Henry IX | TV review by Steve Bennett

Henry IX

Note: This review is from 2017

TV review by Steve Bennett

It’s got an intriguing premise – that a modern-day Monarch seeks to abdicate for no stronger reason than a mid-life crisis – as well as grade-A writers in Porridge creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and a very solid cast.

Yet Gold’s new three-part comedy Henry XI doesn’t quite seem like the ‘must-watch’ its pedigree suggests, although it’s a gently enjoyable half-hour with a handful of strong gags.

A relatively slow-moving first episode is hampered by a lot of set-up, establishing the frustrations that Henry (played by Downton Abbey actor Charles Edwards) has with the trapping of his role. 

After 25 years on the Throne, he’s fed up of the the stuffer aspects of civic duty. But after a stereotypically shallow PR is hired for a ‘rebranding’, the King finds himself at a halfway house for drug users, where a spirited rap re-energises him, even if he doesn't understand a word. A flirtation with an attractive Palace florist, played by Kara Tointon, further fuels his desires for pastures new.

Even given the alternative reality of the show, some suspension of disbelief is required. You have to assume that Henry’s so out of touch that he’s never heard of Salford, for instance, or that he never previously considered his security detail might be heavily armed. Odder still is a chef, probably no older than 40, complaining that Beijing isn't called Peking any more – a colonial-era grumble that seems to reflect the age of the writers (79 and 81) more than the character. 

Complaining is the crux of Henry’s life, from the bagpipes that wake him – ‘a cat caught in a vacuum cleaner’ – to the idea of Sir Paul McCartney rocking up for his jubilee celebrations. As a hitherto dutiful, level-headed man, these moans naturally lack real bite, but are consistently mildly amusing, the tone for the whole episode.

It’s lovingly shot by Leon The Pig Farmer director Vadim Jean and there are some nice touches throughout, such as the golf buggy Henry takes around the palace or that a bomb scare is more likely caused by someone targeting Jimmy Carr than the King.

And there’s good support from the oddly-accented Sally Phillips, playing his unspecified Scandinavian ice Queen and Annette Crosby as a sort of watered-down version of Maggie Smith’s Downton Dowager Countess. Though Don Warrington gets all the best lines – and delivers them superbly – as the valet Gilbert, treading the fine line between servility and putting the King’s more errant thoughts in check.

This suggests more laughs ahead as the rising tension between Henry’s intent to abdicate and those who would plot to stop him providing the potential for increased friction – and increased comedy. Here’s to that.

• Henry IX is on Gold at 9pm tonight.

Review date: 5 Apr 2017
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