The adaptation of Doctor Foster writer Mike Bartlett’s award-winning play King Charles III imagines what will happen when Princes Charles becomes King in tragic, Shakespearean fashion.
However, the much-anticipated TV version of the story came with its own real-life tragedy earlier this year, when lead actor Tim Pigott-Smith unexpectedly passed away last month before the role he’d been a part of since 2014 made it to screen.
“It’s a very strange time talking about this extraordinary piece of work that we’ve all been on, this incredible journey – and having the father of our company our leader, and our inspiration, and the gentleman who gave this magnificent performance absent,” Oliver Chris (above right in main image), who plays Prince William in the one-off 90-minute drama, said at a recent screening.
“It’s a shock, and frankly a joke that has calcified into a total tragic reality.”
Pigott-Smith first took on the role when the play began in 2014 at the Almeida Theatre London, carrying it over for King Charles III’s acclaimed West End and Broadway runs before committing the part to film for this new adaptation. The majority of the play’s cast and creative team (including Chris, Richard Goulding, Adam James, Margot Leicester and director Rupert Goold) were also involved in the TV version, meaning emotions ran high as Chris paid tribute to his onstage and onscreen father.
“It’s a privilege to actually be able to sit here in front of everybody and be able to, in just a few moments, try and express just what an extraordinary man Tim Pigott-Smith was. And still is,” the 38-year-old actor continued.
“The net gain that the world has received from having him in it is so extraordinary, that while it may be scant consolation for a life so tragically cut short, everybody who knew him and worked with him and had the pleasure to be mentored, comforted, supported and interact with him. And everybody who has taken joy from his many magnificent performances – we can treasure that selfish memory.
“It doesn’t feel to me like he’s no longer with us, because the residue, the what he has left behind, is so vivid, and so special, that I’m just privileged and honoured to have known and have worked with him,” he concluded.
Speaking to Radio Times, writer Bartlett added his condolences.
“We’re still all in shock, but at least we finished it and people will be able to see that amazing performance,” he said, while director Rupert Goold paid tribute to the singular performance that Pigott-Smith left behind.
“He brought incredible technical command to the verse and kingliness of the role onstage – and yet was able, having done so much work onscreen, just to totally recalibrate it for small-camera,” Goold told the crowd at a Bafta screening last week.
Tim Pigott-Smith with Oliver Chris in King Charles III
“I hope we’re not being particularly self-aggrandising about this particular project, but it did feel that this role was something special to him.
“He was exactly the same age as Prince Charles, and like Prince Charles in a way had been waiting for a role at some deep level for a while. He was a very acclaimed and accomplished actor, but in terms of finding that role that would define him, it was sort of in expectation.
“He was a great man, a great great actor, but it was also the great role for him at that moment.”
Goold also revealed the sad fact that Pigott-Smith had never actually seen his final performance onscreen, with the actor demurring when offered early prints of the drama shortly before his death.
“The saddest thing of all is that he never got to see the film. We kept offering to give it to him, but he didn’t want to watch the work,” the director said.
“He came in to do the ADR and wouldn’t really look at the screen. He had a sort of odd suspicion of watching himself.”