Edward VII: Prince of Pleasure Review

March 23, 2010 by  
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EDWARD VII: PRINCE OF PLEASURE: Tuesday 23rd March, BBC2, 9pm ALERT ME

Although few of us were very surprised when yet another well-respected male celebrity was shown up to be nothing more than a gallivanting sex machine last week, royal historians will have been among the least shocked at the news.

Indeed they know that high-profile men have been fudging things up for decades, and that’s before we even consider Prince Philip’s diplomatic career.

Apart from a couple of determined and stubborn women, popular opinion says that our beloved royal family has been stumbling from sex scandal to abdication for the last two centuries. If God appointed this mob to rule us then he truly does work in (extremely) mysterious ways.

But Edward VII: Prince of Pleasure flies in the face of such gender pigeon-holing by painting Victoria’s troublesome son as a fractured yet extremely practical – and at times pioneering – monarch. ‘Bertie’ as he was called with backhanded affection, spent more time as heir to the throne than anyone in history (a record Prince Charles will not break until 2013), but few accessions in British history have been greeted with such nervous trepidation.

During his mother’s reign, Edward was largely shunned by an elite that should have been grooming him for a life on the throne and as such, he created a role for himself as a playboy Prince – a path which eventually saw him hauled in front of a judge after one of many extramarital affairs.

Incidentally, the woman in question was branded ‘mad’ by a family seeking to preserve its honour and she lived the rest of her 36 years in an asylum; a staggering tangent which highlighted how the fate of ladies foolish enough to get mixed up with a royal had improved only marginally since the days of Henry VIII.

Yet despite this, by 1901 the public opinion of Buckingham Palace was lagging severely. Following the death of Prince Albert some decades before, Queen Victoria had become increasingly reclusive and Edward saw the need to reinvent the royals as the hospital-opening, corgi-walking public figures that they are today. It seems that despite his apparent lack of talent, he was bright enough to realise that the world was on the cusp of a long-overdue shift. The only way to rescue the throne was to cast away a fusty past and for Edward to start moving amongst the people.

Amongst all the stoicism that preceded him (and in Elizabeth II, some may argue also followed him) hearing the story of a forgotten king who seemed more everyman than HRH will be a refreshing break for history fans. I just wonder what Heat would have made of him…