No one doubts Elizabeth Hurley's ability to grab headlines and turn heads, but her outings as an actress, so far, have been largely critically overlooked. Actually, that's being kind; critically panned might be more accurate. This, however - to turn a quote - may be because the pictures simply weren't big enough.
Enter The Royals, a new US TV drama, set to air here on E! next Wednesday. If anything is going to be big enough, this is it. Revolving around a fictional British royal family, set in modern-day London, with Blenheim Palace standing in as Buckingham Palace, Hurley is matriarch Queen Helena, and the series is wall-to-wall high camp: glittery crowns, sparkly dresses, short skirts, and unbridled appetites for money, sex and power. Basically, Dallas or Dynasty with crowns and a hereditary right to rule.
It's a kind of alternative universe of British Royals, where endless decadence, luxury and indulgence is off-set by the demands of public duty and constant scrutiny; well, maybe not that alternative then. Liz, as Queen Helena, is married to Simon (Vincent Regan), a well-meaning king fumbling towards a decision on whether to dissolve the monarchy, and totally eclipsed by his conniving, ambitious queen and demanding children. The eldest son and heir dies mysteriously, meaning the 'Spare' is called up, an irresponsible playboy prince (played by William Moseley, otherwise known as Peter from The Chronicles of Narnia), who never planned on the sober duties of a monarch, preferring to get wasted and pick up unsuitable girls instead.
Meanwhile, Queen Helena's daughter, Eleanor (Alexandra Park) is cut from the same cloth - a drug-taking, promiscuous, good-time-gal type of princess who heads off to Parisian nightclubs without knickers and seduces the bodyguards.
So far, the reviews from the States, where The Royals began airing last weekend, have been fairly unenthusiastic: "indulgence porn," as the Daily Beast called it. It's not that they don't get the joke, just that the joke wears thin very quickly. As the New York Times concluded, it "wears a broad smirk, and its problem is that it veers too far from the real thing. What's missing is tension between the public mask and private predilections, the dissonance between noblesse oblige and unlimited privilege."
However, Hurley herself is doing much better, praised for her humorous, self-aware acting out of a kind of Joan Collins-style diva-esque turn, full of smouldering glances and bitchy remarks (when told that Sir Elton John wants to pop in for a visit, she says scornfully, "Give someone a title and they treat the place like it's a Starbucks"). And, formally sealing the Dallas/ Dynasty homage, Joan herself has a cameo, as Hurley's mother, the Grand Duchess of Oxford.
Hurley has been open about the fact that Princess Diana is a source of inspiration, telling one newspaper: "Our queen's fantastic, but she's in her 80s, so we couldn't pull from that for inspiration, so I thought, 'What if Princess Diana had lived? What would she have looked like now because she's only a few years older than me?' So, we kind of took a bit of inspiration from her looks wise and then personality wise, I just pulled on every villain I'd ever seen, including . . . Cruella De Vil, you know, Maleficent, all those fabulous big villains, I pull them."
This is the first scripted drama E! has made (mostly it just relies on various Kardashians), and a second series has already been commissioned. It can't be a patch on the real Royal soap operas that unfold from time to time, but The Royals could be, at last, a Liz Hurley vehicle that actually works.
The Royals starts on E! on Tuesday at 9pm
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