Upcoming BBC2 drama King Charles III has already been attracting headlines and criticism for its storyline, which sees the Queen die and Prince Charles made King with major consequences when he refuses to sign a crucial government bill.

Particular controversy has surrounded the film’s Shakespearean inclusion of Princess Diana’s ghost – the original stage play featured scenes with the dead princess, and now writer Mike Bartlett has now defended including the sequences in the TV adaptation too.

“It would be very strange to tell the story without her,” Bartlett said at a preview screening of King Charles III, after an audience member asked whether Prince Harry's recent comments about how his mother’s death had affected his mental health had changed Bartlett’s view of the script.

“The ghost is presented differently on stage than it is on screen but it serves the same function, which is that presence of her in their lives. And she's never going to go away. They've lost their mother," Bartlett said.

“And I would hope – and this would go for everything in this piece – that it is treated sincerely,” he added. “It's not a sketch, it's not satire, it's not an attack. It's a genuine investigation of what it is to be that family and in that role in the country. And Diana is part of that; she was a national hugely famous figure, controversial in many ways, and she’s still very present in the family in all sort of ways.

“I think her ghost is very much a Shakespearean form and is very much a dramatic device, and is not a joke,” he concluded. “And I hope that comes across in the film; we worked hard to make sure [that] clearly was the point.” 

Actor Oliver Chris, who plays Prince William in the one-off drama alongside Charlotte Riley’s Kate Middleton and Richard Goulding’s Prince Harry, has also recently defended Diana’s part in the story, telling Radio Times that while it was “very emotionally near the line”, he thought it had been handled sensitively. 

“Some people will bridle at it, but I hope it’s done with enough intelligence and sensitivity not to be gratuitous,” he said.

“I’m very conscious that it’s a real person and a real family. But I don’t think it’s any more intrusive than much of the mainstream media coverage of Diana and her death.”