History of British Queens On Screen

With both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots arriving on the big screen this month, Cinema Paradiso starts 2019 with a look at how film-makers have portrayed the queens and consorts who have played a part in shaping the history of the British Isles.

The screen history of Britain begins in pre-Roman times with a couple of adaptations of William Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The 1983 BBC version cast Claire Bloom as the Queen alongside Richard Johnson, while Milla Jovovich and Ed Harris were paired in Michael Almereyda's Anarchy (2014).

We should also mention Gruoch ingen Boite, the wife of the Red King who briefly ruled Scotland in the decade before the Norman Conquest. If the name doesn't sound familiar, you may know her better as Lady Macbeth, who began sleepwalking with guilt after persuading her husband to fulfil the prediction of three witches by murdering King Duncan in Shakespeare's 'Scottish play'. Since Louise Carver took the role in J. Stuart Blackton's Macbeth (1908), Lady M has been played by Jeanette Nolan for actor-director Orson Welles (1948), Francesca Annis for Roman Polanski (1971), Judi Dench for Trevor Nunn (1978), Piper Laurie for Arthur Allan Seidelman (1981), Jane Lapotaire for Jack Gold (1983), Zoë Wanamaker for Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (1992), Helen Baxendale for Jeremy Freeston and Brian Blessed (1997), Victoria Hill for Geoffrey Wright (2006), Kate Fleetwood for Rupert Goold (2010) and Marion Cotillard for Justin Kurzel (2015) - most of which are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

Thorns and Roses

There's no better starting place for an insight into the role that royal women have played in shaping Britain's fortunes than Horrible Histories (2009-16), the BBC's tongue-in-cheek take on the bestselling books written by Terry Deary. However, there's also much to commend weightier documentary series by such esteemed historians as David Starkey and Simon Schama, while Helen Castor provides an invaluable overview of the medieval period in She-Wolves: England's Early Queens (2012). 

Several of the characters discussed in this three-part series had also featured in the BBC's excellent 13-part mini-series, The Devil's Crown (1978), which is long overdue a DVD release. Among them is Maud or Matilda, who fought her cousin Stephen for the English throne during the bloody civil war that provides the backdrop to the Ellis Peters whodunits dramatised in the four series of Cadfael (1994-98) that starred Derek Jacobi as the eponymous sleuthing monk.

Martita Hunt essayed the empress in Peter Glenville's interpretation of Jean Anouilh's play Becket (1964), since when she has also been played by Alison Pill in Serge Mimica-Gezzan's tele-version of Ken Follet's novel, The Pillars of the Earth (2010), and by Brenda Bruce in The Devil's Crown, which also saw rare screen appearances by Mathilda of Boulogne (Margaret O'Brien), Berengaria of Navarre (Zoë Wanamaker) and Isabella of Angoulême (Lynsey Baxter), the respective wives of kings Stephen, Richard I and John. Also very much to the fore was Jane Lapotaire as Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first wife of Henry II, who has also cropped up in such small-screen adventures as Richard the Lionheart (Prudence Hyman, 1963), Ivanhoe (Siân Phillips, 1997) and Robin Hood (Lynda Bellingham, 2007).

Eleanor also featured fleetingly in the form of Pamela Brown in Becket and Eileen Atkins in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010), while Debbie Rochon has to endure the indignity of being kidnapped by Derek Allen's Henry II in Stefano Milla's Richard the Lionheart: Rebellion (2014). But she was very much centre stage in Anthony Harvey's The Lion in Winter (1968), which earned Katharine Hepburn her third Academy Award for Best Actress, as an Eleanor summoned from a nunnery to spend Christmas 1183 with her estranged husband, Henry (Peter O'Toole), and her feuding sons, Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle) and John (Nigel Terry). Glenn Close assumed the role alongside Patrick Stewart for Andrei Konchalovsky's 2003 tele-remake, which is also available to rent.

Historians seem certain that Berengaria is the only English queen never to have actually set foot in her realm, first played by Loretta Young in Cecil B. DeMille's The Crusades (1935), and Sheila Whittingham in the BBC's aforementioned Richard the Lionheart. She remains as much an elusive character as her sister-in-law, Isabella of Angoulême, who has also been played Victoria Abril in Richard Lester's Robin and Marian (1976) and Léa Seydoux in the 2010 Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood.

Namesake Isabella of France has also put in a couple of screen appearances, with Tilda Swinton playing her as a spurned femme fatale seeking revenge on her husband (Steven Waddington) and his gay lover, Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), in Derek Jarman's evocative adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II (1991). However, Sophie Marceau's interpretation of the so-called 'She-Wolf of France' in Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995) is shrouded in historical inaccuracy, as Randall Wallace's screenplay has her engaging in a romantic liaison with William Wallace (Gibson) despite the fact he had been hung, drawn and quartered in 1305, when Isabella was nine years old.

Little has been seen on screen of the queens who came immediately after this turbulent period. Edward III's consort, Philippa of Hainault, has been played by Françoise Burgi and Marie de Villepin in the 1972 and 2005 French television adaptations of Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings novels, while both portrayals of Richard II's first spouse Anne of Bohemia, by Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (1938) and Joyce Heron (1948) in live BBC productions of Elizabeth MacIntosh's play, Richard of Bordeaux, have been lost forever. Fortunately, somebody at the BBC remembered to record Janet Maw's cameo as Isabella of Valois opposite Derek Jacobi in the BBC Shakespeare Collection version of Richard II (1978), but it's not currently possible to assess Sian Thomas's turn in Deborah Warner's 1997 interpretation, which made history by casting Irish actress Fiona Shaw in the title role.

Hailing from the same royal house, Katherine of Valois was given some pretty speeches by Shakespeare and they are delivered with various degrees of Gallic coquettishness by Renée Asherson, Jocelyn Boisseau and Emma Thompson to Laurence Olivier, David Gwillim and Kenneth Branagh in the feature versions of Henry V that straddle the 1979 BBC adaptation. Moving into the Yorkist era, Olivier cast Mary Kerridge as Queen Elizabeth Woodville and Claire Bloom as future wife Anne Neville in his 1955 take on Richard III, while Annette Bening and Kristin Scott Thomas were respectively teamed with Ian McKellen in Richard Loncraine's Richard III (1995), which also diverted dialogue from another character for Kate Steavenson-Payne to speak as Elizabeth of York.

Such tweaks are common with a play whose production has been the subject of two documentaries, Al Pacino's Looking For Richard (1996) and Jeremy Whalehan's NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014), which followed Kevin Spacey's company on tour. In addition to respectively featuring Penelope Allen and Winona Ryder and Haydn Gwynne and Annabel Scholey as Elizabeth and Anne, these actualities also found room for Oscar winner Estelle Parsons and Gemma Jones to play Margaret of Anjou, the dowager queen who also appears in all three parts of Shakespeare's Henry VI.

Julia Foster plays Margaret in each of Jane Howell's BBC adaptations, as well as in Richard III, in which she is joined by Rowena Cooper as Elizabeth and Zoë Wanamaker as Anne. There are queens galore in two more epic BBC series based around the Wars of the Roses. Weaving together plotlines from Shakespeare, The Hollow Crown (2012) includes Clémence Poésy as Isabella of Valois, Mélanie Thierry as Katherine of Valois, Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou, Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville and Phoebe Fox as Anne Neville. Meanwhile, Philippa Gregory's literary trilogy, The Cousins' War, has spawned The White Queen (2013) and The White Princess (2017). The former cast Veerle Baetens as Margaret of Anjou, Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville, Faye Marsay as Anne Neville and Freya Mavor as Elizabeth of York, while the latter saw Essie Davis take on the role of the widowed Elizabeth Woodville and Jodie Comer play her daughter, Elizabeth, who helped unite the factions under the Tudor rose by marrying Henry VII in 1485.

Just to tidy up the Yorkists, Elizabeth Woodville was played by Violet Farebrother in Frank R. Benson's Richard III (1911), which can be found on the BFI's Silent Shakespeare. Barbara O'Neil took the role in Rowland V. Lee's Universal horror, Tower of London (1939), which also saw Rose Hobart essay the part of Anne. They were succeeded by Sarah Selby and Joan Camden in Tower of London (1962), Roger Corman's low-budget take on the murder of the princes in the Tower.

Six Wives

Tudor history got an extra helping of queens because Henry VIII needed a spare heir. He had already gone to a lot of trouble to persuade the pope to let him to marry the widow of his late brother, Arthur. But, when Catharine of Aragon failed to produce a son after giving birth to Princess Mary in 1516, Henry concluded that he was being punished for his sins and asked his ministers to arrange an annulment so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, who had first taken his fancy in 1526. This is where film-makers start to take notice, as few have shown much interest in the Merrie Monarch's first 35 years.

Violet Vanbrugh and Laura Cowie were the first to portray Catherine and Anne in a 1911 adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VIII that was co-directed by William Barker and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. German actresses Hedwig Pauly-Winterstein and Henny Porten took up the roles in Ernst Lubitsch's masterly kostümfilm, Anna Boleyn (1920), which also featured Hilde Müller as Princess Mary and Aud Egede-Nissen as Anne's successor, Jane Seymour. Available from Cinema Paradiso on the Lubitsch in Berlin collection, this silent gem boasts a larger-than-life performance by Emil Jennings as Bluff King Hal and Charles Laughton followed his lead in landing the Oscar for Best Actor with his impish turn in Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), which dispensed with Catherine in casting Merle Oberon as Anne, Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour, Elsa Lanchester (who was Mrs Laughton) as Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as Catherine Howard and Everley Gregg as Catherine Parr, who survived the various divorces and beheadings to reach widowhood in 1547.

Not all of the screen showdowns between Catherine and Anne are currently available to rent, although they rarely share scenes together anyway. But, while Irene Papas and the Oscar-nominated Geneviève Bujold were kept apart in Charles Jarrott's Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Frances Cuka and Charlotte Rampling had a frostily tense exchange in Waris Hussein's Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), which saw Australian actor Keith Michell reprise the title role after his standout display in the BBC mini-series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), which had earned Annette Crosbie a BAFTA for her work as Catherine. Dorothy Tutin had played Anne, while the remainder of the sextet was made up by Anne Stallybrass (Jane Seymour), Elvi Hale (Anne of Cleves), Angela Pleasence (Catherine Howard) and Rosalie Crutchley (Catherine Parr). Michell's other big-screen paramours wereJane Asher (Jane Seymour), Jenny Bos (Anne of Cleves), Lynne Frederick (Catherine Howard) and Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Catherine Parr).

Several other series have returned to Henry's harem, with Ray Winstone's spouses in Henry VIII (2003) being Assumpta Serna, Helena Bonham Carter, Emilia Fox, Pia Girard, Emily Blunt and Clare Holman, while Jonathan Rhys Meyers was paired off with Maria Doyle Kennedy, Natalie Dormer, Annabelle Wallis, Joss Stone, Tamzin Merchant and Joely Richardson in The Tudors (2007). More recently, Yolanda Vaquez and Ana Torrent squared up to Jodhi May and Natalie Portman in the 2003 and 2008 film adaptations of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, while Joanne Whalley and Claire Foy became caught up in the machinations of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) in the BBC take on Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall (2015), which also features Kate Phillips as Jane Seymour.

Never ones to stick to the facts, producer Peter Rogers, director Gerald Thomas and screenwriter Talbot Rothwell lopped off the head of the unnamed queen played by Patsy Rowlands at the start of Carry On Henry (1971) before tempting King Sidney James with the garlic-munching Marie of France (Joan Sims), Catherine Howard (Monika Dietrich) and a buxom courtier named Bettina (Barbara Windsor). Among the other variations on the theme, Vanessa Redgrave had the field to herself as Anne Boleyn in Fred Zinnemann's A Man for All Seasons (1966), while Jean Marsh embodies characteristics of all six queens opposite TP McKenna in John Walsh's Monarch (2000).

In passing, we should note that Jane Seymour was played by Lesley Paterson in Anne of the Thousand Days and (as a young lady-in-waiting) by Anita Briem in The Tudors, while Deborah Kerr, Rosalie Crutchley and Kate Holderness take the role of Catherine Parr in George Sidney's Young Bess (1953), the BBC's Elizabeth R (1971) and Channel Five's Elizabeth I (2017). Moreover, various actresses mummed recreated situations in David Starkey's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001), Chris Holt's Channel 5 series, Henry VIII and His Six Wives, and Six Wives With Lucy Worsley (both 2016).

We should also pause to mention the Tudor extravaganza served up at 742 Evergreen Terrace in the 2004 'Margical Mystery Tour' episode of The Simpsons, which can be found on Disco Two of the Series 15 collection. Homer plays Henry VIII, who is married to Margerine of Aragon (Marge), who has born him a daughter named Mary (Lisa). He decides he would rather marry Anne Boleyn (Lindsay Naegle), despite being unimpressed by a dream about his son, Edward (Bart), but he also ends up wedding and beheading Jane Seymour (Miss Springfield), Anne of Cleves (Barney) and Catherine Parr (Agnes Skinner). And, in case you thought we'd forgotten, Selma Bouvier also gets to play Elizabeth I in 'Four Great Women and a Manicure' (2009), which appears in Series 20.

Two Tudor Sisters and Their Scottish Cousin

The short reign of Edward VI has primarily interested film-makers because of Mark Twain's fantasy, The Prince and the Pauper, which sees Henry VIII's son accidentally trade places with a London urchin. Among the characters is Lady Jane Grey, who was the boy king's first cousin once removed and, as a fellow Protestant, was deemed a better successor than his Catholic sister, Mary. Jane is played by Anne Howard, Felicity Dean and Perdita Weeks in William Keighley's 1937, Richard Fleischer's 1977 and Giles Foster's 2000 adaptations of Twain's timeless tale, which are all available from Cinema Paradiso.

However, Jane's nine-day reign has also been the subject of two weightier dramas, Robert Stevenson's Tudor Rose (1936) and Trevor Nunn's Lady Jane (1986), in which the doomed pretender was played by Nova Pilbeam and Helena Bonham Carter, while Gwen Ffrancgon Davies and Jane Lapotaire took the role of Queen Mary. On the small screen, Sarah Frampton was cast as Jane in the BBC's Elizabeth R, while Amber Beattie landed the part in 'Lost in Time' (2010), a two-part episode in Series Four of the Doctor Who spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

History is always written by the victors and, consequently, Mary I has been known as 'Bloody Mary' since first being demonised in the reign of her half-sister, Elizabeth, by the chroniclers of the 283 Protestants who were martyred between 1553-58. She was notably played by Jeanne Delvair in Alberto Capellani's Marie Tudor (1912), an adaptation of a play by Victor Hugo that sought to exploit the vogue for the film d'art style of historical melodrama. But she was very much a minor character in being essayed by Nicola Pagett in Anne of the Thousand Days, Verina Greenlaw and Alison Frazer in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Daphne Slater in Elizabeth R, Lara Belmont in Henry VIII, Joanne Whalley in The Virgin Queen (2005), Constance Stride in the feature version of The Other Boleyn Girl, Lily Lesser in Wolf Hall, and by Daisy Ashford in Elizabeth I (all of which have been mentioned above).

In Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth (1998), Kathy Burke offered a more sensitive reading of the role, as she showed Mary to be suffering the psychological scars of her mother's betrayal, her own troubled marriage to Philip II of Spain and her determination to restore the Catholic faith. The most nuanced recent interpretation came from Sarah Bolger in The Tudors, who followed Bláthnaid McKeown's depiction of Mary as a girl to reveal the pain and passion aroused by her father's decision to abandon Rome and become the head of the Church of England.

While Mary has been misunderstood and marginalised by film-makers, Elizabeth I has exerted such a fascination that she has become the second most-filmed English monarch, with over 120 actresses (and one or two actors) having taken the role since Sarah Bernhardt starred in Louis Mercanton's epochal film d'art, Queen Elizabeth (1912). Athene Seyler started a trend for playing Good Queen Bess twice in Royal Cavalcade and Drake of England (both 1935) and this has subsequently been continued by Flora Robson (Fire Over England, 1937 & The Sea Hawk, 1940), Bette Davis (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939 & The Virgin Queen, 1955), two-time Emmy winner Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth R & Mary, Queen of Scots, both 1971) and dual Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998 & Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2007).

Intriguingly, Yvette Pienne appeared as both Mary and Elizabeth (as well as Queen Victoria) in Sacha Guitry's The Pearls in the Crown (1937), since when the role has attracted such stars as Jenny Runacre (Jubilee, 1978), Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson (Anonymous, 2011), and Helen McCrory (Bill, 2015). She has even been played by Graham Chapman in the 'Elizabeth L' sketch in the third episode of Series Two of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) and by Quentin Crisp in Sally Potter's masterly adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1992).

As fans of Doctor Who will know, the Tenth Doctor has memorably encountered Elizabeth in the form of Angela Pleasence in 'The Shakespeare Code' (2007) and Joanna Page in The Day of the Doctor (2013), in which David Tennant and Matt Smith strive to discover whether the queen is a disguised Zygon. Among others, some TV incarnations include the Emmy-winning Helen Mirren in Elizabeth I (2005) and Emma Thompson in Upstart Crow's Christmas Special (2017). But, even though Judi Dench won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her six-minute, four-scene cameo in John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998), few would dispute that the finest screen Queenie of them all is Miranda Richardson in Blackadder 2 (1986).

As Elizabeth died childless, the throne passed to James Stuart, the son of her cousin and Catholic sparring partner, Mary. She was first played by Mrs Robert L. Thomas in Alfred Clark's 18-second Kinetoscope offering, The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), which made history with its pioneering use of a substitution splice to achieve the trick beheading effect. Subsequently, Mary has attracted such renowned actresses as Katharine Hepburn (opposite Florence Eldridge's Elizabeth) in John Ford's Mary of Scotland (1936), Vivian Pickles in Elizabeth R, Vanessa Redgrave in Charles Jarrott's Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Barbara Flynn in Elizabeth I, Samantha Morton in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Camille Rutherford in Thomas Imbach's Mary Queen of Scots (2013), Audrey L'Ebrellec in Elizabeth I and Saoirse Ronan in Josie Rourke's Mary Queen of Scots (2018), which co-stars Australian Margot Robbie as Elizabeth. Even before its release, the latter has been widely criticised for its historical inaccuracies, as Mary and Elizabeth were never estranged friends, while the French-raised Mary most certainly didn't have a Scottish accent.

The Luckless Stuarts

It's perhaps stretching it a point to include Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak in the list of stars to play Mary and Elizabeth, as they were actresses in St Mary Mead to make a film about the pair in Guy Hamilton's Agatha Christie whodunit, The Mirror Crack'd (1980). But the cousins faced off again (blame Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play, Maria Stuart, for forging the myth that they ever met) in the form of Clémency Poésy and Catherine McCormack in Gilles Mackinnon's BBC's serial Gunpowder, Treason & Plot (2004), which also starred Robert Carlyle as James I and Sira Stampe as his queen, Anne of Denmark. She was voiced by Finola Hughes in Tom Ellery and Bradley Raymond's Disney sequel, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998), while her daughter-in-law, Henrietta Maria, was played by Dorothy Tutin opposite Alec Guinness's Charles I in Ken Hughes's Cromwell (1970).

The French-born queen was first played by Janet Alexander in Edwin Greenwood's Henrietta Maria; or, The Queen of Sorrow (1923), since when the part has been taken by Diana Rigg in Joe Wright's Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003), Mélonie Abad in Marc Munden's The Devil's Whore (2008) and Olivia Poulet in 'The Queen's Diamonds', an episode of The Musketeers (2014-16) that can be found among the Series 3 selection. Her Portuguese daughter-in-law has largely been in the cine-shadow of Charles II's many mistresses, including Nell Gwyn. However, Lilian Molieri appeared briefly as Catherine of Braganza in Otto Preminger and John M. Stahl's colourful take on Kathleen Winsor's bestselling bodice-ripper, Forever Amber (1947), since when she has been played by Larnya Dervall in John Hough's The Lady and the Highwayman (1989), Shirley Henderson in Charles II: The Power & the Passion and Sonya Cassidy in Jon Jones's The Great Fire (2014).

Several members of the Stuart clan featured in the BBC series, The First Churchills (1969), with Sheila Gish playing James II's second wife, Mary of Modena. James's daughters, Mary and Anne, were played as young princesses by Verina Greenlaw and Lesley Roach before the roles were taken into adulthood by Lisa Daniely and Margaret Tyzack. Mary II ruled alongside her husband, William III, and she was portrayed by Sarah Crowden in Orlando and by Victoria Wood in Steve Bendelack's The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005).

Queen Anne's friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough has been inspiring dramas since Eugène Scribe's 1840 stage play, A Glass of Water, which has frequently been adapted for film and television. Victor Hugo's 1869 novel, The Man Who Laughs, has also been reworked for the screen, most notably by Paul Leni in 1928 with Josephine Crowell playing Anne. More recently, Alexandra Malick appeared as Anne in Terrence Malick's The New World (2005). But no one has had the impact of Golden Globe winner Olivia Colman in Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite (2018), which sees fellow nominees Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone competing for her attention as Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill.

The Merry Wives of Hanover

The sad story of Sophia Dorothea of Celle and how she was forced into marriage with the future George I is related by Basil Dearden in the Ealing costumer, Saraband For Dead Lovers (1948). Joan Greenwood headlines this lavish adaptation of Helen Simpson's novel, while Peter Bull excels as her cruel husband and Stewart Granger adds some dash as her lover, Count Philip Konigsmark. Despite Lucy Worsley's assertion that she is the cleverest queen in British history, film-makers have not been drawn to George II's wife, Caroline of Ansbach, since she was played by Glenda Jackson alongside Richard Harris in Peter Duffell's King of the Wind (1990). As the loyal spouse of the long-suffering George III, however, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz has been much more prominent. Among the portrayals are those by Frances White in the BBC's excellent series, Prince Regent (1979), and Heike Makatsch in Charles Sturridge's Longitude (2000). But the standout is Helen Mirren's performance opposite Nigel Hawthorne in Nicholas Hytner's Oscar-nominated adaptation of Alan Bennett's play, The Madness of King George (1995), which earned her the Best Actress Prize at Cannes.

Crippling debt and the knowledge that his clandestine marriage to Maria Fitzherbert was illegal, the future George IV agreed to wed Caroline of Brunswick with considerable reluctance. He took against her from the outset, but doted on their daughter, Princess Charlotte. Although 'Prinny' has featured regularly on screen, sometimes in company with non-bride Mrs Fitzherbert, Caroline has been a rare visitor since Wanda Rotha took the role in Montgomery Tully's Mrs Fitzherbert (1947), which also featured Lily Kann as Queen Charlotte. Most notably, Dinah Stabb crossed swords with Peter Egan in the aforementioned Prince Regent.

Completing the Hanoverian line-up is Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, who married the Sailor King, William IV. She has mostly been seen in dramas about her husband's heir, in which she was played by Delena Kidd in John Erman's Victoria and Albert (2001) and Harriet Walter in Jean-Marc Vallée's The Young Victoria (2009). By contrast, Queen Victoria has been a screen regular since becoming the first living British monarch to appear before a film camera at Balmoral on 3 October 1896. On viewing the footage of herself riding in a horse-drawn buggy in the Red Drawing Room at Windsor on 23 November, Victoria also became the first reigning royal to go to the pictures. Moreover, her Diamond Jubilee on 22 June 1897 was the most covered event in the early history of the moving image. 

Sixty Years a Queen

Eleven years after the queen died, Rose Tapley became the first to portray her on screen in The Victoria Cross (1912) and Victoria has gone on to become our most-filmed monarch. Anna Neagle memorably ascended the throne in the Herbert Wilcox trio of Victoria the Great (1937), Sixty Glorious Years (1938) and Lilacs in the Spring (1954). Alongside such one-shot impersonators as Beryl Mercer in Walter Lang and William A. Seiter's The Little Princess (1939) and Helena Pickard in Herbert Wilcox's The Lady With a Lamp (1951), numerous actresses have since taken the role twice, although Evelyn Beresford can perhaps claim the most unusual double with her cameos in a pair of Westerns, William A. Wellman's Buffalo Bill (1944) and George Sidney's Annie Get Your Gun (1950).

Victoria faded from view following the Coronation in 1953 and was rarely seen on screen between Irene Dunne's empathetic display in Jean Negulesco's The Mudlark (1950) and Avis Bunnage's comic turn in Bryan Forbes's The Wrong Box (1966).

Such was the nature of Victoria's depictions in this period that she was often played by unfamiliar names like Mollie Maureen and Susan Field, who were respectively cast by Billy and Gene Wilder in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975). But Peter Sellers proved a more eye-catching choice in Joseph McGrath and Spike Milligan's oddball biopic of a Scottish weaver poet, The Great McGonagall (1974).

Television drama did much to renew interest in Victoria, she was played by Mollie Maureen in The Edwardians (1972), Perlita Neilson and Mavis Edwards in Fall of Eagles (1974), Sheila Reid in Lillie (1978), Miriam Margolyes in Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988), Victoria Hamilton and Joyce Redman in Victoria and Albert (2001) and Janine Duvitski in The Young Visiters (2003).

In 2006, Pauline Collins assumed the mantle in the 'Tooth and Claw' episode of Doctor Who, in which she is threatened by a werewolf in 1879 and establishes the Torchwood Institute. Fittingly, it was one of the Time Lord's former assistants who inherited the role, as Jenna Coleman swapped Clara Oswald for the lead in ITV's Victoria (2016-), which is just about to embark upon its third series. But the Widow of Windsor had retreated to the cinematic periphery before Judi Dench earned an Oscar nomination for her work opposite Billy Connolly in John Madden's Mrs Brown (1997). She reprised the role alongside Ali Fazal in another study of the reclusive monarch's tendency to place her trust in servants detested by her inner circle in Stephen Frears's Victoria and Abdul (2017).

Yet, while Michaela Brooks and Emily Blunt took centre stage in The Young Victoria, the Dear Old Queen has once again been confined to the margins since the turn of the century. Among those to play her are Liz Moscrop in Albert and Allen Hughes's From Hell (2001), Gemma Jones in David Dobkin's Shanghai Knights (2003), Kathy Bates in Frank Coraci's Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Sinead Matthews in Mike Leigh's Mr Turner (2014) and Amanda Root in Kavi Rat's The Black Prince (2017). She has also appeared in a couple of animated features, opening the 1851 Great Exhibition in Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy (2004) and proving to be a menace to exotic species (with the voice of Imelda Staunton) in Peter Lord's 3-D swashbuckler, The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists (2012).

Watching the Windsors

Britain was ruled by the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha between 1901-17, when George V adopted the surname Windsor as a patriotic gesture during the First World War. Known to his intimates as 'Bertie' while both Prince of Wales and King Edward VII, Victoria's eldest son was a larger-than-life character who cast something of a shadow over his Danish spouse, Alexandra. Indeed, mistresses like Lily Langtry and Alice Keppel have featured on screen as much as the elegant consort, who was played to perfection by Helen Ryan in both Edward the Seventh and David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980). Her lead has since been followed by Ann Firbank in Lillie, Pamela Abbott in Bob Clark's meeting of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes, Murder By Decree (1979), Sarah Stewart in Mrs Brown, Maggie Smith in All the King's Men (1999), and Swedish icon Bibi Andersson in Stephen Poliakoffs The Lost Prince (2003), which also featured Miranda Richardson as her daughter-in-law, Mary of Teck, who was the wife of George V and the mother of the unfortunate Prince Johnnie.

Supporting her husband through a reign that witnessed the Great War and the Great Depression, Queen Mary faced her toughest trials as a widow, when her son, Edward VIII, prompted the Abdication Crisis by insisting on marrying American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. While Judy Loe played the young princess in Edward the Seventh, Mary was played in later life by Dame Peggy Ashcroft in Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978), Margaret Tyzack in David Moore's Wallis and Edward (2005), Claire Bloom in Tom Hooper's The King's Speech (2010), Judy Parfitt in Madonna's W.E. (2011) and Valerie Dane in the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey (2013). The only actress to take the role twice, however, is Dame Eileen Atkins, who followed a scene-stealing turn in Giles Foster's Bertie and Elizabeth (2002) with an equally adept display in the hit series, The Crown (2016-).

The fact that Edward vacated the throne for his brother, George VI, has meant that the screen career of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon has frequently involved the events of 1936. Among those to play the Duchess of York in this period were Amanda Reiss in Edward and Mrs Simpson, Juliet Aubrey in Bertie and Elizabeth, Monica Dolan in Wallis and Edward, and Natalie Dormer in W.E. However, her role as consort and Queen Mother has also been accentuated by Amanda Walker in Alan Gibson's Churchill and the Generals (1979), Imelda Staunton in Tim Fywell's Cambridge Spies (2003), Sylvia Syms in Stephen Frears's The Queen (2006), Olivia Colman in Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson (2012), Emily Watson in Julian Jarrold's A Royal Night Out (2015) and Victoria Hamilton in The Crown.

The millennial conception of Queen Elizabeth has been shaped by Helena Bonham Carter's wonderfully composed performance opposite Oscar winner Colin Firth in The King's Speech, which not only earned her an Academy Award nod, but also the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Freya Wilson and Ramona Marquez shared scenes as princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in this fine film and the sisters were later played on VE Day by Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley in A Royal Night Out.

As she was born on 21 April 1926, Her Majesty has been at the heart of royal affairs longer than any British monarch. So, keep an eye out for the young Lillibet in the various titles about her parents. Such was the respect shown for Elizabeth II that she wasn't depicted on screen for the first 19 years of her reign, although her debut was a bit special, as she was played in drag by Steven Walden in Milton Miron's X-rated Cockettes spoof, Tricia's Wedding (1971).

No one has taken the role more often than Jeannette Charles, who is a year younger than her lookalike. Among her outings as Her Dummy Royal Highness are Eric Idle and Gary Weis's The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), Amy Heckerling's National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), David Zucker's The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and Jay Roach's Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002). However, Charles and Gallic counterpart Huguette Funfrock were royally upstaged by Helen Mirren, who won the Academy Award and the BAFTA for Best Actress for her insightful performance in The Queen and she subsequently reprised the role on stage in Peter Morgan's play, The Audience (2013).

There have been several pretenders to the crown, with Emilia Fox, Samantha Bond, Barbara Flynn, Susan Jameson and Diana Quick taking the title role at various stages over the last six decades in the Channel 4 docudrama, The Queen (2009). Other outings have seen her being played by Angela Thorne in Brian Cosgrove's The BFG (1989), Alison McGuire in David S. Ward's King Ralph (1991) and Peter Howitt's Johnny English (2003), Jeanette Vane in Mark Mylod's Ali G Indahouse: The Movie (2002), Rosemary Leach in James Kent's Margaret (2009), Neve Campbell in Peter Richardson's Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004), Jennifer Saunders in Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin's Minions (2015), and Penelope Wilton in Steven Spielberg's The BFG (2016).

The Queen has also cropped up in The Goodies, Doctor Who, Spitting Image and Family Guy, as well as numerous teleplays and docudramas about Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She even played herself (with a little help from skydiving stunt double Gary Connery) alongside Daniel Craig as 007 in the 'Happy and Glorious' segment of Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The coming months will also see Olivia Colman take over from Claire Foy in The Crown. So, to paraphrase the National Anthem, long may she continue to reign over us.

Interested in even more films and TV series? Be sure to check out the Free Trial offer and rent titles from our extensive library of over 95,000 releases for free. Explore our rental library by browsing through the genres and if you find something you would like to watch sign up today and we will rush them to you by post.

Help & support

Find answers to frequently asked questions and contact us should you need to

How It Works

See prices and levels and find out how Cinema Paradiso service works

Friends for Films

Invite your friends to join and get free subscription each month

RSS

Get live feed of your rental lists and most popular titles