The heir to the British throne prunes brambles with a hand sickle and empties buckets of compost in “Harmony,” a documentary on NBC that showcases Prince Charles’s pet environmental causes.
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The film, made by the independent filmmakers Julie Bergman Sender and Stuart Sender, is part of a royal twofer being broadcast on Friday evening at 10 p.m. right after an hourlong interview with the NBC anchor Brian Williams, which Prince Charles gave in August and which focuses more intently on his marriages — and on his son William’s imminent one — than on biodiversity. In what looks like a quid pro prince, NBC agreed to broadcast “Harmony” as part of NBC Universal’s annual Green Week.
As it turned out, the timing of the interview and of the documentary, coming on the heels of the splashy engagement announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton this week, was lucky for NBC.
It also seemed like a fortuitous case of sustainable royal marketing — the prince indulges the kind of media curiosity he despises in exchange for the chance to expound, uninterrupted, for an hour on primetime television. (Royalty has many privileges, but one curse is that interviewers rarely ask about the topics royals most want to discuss; Hollywood celebrities like Brad Pitt have less breeding but a lot more clout.)
Friday nights attract smaller audiences than most other nights, but at least Charles, the Prince of Wales, was expected to face little competition. But as with so many chapters in Prince Charles’s oft-overshadowed life, his royal manifesto is up against someone else’s star power, this time that of Cher, America’s Queen Diva, who gave an interview to Cynthia McFadden for ABC’s “20/20.”
In the opening of “Harmony” Prince Charles explains his life’s work, saying, “I don’t want my grandchildren or yours to come along and say to me, ‘Why the hell didn’t you do something; you knew what the problem was.’ ” Viewers still immersed in royal-wedding fever may be a bit startled, wondering if he is talking about the decline of the British monarchy.
He is, in fact, talking about green energy sources and investing in sustainable agriculture. He gives a tour of the Duchy Home Farm, which he converted in 1986 to organic farming, noting that at the time it was “something that nobody really wanted to know about except a few people who thought it was pretty crazy.” He says it with a hint of told-you-so smugness, which is understandable given how the British tabloids painted him back then (tree-hugging kook).
There is even an archival clip, some 20 years old, of a young Prince Charles discussing the need for greater international cooperation with a young Al Gore, who was also mocked for his eco-passions before eventually receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
“Harmony” also interviews farmers and environmentalists across the globe — in rural India, the coast of British Columbia and even in Louisiana, where a Cajun farmer explains that he was driven to organic farming by the high cost of pesticides and fuel. In a faded work skirt and baseball cap, the farmer delivers a homespun, heartfelt testimonial to sustainable agriculture, then adds with a grin, “You’d think me and the prince went to school together, but we didn’t.”
The panoramic scenery in places like British Columbia and India is breathtaking and beautifully filmed, the experts are well spoken and persuasive, and there are inspiring stories of cooperation between environmentalists and loggers to protect the Canadian rain forest. But, oddly, “Harmony” suffers from the same problem as “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the TLC reality series: the back story and ulterior motives of its star at times blunt the show’s stated purpose.
Just as Ms. Palin seems at times to be using the Alaskan wilderness as a scenic backdrop to her political ambition, Prince Charles appears to be organically plowing the earth’s surface in search of personal vindication.
And while “Harmony” is serious-minded and the prince’s dedication is quite admirable, there is something a bit stagy and embarrassing to his presentation. The prince strides through fields of flowers in a frayed jacket and muddied boots like a country squire, and poses pensively on a windswept hilltop with the Castle of Mey, a royal summer residence in Scotland, looming behind him. He speaks passionately, but with a slow, plummy emphasis on even ordinary words that is distracting to an American ear.
“Sarah Palin’s Alaska” is a visual paean to Alaska that wouldn’t be possible on cable television without its star and is somehow cheapened by her presence. The same is true of “Harmony.” No network would devote an hour to Prince Charles’s pet cause if the prince himself didn’t participate, but it’s a little unnatural to watch the Prince of Wales preen as he pays tribute to nature.