This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 7th May 2016.
The Windsors: Friday, Channel 4
Grayson Perry: All Man: Thursday, Channel 4
Made by the team behind scattershot celebrity satire Star Stories, The Windsors boasts a similar blend of heightened silliness and healthy disrespect. It’s a brash sitcom in which our beloved Royal Family are depicted as a workshy bunch of freeloaders and functioning alcoholics. Happy birthday, your majesty!
Though framed as a Dallas-style soap parody, that’s really just an excuse for a hit and miss barrage of nonsense. Yes, it ticks off all the usual Royal gags – Harry and William are nice but dim etc. – but it attacks them with relish. It’s not an excoriating or particularly clever satire, but it’s full of crude, amusing energy.
It also subverts the tired comedy notion that Charles is a harmless duffer. Instead it portrays him as a dictatorial bully with a savage sense of entitlement. That alone makes it more interesting than your average Royal spoof.
His fellow antagonists are Camilla, an embittered, power-hungry schemer, and Pippa Middleton, a duplicitous sex-pot. Prince Edward also crops up as a desperate failure. It’s all good fun, although the absence of the Queen and Prince Philip is curious. Aren’t they ripe for parody too?
The writers presumably felt that someone among this motley shower of buffoons had to be vaguely sympathetic, if only so they can fall victim to the cruelty and stupidity of the others.
That honour goes to William and Kate, who are depicted as essentially well-meaning. Kate is ineffably bland, so her character doesn’t work, but full marks to Hugh Skinner (Will, the bumbling intern from W1A) for seizing the role of William – a hapless hero who’d rather fly helicopters than be King – with such dense enthusiasm. It’s the sort of role that Hugh Laurie would’ve nailed in his youth, but Skinner does a fine job.
Harry Enfield is also good value as Charles; his absurd line-readings are a particular highlight. And I’m always pleased to see Morgana Robinson, a comic actress whose devotion to grotesque clowning is admirable. Her own starring vehicles have never matched her talents, but she always adds a peculiar energy in supporting roles.
While no classic, The Windsors does at least milk some barbed comedy mileage from a deserving target.
Be honest, you’d watch a series about Britain’s hardest men hosted by Grayson Perry. Placing the cross-dressing artist in aggressively male environments sounds like a recipe for fish-out-of-water fun. But there’s far more to Grayson Perry: All Man than that.
It’s a thoughtful study of masculinity in which our charismatic host – “a lifelong cissy” – tries to find out why some men feel compelled to be macho. He began his investigation in the violent world of cage fighting, where his own prejudices were challenged by meeting dedicated, articulate athletes with an undercurrent of emotional vulnerability.
His natural ability to relate to anyone he meets triggered the poignant spectacle of one fighter breaking down while discussing his brother’s suicide. As well as providing a surrogate family and sense of self-worth, cage fighting for him was a form of therapy. Perry went on to reveal that 80% of people who kill themselves in the north-east, where the programme was based, are male.
He also illustrated how deprived backgrounds inspired many of these men to channel aggression into something positive. Perry handled this raw subject without a hint of condescension. On the contrary, it was a sensitive, moving, open-minded essay on working-class community pride and the tragic price of male stoicism.