This might come as a shock, but not everyone in Hollywood is trying to make high art. Some producers – and I won’t embarrass them by naming names, except to say that one is Frank Konigsberg, executive producer of William & Kate, the TV movie – are more concerned with making entertainment. And by “entertainment” I obviously mean money. Don’t be shocked! As the English would say, bully for him.
When the royal engagement was announced last fall, most people here in Britain spent the day calculating how many holidays we’d get as a result – or, in the case of journalists like me, how many breathless pieces on “the dress,” “the ring” and “the guest list” we would be required to produce before our sanity began to fray (in my case, approximately 5,837 and counting, not that I’m complaining – I like money just as much as Konigsberg).
So while the rest of us contemplated Kate’s extraordinary hair and its implications for modern Britain, Konigsberg got on the phone to the Lifetime network and pitched a television movie on the love story of Prince William and his pretty fiancée. Several minutes later, the jammy git had a development deal. Roughly a quarter of an hour after that, a script. And this week, just five months after the big announcement, William & Kate, a $3-million made-for-TV movie, will be broadcast around the world – in Canada you can catch it Sunday night on Slice.
The movie, which had its U.S. debut on Lifetime last Monday, is dreadful, of course, but in a so-awful-it’s-awesome sort of way. The romantic leads, played with cringe-inducing aplomb by virtual unknowns, New Zealander Nico Evers-Swindell and British-born (though you’d never know it from her accent) Camilla Luddington, appear to have been cast for physical resemblance more than anything else. We viewers are treated to a litany of squirmy clichés, including the inevitable half-naked-morning-after-the-night-before post-coital scene, the kissing-on-top-of-the-snow-capped-mountain scene and the lovers-curled-up-by-the-fire scene, in which William tells Kate he loves her, and Kate responds, “I love the you no one gets to see but me.”
The film has been getting bad reviews everywhere. But here in the U.K., where the natives are very protective of their special right to glorify or spurn the royal family as they see fit, the notices have been downright vicious. One paper declared it “so bad it's awful, toe-curlingly, teeth-furringly, pillow-bitingly ghastly,” while another critic tried his best to look on the bright side, pointing out that “there are positives. It is recognizably a film, in that it takes place on a screen. Events run in a forward direction.”
Konigsberg is being a good sport about the whole thing. Speaking from his home in Los Angeles this week, he told me he wasn’t surprised by the critical drubbing. “Look, it’s an easy film to bash. It isn’t meant to be a deep psychological study of the royals. You can’t expect anything profound from it,” he chuckled. Instead he went on to describe the movie as “a soufflé” concocted “in the tone of Hello! magazine.” He adds: “It’s just a discreet, gentle, kind and light way to pass 85 minutes.”
Konigsberg, whose long list of previous projects includes a recent TV miniseries version of Ben Hur and the 1992 royal classic Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever, emphasizes the fact that the film wasn’t made for a British audience anyway. “I’m a casual observer of the royals but I’m not obsessed with them,” he said. “I just thought, here’s this charming young couple. She’s a commoner, he’s not, she’s good-looking and he … used to be. It’s a story with worldwide appeal, right?”
Indeed, watching this schmaltzy, feather-light treatment of the royal romance on the small screen, it’s evident what attracted a Hollywood producer like Konigsberg to the material in the first place. For him, as for the majority of North Americans (and yes, I include Canadians in this), the young royals are a glamorous, and largely squeaky-clean, variety of transatlantic celebrity. Think Sienna Miller and Jude Law without all the relationship drama. But for Brits, the royals are something much more complex – the personification of the nation’s long and bloody imperialist history as well the symbolic faces of a subject that obsesses people here like no other: class.
In Canada, we’re lucky. We get all the benefits of monarchism, without the class baggage. Nor is our vision of our future rulers tainted by a constant barrage of tabloid photos of the drunken horsey set stumbling out of South Kensington nightclubs. We have Lindsay Lohan for that.
As for William & Kate, I think the critics need to calm down already. It’s just your typical Lifetime made-for-TV Sunday night movie. The fact that the world’s English-language arts media have suddenly turned their attention to it is only a testament to its timely subject matter. With less than a week left to go before the nuptials, source material is scarce, and the public is hungry for any insights about the royal couple. A tooth-achingly sweet confection in the style of Hello! magazine? Frank Konigsberg, you’re right on the money. Quite literally.