Patrick Freyne: Look, it’s a drama made by E! – what did you expect, Downton Abbey?
The Royals takes place in no identifiable time period, though the presence of Elizabeth Hurley suggests it’s probably 1994
E! is an American television station with an exclamation mark in its title (you can find it far down the dial near TLC!!! and Huh?). On the UK version of E! (Eeh, by gum!), we get to see their first home-produced drama, The Royals, just a week after it airs in the US.
Americans have an insatiable appetite for the British class system. Many of them think Downton Abbey is set in the present day and that the different epochs depicted in period dramas represent geographical regions of contemporary Britain. (They call Scotland “Braveheart”.) The Royals takes place in no identifiable time period, though the presence of Elizabeth Hurley suggests it’s probably 1994.
The story so far: beloved King Simon is thinking about abolishing the beloved monarchy, which is beloved. In the first episode, he wanders incognito among his people and he continuously asks his subjects what they think of the monarchy. “Lawks! Guvnor! Jellied eels!” they say.
King Simon has a number of problems. There have been death threats, which makes life very difficult for Ted, the head of security, who lives behind the clock of Big Ben (seriously). Furthermore, Prince Robert, the heir to the throne, has died in mysterious circumstances. That happened a whole episode ago, though, so the family seem to be basically over it this week.
The king’s daughter, Princess Eleanor, is a drug-taking party minx who is being blackmailed by her nefarious bodyguard, Jasper. She is also, if her accent is anything to go by, secretly Australian.
“Get me breakfast,” sneers her horrible tormentor.
“Fair dinkum, ya big galah!” snaps Princess Eleanor.
King Simon’s wife is Queen Helena aka Elizabeth Hurley, the third most English person the American producers could think of to play a queen (she was on the shortlist after “Benny Hill” and “The Beatles”). Queen Helena is heavily botoxed and wears tight dresses and loads of eyeliner. She glowers down from the battlements of the palace like a sexy, impassive panda and sashays from room to room saying things like “I’m the Queen of England!” in case anyone has forgotten.
In this episode, Queen Helena flirts with a war veteran (“It’s my pleasure to serve the queen,” he pervs) and spends the rest of her time trying to control her wayward daughter, who tweets things like “The Queen of England can suck my D***.”
“It smells of sex in here,” declares Queen Helena as she barges into Princess Eleanor’s room, accurately channelling the real Queen. “Tie your kangaroo down, sport,” says Princess Eleanor angrily.
King Simon’s brother, Evil Uncle Cyrus, is a cad who dresses like Elton John and sexually harasses the unconventionally attired staff (many are dressed as saucy French maids). His favourite thing, apart from sexual harassment, is talking about how he wants to be king.
“I would kill for it,” Evil Uncle Cyrus says. What with his obsession with lines of succession and penchant for pointing guns at his brother, I would be quite nervous if I was King Simon.
Evil Uncle Cyrus has twin daughters who are played as hilarious grotesques. They are somehow posher than the rest of the family and are forever doing “funny” things. In this episode, it is implied that they rape an unconscious swimming champion who had formerly been flirting with Princess Eleanor. This isn’t treated as disturbing at all. Princess Eleanor just watches them drag his insensible body away. “Bonzer,” she says.
A Liam for a prince
King Simon’s second son, unusually for a British monarch, is named Liam (full name: Prince Liam Og O’Shaughnessy). Liam is a prince and he is hunky. He is played by winsome William Moseley, who was also a royal in The Chronicles of Narnia, a work of kitchen-sink realism comparatively speaking. In this episode he endears himself to his people by crowd- surfing at a garden party.
Prince Liam is dating Ted’s daughter, an American commoner called Ophelia. Ophelia drinks coffee instead of tea and Prince William is confused, because there is no coffee in England. Ophelia also holds her fork in her right hand, like some sort of animal, and feels insecure when Prince Liam’s negligee-wearing ex, Gemma (so named because her parents own a diamond cartel), sexts him a picture of her arse.
Ophelia gets drunk and vomits all over Prince Liam. “There’s rue for you and here’s some for me,” she says. “We may call it herb of grace o’Sundays.” Although now that I think of it, that might be a different Ophelia.
Princess Eleanor supplies Ophelia with a hangover cure and they bond. “A dingo stole my baby,” says Princess Eleanor, and Ophelia smiles.
It’s all very exciting. Will Ophelia and Liam’s love survive? Will the king abolish the monarchy? Will Evil Uncle Cyrus harass more of the staff? Will Ted move from Big Ben to another world monument, such as the Eiffel Tower or the head of the Sphinx? Will Princess Eleanor camp by a billabong under the shade of a coolibah tree? We contemplate these questions as the credits roll.
Meanwhile, in the east a darkness stirs. It is Joan Collins. She will be joining the cast later in the series.