A Royal Scandal (1996)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Sheree Folkson.

Starring:      Richard E. Grant (George, prince of Wales),  Susan Lynch (Caroline of Brunswick),   Michael Kitchen (Lord Malmesbury),  Denis Lawson (Henry Brougham),  Frances Barber (Lady Jersey),   Oliver Ford Davies (Lord Liverpool),  Ian Richardson (Narrator).

King George IV (ruling from 1820-1830) and Princess Caroline of Brunswick weave a tale of infidelity, illegitimacy and mistresses

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

 

This is a true story.  It is the story of a marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales.  George Prince of Wales has a hobby, architecture, that costs a lot of money.  The public hate him for his extravagance.  He personally owes 18.5 million pounds to the government. 

Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Germany is a prospect to marry George.  She is Protestant, royal and a virgin.  Besides, George says:  "One damn German fraulein is as good as another."  Caroline has a sister-in-law Frederica.  Lord Malmesbury tells Caroline that she has beauty and grace, but she lacks the prudence, discretion and tact of Frederica.  He tells George that she has no fixed character.  And she is light-hearted. 

Malmesbury went to Brunswick to talk with Caroline.  She did not scare him off, but he has to tell one of Caroline's staff that while George is delicate in his clothes, Caroline is "less careful" in her clothes and person.  The lady doesn't seem to get his meaning, so Malmesbury just comes and and says that the lady smells.  Now the lady understands and says that she will speak with Caroline. 

Caroline dresses better and now doesn't smell so bad, but she says she has received an absolutely terrible letter from London telling that her that the Prince of Wales has a mistress, the Lady Jersey. She asks Lord Malmesbury:  "What am I to do?"  Malmesbury tells her to rise above it.  And she can use her feminine charms because the Prince cannot resist caresses.  This cheers Caroline and she says:  "I will domesticate him.  Then he will enjoy all the homely virtues."

When Caroline arrives at the palace, Lady Jersey greets her.  Jersey objects to Caroline's dress and hat.  She has brought a suitable dress for Caroline in which to meet the Prince.  She says the hat won't go with the dress she has for her. 

Caroline in now inside the palace, but she has to wait for George.  George finally comes in, looking a bit disheveled.  He walks over to Caroline and air kisses her on both sides of her face.  Without a word to her, he turns and leaves.  Caroline tells Malmesbury that the Prince is extremely rude.  But maybe the dinner will go better.

The dinner was not a great success.  The Princess talked and talked in a way that was flippant, coarse and vulgar.  She was especially critical of Lady Jersey.  She told the dinner guests that her own father had a mistress. 

The Prince now thoroughly and positively hates Caroline.  Three days later, they marry.  During the ceremony the Prince is quite drunk.  He takes a very long pause before he finally answers:  "I will." 

What Caroline doesn't know is that the Prince has a big secret.  He is already married.  He married Maria Fitzherbert when he was only 22 years old.  He really had to work on her saying things like:  "I will not live unless you promise to be my wife."  Maria says it's against the law, but George refused to take no for an answer.  He opened up an old wound of his and smeared the blood on his clothing.  Maria comes to him and sees him all bloody and falls for the little trick. 

It was a secret marriage of ten years.  But now he loves Lady Jersey. 

On George's wedding night to Caroline he stays drunk and when he comes into the bedroom he falls on the floor.  In the morning, however, he does his conjugal duty.  There was not much of a honeymoon and after two weeks, the couple lived separately. 

Poor George.  He was expecting to get some money from Caroline's family, but he got none because the creditors swooped down and grabbed all the money.  Caroline is forbidden to see anyone of whom the Prince disapproves.  He has Lady Jersey serve as a companion to Caroline.  He himself spends as little time as possible with the woman from Brunswick.  Caroline says:  "I hate Lady Jersey."

After awhile, Caroline finds some new friends: the newspaper men.  And in the papers she is referred to as a "state prisoner".  From that one and only encounter between the prince and princess of Wales, a baby girl named Charlotte was born.   The Prince is sad because the people of Britain seem to like Caroline, but not him.  To get back at Caroline he writes his will, while crying like a child, giving only one shilling to the Princess of Wales.  Most of the money will go to Mrs. Fitzherbert. 

Caroline fights back.  She wants to get rid of Lady Jersey.  George tells Caroline that she knew about this even before she came to Britain.  She tells George that he is never again to even try to produce another heir with her.  He quickly agrees to this idea. 

Caroline now writes to the king.  He is sympathetic to Caroline and removes Lady Jersey from her quarters. 

George feels his situation is intolerable.  He is hissed and booed wherever he goes.  Meanwhile, they still cheer for Caroline.  The two meet once more face to face.  Caroline has been in Britain for two and a half years.  She tells George that she has nothing more to say to him.  And she considers herself no longer bound by his orders.  George demands a formal separation, but the King refuses the idea. 

Caroline moves to a house away from the royals.  She has many dinners with many eligible bachelors invited. Prince George woos Mrs. Fitzherbert again and is able to recapture her heart. This does not help George's reputation.  An air of opprobrium surrounded the relationship.

Lord Liverpool comes to Prince George with a report about the men in Caroline's life:  Sir Thomas Lawrence; George Canning; Admiral Sidney Smith; Captain Thomas Manley; and the honorable Henry Hood.  Caroline's neighbors, Sir John and Lady Douglass, made the list.  And there is a report that Caroline has had a bastard child she has named William. Caroline has been virtually collecting children.  All these children could be a possible cover for William, because she could always say William is just another child that stays with her.

Caroline became extremely outrageous, always seeking amusement and becoming more imprudent everyday.  In fact, at times she ran riot.  King George himself  is gradually going mad.  Prince George is made the regent.  As regent he restricts Caroline's access to her daughter. 

Caroline gets a lawyer, Henry Brougham, to fight back.  She winds up making Henry famous.  A letter from Caroline is published in the newspapers.  Henry fed the letter to the press.  High society kept their distance from Caroline.  She says that this is the final humiliation and she is leaving to go back to Germany.  Caroline is informed that the Prince could divorce her.  She replies:  "I'm tired of this life that cannot get any better."

George's new confidant is Lady Hartford.  Caroline travels for six years. 

Lord Liverpool is now the prime minister, but he still keeps track of Caroline.  She has been seeing a great deal of this Italian fellow Pagami. 

Princess Charlotte dies at the age of 19 giving birth to a still-born child. 

Liverpool says that he now has 85 people who will testify that Caroline had adulterous relationships with Pagami. 

Prince George's father, the king, dies.  The living George asks Liverpool if Caroline knows about the death of his father?  Caroline not only knows, she's on her way to London.  The new king demands that Caroline be intercepted.  She is met by Mr. Brougham and Lord Hutchinson.  They give her the news that the king will give her 50,000 pounds per year if she will taken another title instead of queen.  They want her to become Duchess of Cornwell. 

Caroline proceeds to London.  She is cheered all the way there.  She says she wants to attend the coronation and be crowned with her husband.  The king screams:  "I will be divorced."

Caroline learns that they are going to pass a bill of pains and penalties.  This would strip Caroline of her title and dissolve her marriage.  And she will be put on trial for her behavior.  Furthermore, she cannot call the king to testify at her trial.  Only Caroline's reputation will be on trial. 

The Queen goes on trial.  She is accused of adulterous intercourse.  The prosecution calls 85 of Caroline's former employees.  A maid testifies as to the white stains of semen on Caroline's bed sheets. 

The country becomes obsessed with the queen.  There are demonstrations on behalf of Caroline.  She is brought 8,000 signatures of support from Edinburgh, Scotland.  The trial goes on for more than three months.  Meanwhile, George hides in Windsor Castle.  The bill of pains and penalties does not pass.  It looks like the queen has won.  The problem, however, is all those months of testimony has destroyed Caroline's reputation.

Caroline comes to the coronation, but she has no ticket.  The doorman tells her that no one is allowed to enter without a ticket.  This proved to be her last act of defiance.  The people stop cheering and begin jeering Caroline.  They shout things like:  "Go back to Pagami."  The wonderful show of the king's coronation also wins over the people to King George.

Caroline develops stomach cancer.  She says that she wants to be buried in Brunswick.  She also says:  "I die without regret."  She dies.  At the time, George is on his way to Ireland.  He learns his wife is dead.  George celebrates his 59th birthday in Dublin, Ireland, dead drunk.  Caroline has on her grave:  "Caroline of Brunswick.  The injured Queen of England."


 

This film reminds me of the whole scandal that swirled around Prince Charles and Princess Diana.  Caroline like Diana wanted to make the marriage work, but like Prince Charles, Prince George has one and more women he loves rather than Caroline.  This starts a terrible fight between the pair and Caroline like Diana turned to the press for help.  And like Diana, Caroline got the sympathy of the people, whereas like Charles, Prince George got the criticism.  This kind of situation arises when there are such strict rules surrounding royal marriages that often the sovereigns can't marry those they want to marry.  The result seems to be unhappiness for all.

Richard E. Grant was very good as the spoiled, crybaby Prince of Wales.  He even looked like a big baby.  And Ian Richardson was good as the narrator. 

In one sense the film is a tragedy, but it is also a comedy because of all the silly things that happen because royals sometimes can't marry the ones they love. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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