There have been some wonderful films about English kings and queens, starring many of Britain’s top actors and actresses. I have selected a few films which I feel showcase both English acting talent and pivotal points in the history of the monarchy; between them they have won a galaxy of awards.
Mrs Brown. Queen Victoria was devastated by the death of her husband Prince Albert. Mrs Brown starts after Albert’s death, with a long bereaved queen seeking seclusion rather than royal duties. It is the Queen’s servant, John Brown, who takes on the task of lifting the queen from her depression, but the closeness of their relationship causes whispers behind closed doors – hence the title of the film. An unusual leading duo consists of classic English actress Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Scottish actor and comedian Billy Connolly as John Brown.
The Madness of King George. Nigel Hawthorne plays George III – a king declining in mental health, subjected to eighteenth century medicine which seems a rough science. This film is an exploration of madness, of power, of family and monarchy. A large part of the action revolves around the relationship between the king and his son the Prince of Wales – portrayed to perfection by Rupert Everett. Hawthorne played the role on stage in The Madness of King George III by Alan Bennett before the play was adapted for film.
The King’s Speech. Colin Firth gives a masterly performance as King George VI, thrown in to power when his brother abdicates to marry American divorcee Mrs Simpson. A beautiful film, covering the time leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War. The speech in the title refers both to the King’s stammer and his struggles to talk clearly without stumbling when giving a speech. The film stars Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth (mother of Elizabeth II) and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who aims to make a dramatic difference to the king’s speech and thus his life.
The Queen. Helen Mirren takes on the formidable task of portraying a living monarch – Queen Elizabeth II. The film’s focus is on the time of Princess Diana’s death and the Queen’s relationship with the newly elected Prime Minister - Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen. This was not an easy time for the monarchy, and the film does not flinch from showing the difficulties and conflicts that arose in that era. Mirren is staggeringly good – I found myself thinking of her as the Queen, not the actress, and thus becoming absorbed in the film.