Masterpiece Theatre presents the true story of a royal marriage foundering on the rocks of adultery and deceit 200 years ago in A Royal Scandal. The protagonists of this stormy union are--who else?--the Prince and Princess of Wales, in this case the future King George IV of England (Richard E. Grant) and his strong-willed Teutonic bride, Caroline of Brunswick (Susan Lynch).
A Royal Scandal is suavely narrated by Ian Richardson, who played the delightfully wicked Prime Minister Francis Urquhart in The House of Cards trilogy on Masterpiece Theatre.
For all its strange plot twists, A Royal Scandal is scrupulously faithful to the historical record, drawing dialogue from actual documents and correspondence. Viewers will not fail to notice that it's also uncannily similar to the more recent history of a certain royal household.
The sordid story opens in 1794 when Lord Malmesbury (Michael Kitchen) goes to an obscure German dukedom to negotiate a match between Prince George and the eligible (if not entirely charming) Princess Caroline. It happens that George has already been secretly married to a pretty Roman Catholic widow (Irene Richards) -- an illegal marriage for a royal in Protestant England. The footloose Prince is also having a palace intrigue with the young wife (Frances Barber) of an esteemed elderly count.
But no matter, the wedding takes place just days after George first lays eyes on his bride-to-be. At the altar, George is fortified with strong drink, which he continues to consume until, at the foot of the nuptial bed, he passes out.
And it gets worse. The royal mismatch soon becomes a matter of intense public interest. George spurns his bride as soon as it's obvious a royal heir is on the way. His duty done, he banishes her first to another part of the palace, later to another palace altogether. Incensed, the public spurns George and adopts the cause of Caroline.
"There would be dangerous consequences if the Princess of Wales were to travel all over England showing herself to the people, especially if she persists in drawing popularity to herself at the expense of myself and my family," worries the Prince about his own rapidly falling star, and, clairvoyantly, about that of his successors in the far future.
Ich dien -- "I serve "-- is the motto of the Prince of Wales. Better it should read: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose -- "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
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