtles. The jaw of the Netflix executive drops. This won’t do. “OK, so Suits II!” yelps Meghan. Again, my mind flew to Montecito. At Netflix, they surely must be wondering about their investment, which is more than your rail refund or the 30 quid I’m about to earn for going on the radio. As for our own investment – I mean in the Windsors themselves – forgive me, but I’m not too agitated. Forget the empty palaces, the uniformed valets, the acres owned by them, not us. My Republicanism fizzles at the idea that, right now, we’d have nothing much to laugh at if they were gone. Happy coronation. God save the King, and satirists everywhere.

The Windsors Coronation Special
Channel 4, 30 April, 9pm

[See also: ITV’s Malpractice review: preposterous but so gripping, you won’t mind]

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This article appears in the 03 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Beneath the Crown