With us today and writing his As You Like It for a contemporary audience, Shakespeare might have his character Jacques muse: "All the world's a film and television drama, perhaps a lavish soap opera like The Crown, and all the men and women and women merely that popular series' cast."
Last Thursday morning, thinking my usually reliable ears must be deceiving their owner, I heard UK 'royal commentator' Margaret Holder telling her ABC radio interviewer the strangest things.
I thought I heard Ms Holder opine that the monarchy may not long survive the passing of Her Majesty because the people are about to find out all about the innate awfulness of her successors, King Charles III and his queen consort Camilla. The people are going to find it out, Holder said, from the now-screening feature film Spencer and from the next series, screening in September, of the TV drama The Crown.
The new series, Holder informs, "will show the breakdown of the Charles-Diana marriage and how much she [Diana] suffered".
I could almost have sworn I heard Holder say "a whole new younger generation" is going to be educated (by a feature film and by a drama series) about Diana's tragedy and adulterous Charles' and Camilla's vile part in it. "I don't think Charles and Camilla will be forgiven," my ears seemed to report Ms Holder saying.
Later, going back to the interview, I found my ears had been telling the truth. Holder was saying matter-of-factly, as if expressing an obvious truth (as obvious as, say, that the Pope is a Catholic, that birds fly and fish swim, that our just-deposed PM seldom told the truth) that feature films and TV dramas are not fictions but are reportage.
Holder believes "a whole new younger generation" will find these entertainments as truthful and persuasive as the most cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die documentaries.
One does not want to believe people can be such flibbertigibbets, so unable to differentiate between screen dramas and real life (whatever real life is). But Holder (who herself rather sounds as if she is looking forward to the next The Crown as a scholarly history lesson, as a costume documentary) is probably right. We can be a simple, superstitious, gullible species.
Just to digress (but only a little) for a moment I confide my dear commoner consort and I are thinking seriously of holidaying ere long at the Faroe Islands.
Well-travelled, we are enthusiasts for the wild, windswept, puffin-nesting places of the north. The Faroes beckon.
But wait! At the time of writing we are engrossed (thank you SBS on Demand) in a Nordic noir TV drama Tromp, set in the Faroes. It is depicting the Faroes as a cruel, dangerous, bloody, lawless place of frequent murders, fist fights in bars, police and business corruptions and miscellaneous horrors galore. If we were simpletons my dear wife and I, seeing all this might gasp: "Crikey, we're not going to the menacing and terrible Faroes. The Faroese would butcher us in our beds. We'll go somewhere safe and nice, like Bali, even though it has no puffins, instead."
But of course, grown up, we fancy that the Faroes and Faroese of a TV murder-drama bear no resemblance to reality. Faroes, here we come!
But perhaps it would be in vain that one would try to point out to Holder's "whole new younger generation" that screen entertainments are never going to allow the wet blanket of truth-telling to smother a good, lurid, shocking, titillating story. One can just see that generation (and perhaps the TV-watching lower orders generally) responding to that sort of warning with a bewildered: "Wot do you mean?"
It is not that it always a bad thing to believe a play is the truth. Cultured people love Shakespeare and love opera, and get the soul-nourishing best out of them when we are able to immerse ourselves in them.
In a great performance of Hamlet one never doubts there really is a revenge-seeking and woebegone ghost clanking about on the battlements of a grim Norwegian castle.
Watching Mozart's The Magic Flute for two-and-a-half hours one willingly holidays in an enchanted world in which magic, truth, honour and music triumph over evil and enable true love and true goodness to triumph.
But, somehow, dramas like The Crown are preying on simple minds. They practise the sneaky deception that what we see is archival footage (albeit thrill-enhanced, sexy archival footage) of events as they happened.
Portrayers of Prince Hamlet on stage are chosen only for their acting but producers of The Crown make a point of choosing actors who are lookalikes (their lookalikeness further enhanced by makeup and costume and voice coaching) of the figures of history they are portraying.
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So it comes to pass that in the upcoming The Crown the role of Diana has been given to an eerily Diana-looking Elizabeth Debicki. Can Ms Debicki act at all? Will it even matter, to the show's devotees?
Why am I being so curmudgeonly about this? Perhaps (for I am a journalist and so feel a sacred obligation to tell the truth) I have funny old ideas about truth-telling and so find fibbing, truth-distorting TV dramas ethically knicker-knotting.
When Australia becomes a republic I will join in the delirious dancing in the streets. But it will disappoint if instead of this wonder coming to pass because Australia has at last grown up what has turned us against things monarchical is a made-up, tinselly TV drama's depiction of Charles III and Camilla his queen consort as unforgivable brutes.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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