Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson: A new drama sheds light on the abdication. Photocredit: Channel 4
The story of the abdication of Edward VIII for his love of Wallis Simpson well-represented in media: there was the huge success of The King’s Speech; there’s also Madonna’s biopic of Simpson, W.E. Edward VII: The Plot to Topple a King is a Channel 4 docudrama that takes a different perspective on the motivations and details of the event. It chooses to focus on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, who “believed that Edward VIII’s love for Wallis Simpson made a mockery of all that he stood for and threatened the Crown and the Church of England,” said the Channel 4 website. David Calder played the Archbishop; Louise Wardle produced and directed.
The show focuses on what The Telegraph calls “the first media archbishop”. Lang exerted pressure on the editor of The Times to influence the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, to take steps towards ensuring Edward’s abdication, to be replaced by his brother Albert (who became King George VI.) Here’s what the critics think.
“One hopes that whoever succeeds Rowan Williams won’t take their inspiration from Edward VIII: the Plot to Topple a King,” said Iain Hollingshead on The Telegraph.
Tension and intrigue
What’s on TV’s website describes the documentary as “more a conspiracy thriller than a simple retelling of the facts.” This is a view shared by Lucy Mangan from The Guardian, who praises the “wonderful job” done in “recreating the passion and intrigue, as the unholy trinity bent circumstances to their will.” She describes the portrayal of the swift changing of public alliances, after the Archbishop spoke out publicly condemning Edward, as impressive: “So well did the programme capture the intensity of it all that as the credits rolled you had to shake your head a little to clear it.” The Telegraph described this speech as “a spectacularly ill-judged act of hypocrisy” that added “insult to injury” following the abdication.
According to Metro the documentary is based on a new perspective to that shown in The King’s Speech. It takes its evidence from “unpublished diaries, personal notes and Lang’s own secret account of the abdication” which were found in Lambeth Palace.
Archbishop of animosity
The critics are united in focusing on the hostility and fervour of the Archbishop in this documentary. The Guardian describes the lengths to which Lang went to effect “a royal coup […] even suggesting that he [Edward] was deranged”: The Radio Times’ Alison Graham goes further: Lang “is painted here as a shady power broker and poison-dripper.”
Could he be justified?
The Telegraph’s Iain Hollingshead says that some of Lang’s actions could be justified: ‘some of the Archbishop’s behavior could be excused as the actions of a man trying to do what he fervently thought best – not just for himself, but for the country, the monarchy and the Church,” adding that “ at least everyone from the Duke of Cambridge to Colin Firth to everyone who enjoyed The King’s Speech can be grateful for what he did.”