The Best (and the Worst) Portrayals of the Queen on Screen

Ellie Goodson

With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, many of us have been thinking about the 70-year legacy of Her Majesty, and how she and her family had shaped the public consciousness. From drama series like The Crown to comedies that can hit a nerve like The Windsors, the Queen and her family had been subjects to a broad array of screenplay. Ellie Goodson looks at some of these representations of the Queen, and what people (including the royal family) thought of them.

The Crown is easily one of the most popular drama series about the royal family, soaring back up to its top 10 spot in Netflix following the death of the Queen. Claire Foy and Olivia Colman have played Her Majesty in this series, with Imelda Staunton set to play the Queen in her later years for the last two seasons. While The Crown is one of the best-known on-screen representations of the Queen, it is by no means the most popular with the royal family.

The Crown is one of the best shows to represent the Queen and her family with many of the British public appreciating a look inside the life of a previously reserved Queen

The Queen herself had watched and enjoyed the first season of The Crown, although she found some episodes too dramatized and following season one her favour with the show declined rapidly. Her Majesty was reported as unhappy with the portrayal of Prince Philip as cold and unloving to our now King Charles, according to Oprah Daily. Prince William is reported to be very unhappy with the show, and according to Cosmopolitan, he feels like his parents are being exploited for petty, Hollywood money. In public opinion, however, The Crown is one of the best shows to represent the Queen and her family with many of the British public appreciating a look inside the life of a previously reserved Queen.

The film The Queen was the most famous screen performance of Queen Elizabeth II before The Crown. Helen Mirren was the lady chosen to play the Her Majesty, and the film is set during the turbulent times following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. According to The Daily Mail, the Queen had watched it, and her and most at the palace approved of the film. Helen Mirren was made a Dame, and therefore it can be safely assumed Mirren’s portrayal of the Queen did not hit many nerves. The film itself has a rotten tomatoes rating of 97% and the British public have a largely positive response to the film. However, on the lower end of ratings there are accusations that a film like this is ‘for royalists only.’ Take of that what you will.

The public reviews it as horribly offensive, but that this is the whole point of the show

One of the more controversial shows about the Queen and the royals in general is The Windsors. This Channel 4 series is a comedy shaped as a soap opera which re-imagines the lives of the royals. The public reviews it as horribly offensive, but that this is the whole point of the show. So, how does a mocking series like this go down with the royal family? Well, according to Express, Prince William finds it hilarious, and it is supposedly very popular at the palace. Despite this, the King is reported as no fan of the show, quoting it as ‘cruel’ according to The Mirror.

Emma Thompson takes her turn as Her Majesty in this Sky Arts production Walking the Dogs. This episode is about the break in at Buckingham Palace in 1982. I could not find any comment from the royal family on this performance, but Thompson was made a Dame in 2018, so much like with Mirren, we can assume a positive response. There are also little reviews from the public but is appears that the production is seen as an entertaining piece of drama.

It is at this point of the article we start to hit the increasingly unpopular stuff with the royal family and the British Public with the film The Queen and I. The film stars Samantha Bond as the Queen and David Walliams as a Republican removing the monarchy from power. Royalists are unhappy with the ill-timed jokes about Diana and the exclusion of the Prince of Wales from the film. The royal family have not commented on the film, but it is a safe conclusion that, from the public opinion, it is not a popular depiction in the palace.

In Churchill: the Hollywood years Neve Campbell takes the role of the young Princess Elizabeth. I mention this film purely for the horrendous ratings of it. The story of the film is that Hitler moves into Buckingham Palace and attempts to marry Princess Elizabeth, but the princess is rescued by a young American GI Churchill who saves the day. Unsurprisingly, the royal family have not comment on a film as distasteful as this. The British public, judging from the rotten tomatoes score, are not a fan either.

Now onto Spitting Image. I couldn’t leave this one out. Whether you find Spitting Image a perfect commentary on British deference, or a downright offensive representation of the best of us, one previous member of the royal family who was a fan might surprise you. According to Stephen Fry, the Princess of Wales, Diana, was a big fan of Spitting Image, but didn’t hesitate to note that the royal family hated it. Fry told Express that the late Princess cut their time together short to make it home in time for the airing of the show. Conclude what you will.

Famous for her physical similarities to Her Majesty, Jeanette Charles had a 40-year career as a comedic stunt double for Queen Elizabeth. Starring in raunchy films such as Naked Gun and the Austin Powers series, Charles is quoted as having a lot of respect for the Queen and refused to do anything too offensive.

There is no better way to end this article about the Queen on Screen than to look at times when Her Majesty had played herself. For the 2012 Olympics, the Queen herself stood beside Daniel Craig for the amusing opening of the games. And then, for her Platinum Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth sat with Paddington Bear and attempted to share a cup of tea with a fellow British icon. These two appearances have immortalised Her Majesty in public memory as a beloved woman, who wasn’t afraid to break the status quo and try her hand at comedy.

Ellie Goodson

Featured image courtesy of Commonwealth Secretariat via Flickr.com. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here

In article trailer 1 courtesy of Netflix via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video. 

In-article trailer 2 courtesy of Spitting Image via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video. 

EntertainmentFilm & TV

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