The private lives of public people enthrall us, and none piques our interest more than the closely guarded and fiercely private British royal family. A new series on E! offers a peek behind palace gates into the world of fictitious British royals whose world is filled with regal tradition and protocol, but rife with scandal, intrigue and backstabbing drama. E! teases that its juicy series, The Royals, is “Anarchy in the monarchy.”
Reigning over the melee is Queen Helena, deliciously played by Elizabeth Hurley. Hurley’s Helena has an obsession with controlling the image of the family and thinks nothing of using her power to change public perception and squash anything that may jeopardize her family’s good standing. Hurley reveals that she sought inspiration from powerful women, both expected and surprising. “I thought to myself, when I got offered this part, ‘What would it have been like if Princess Diana had become Queen of England?’” And for her character’s deceptive and darker tones, Hurley drew from the world of Disney, especially villainess Cruella De Vil.
“It’s a family drama,” says series creator Mark Schwahn. “It’s about a family. They just happen to be a royal family.” Hurley agrees and adds, “I think most people will never stop enjoying the crowns and the thrones, [but] you will just end up being involved in a mother, a daughter, and sibling rivalry — it’s just a family at the end. We just happen to be the most famous family in the world, but it is just a family. When we sit around the kitchen table, snapping at each other, it’s like our own families, really. It’s just that we’re wearing crowns!”
But, a royal family shouldn’t be confused with the royal family. The series doesn’t seek to make any comment or connection to the actual British monarchy. But Hurley is confident that if Britain’s royals do tune in, they’ll like what they see. “I think they’ll love it! They’ll love it like they could love Gossip Girl or Dynasty. It’s TV fun,” she says. And one thing Hurley has found fun about her role is the pomp of playing queen. “On the shallow side, you do sit there in your crown and your diamonds on your throne and think, ‘Yeah, it feels pretty good actually; I’m really enjoying this.’ It’s good to be queen a few hours a day.”
In the first episode of The Royals, the unseen heir apparent to the British throne dies, thrusting his brother, party boy Prince Liam, into a spotlight for which he hasn’t been groomed. As he struggles with going from “the spare” to the heir, Liam’s twin, Princess Eleanor, masks her frustration at the confines of her royal destiny by living a wild party life that would make a celebutante blush. Queen Helena unleashes her claws into her unruly and unwilling children in delightful repartee. But sweet-natured Hurley says it’s hard to slip into Queen Helena’s bullying and manipulative shoes. “I’ve felt, actually, really bad on the days that I had to be really nasty,” she reveals. “The worm will turn, undoubtedly, but for now, Mummy can still overpower.”
The grand dame of The Royals’ cast is Dame Joan Collins, lending her regality to the plum role of Grand Duchess of Oxford — a.k.a. Queen Helena’s mother. Collins gets to deliver some of the show’s snarkiest zingers, and Hurley is glad to finally get to share the screen with her friend, revealing, “We’ve often discussed how much we’d love to play mummy and daughter.”
The series films outside of London in Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and also uses Wilton House and Goldsmiths’ Hall as grandiose and glorious shooting locations. “I don’t think there’s many shows now that are shot in that opulence and extravagance and luxury,” says Hurley, who loves that The Royals mixes sumptuous locations with the show’s modern storylines, costuming and dialogue to keep the series fresh and cutting edge.
Minutes before I sat down with Hurley, it was announced the series had been picked up for a second season, which is quite a coup considering not a single episode has aired. When I asked her about her hopes for Season 2, Hurley breathlessly revealed, “All I’ve asked for is a catfight!”
The Royals > E! > Sundays at 10pm ET beginning March 15
The Royals on thrones:Photo by: James Dimmock/E! Entertainment
Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena Photo by: Paul Blundell/E! Entertainment
The Royals on Steps Photo by: Paul Blundell/E! Entertainment