Better than the royal wedding
'The Windsors' takes irreverent aim at the royal wedding
Yes, please do call us Wills and Kate," says Prince William, relieved, when he and his Princess are addressed thus by a visibly star-struck Meghan Markle. “The way you handle the spotlight is such an inspiration," says Markle, dazzled by the British royal family. William has not, however, watched Markle’s breakout television series, Suits, and the actress and her boyfriend Prince Harry are all too eager to fill William in. “My character’s a strong, fiercely independent woman, like me," informs Markle. “Yeah, but she’s still a sexual being," Harry reassures, “which is why she’s always in her bra."
This may not be a verbatim transcript of the first encounter between the freshly duchess-ed Markle and the family she married into, but I wager it is conspicuously more enjoyable. The loony Channel 4 sitcom The Windsors (available in India on Netflix) savagely takes the mickey out of all things royal, and provides a soap-operatic view of a family the world continues to be obsessed with. Harry is illiterate, “Wills" is a well-meaning thickhead, and every time Pippa (and her legendary posterior) enter the frame, the music turns sinister. The show is outrageous because of the way it wildly lampoons the monarchy, and season 2 in particular has much cattiness to offer those fed up with the wall-to-wall coverage of the recent wedding.
Glance merely at Markle’s first encounter with Pippa:
Markle: “You know me from Suits?"
Middleton: “No, from The Mail Online."
Created by Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie, The Windsors is a refreshingly cruel send-up, with no rumour left behind in its juvenile attempts to claw at the crown and those beside it. This is a show of little insight or subtlety, but given how stuffy depictions of life in Buckingham Palace can be—even the good ones, like The Crown, could do with some caffeine—this is a show drunk on fizzy-pop, a deliriously giggly comedy that pokes fun at everyone in sight.
The British ability to laugh at themselves is an admirable trait, even though it also signals their unique ability to disguise their own crimes as good-natured tomfoolery, as if causing a famine in Bengal merits just as many tut-tuts as nicking a policeman’s helmet on the night of a boat race. I digress, however, and it is true nobody does satire quite like the British.
They have also been unafraid to name names. The 1960s stage revue Beyond The Fringe—featuring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller—openly lampooned establishment heads like Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan, and the only protocol given to these rising stars of comedy was that their scripts be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain, supervisor of the royal household, ahead of the performances. This did not, as feared, lead to censorship, as the harsh caricatures of prime ministers continued unabated, and the script-submission requirement was itself soon abolished.
Everyone is fair game in British comedy, as seen in the magnificent Blackadder, created by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, where every single historically heralded figure—from Queen Elizabeth I to Dr Samuel Johnson—was depicted as a prize idiot. This, it must be noted, was a BBC series, and these were thus government-sanctioned potshots at the most canonized figures of their nation’s past. In America, they are only now getting their gloves off, following the unimaginable absurdity of their own first family. In India, a country that borrows much from the English but not their self-deprecation or their wit, something like this is, to this day, unthinkable. A show like this brazen parody of the royal family, to do with The Gandhis or The Ambanis or The Kapoors, would be plagued by lawsuits and allegations of bad taste and impropriety.
Meanwhile, just days before the much ballyhooed actual wedding, The Windsors Royal Wedding Special (season 2, episode 7 on Netflix) aired last week, and it is startlingly rude. Prince Harry is a feckless, beardless fool who wakes up in prison wearing a Nazi uniform (like the real ginger Prince once wore to a friend’s party), and learns he has drunkenly ennobled a girl from Hooters who insists now on being called Dame Amber. Princess Kate, meanwhile, can’t fit into her dress—“I had one USP, being thin!" she laments—but has found the right “something borrowed" to give Meghan Markle for the ceremony: the Kohinoor diamond.
The growing popularity of these younger royals raises the hackles of Camilla Parker-Bowles, who labels them “The Fab Four" and says they are the ones the public wants now. “I’m incredibly popular," disagrees Prince Charles, “like Alexander the Great but without the vanity."
Camilla, played by the supremely snide Haydn Gwynne, and Hugh Skinner—who affectionately plays the daft Prince William—are the best performers on the show, though with everyone trying their best to look the most moronic, the bar for nuance is low.
Look, The Windsors is not the cleverest show on television. It isn’t even the cleverest show I watched yesterday. It is, however, gloriously bonkers and admirably unrestrained. It is a miracle that this show exists, and that it is this cheeky. There’s something magical about that. Also, if the monarchy was indeed as thick as depicted here, they would need a show this far from subtle in order to get the point.
Let us take our cues from that self-proclaimed sovereign among junk food chains. Let us listen to Burger King himself: How do you improve on something you have already declared royal? Presenting the royals, with cheese.
Raja Sen is a film critic, columnist and screenwriter. His first book, a children’s adaptation of The Godfather called The Best Baker In The World, is out now. He tweets at @RajaSen.