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The People's Princess by Shelagh Stephenson

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BBC Radio 4, 11 December 2008
 
Shelagh Stephenson's play told the story of the tempestuous relationship between Prince George - later to become King George IV (Alex Jennings) and Princess Caroline of Brunswick (Rebecca Saire). It began as an arranged marriage, where the two partners had not been introduced to one another beforehand. From the start they understood they were incompatible: George perceived Caroline as an ugly, publicity-loving harridan, while Caroline considered her husband a greedy tyrant, prone to outbursts of childish temper. Relations between the two proceed from bad to worse: George asks Caroline for a divorce, which she quite naturally refuses, not wanting to give up the perks of the job such as money and great houses. George responds by initiating a court case, alleging that Caroline has behaved improperly with other men. Several witnesses are called to testify; but their so-called evidence is proved false by the lawyer Henry Brougham (Julian Rhind-Tutt). Caroline emerges from the trial on the crest of a wave; she can apparently do no wrong in most people's eyes.
 
However publicity can be a fickle mistress. Prince George is ultimately crowned king, and true to form he excludes Caroline from the ceremony. She appeals to public opinion, but discovers to her cost that people have turned against her. They actively desire a coronation ceremony, as a way of celebrating British traditions, and have no more time for petty squabbling. Caroline ends her days as a social outcast, doomed to live life on the margins in spite of her attractive personality.
 
The People's Princess was designed to resonate with contemporary audiences familiar with similar battles between Prince Charles and Princess Diana (hence the title.) However Stephenson made the perfectly valid point that the majority of the British people were concerned to maintain tradition rather than watch the unedifying prospect of the monarchy destroying itself. This may be true; but as the outcry following Princess Diana's death in 1998 revealed, the monarchy still has to adapt itself to accommodate the people's wishes. Perhaps we need more People's Princesses to ensure this happens more frequently. The director was Eoin O'Callaghan.