British Royalty Through Film

Something struck me watching The Madness of King George for our upcoming Helen Mirren episode - it might be possible to put all the movies about the British Monarchy in order and follow hundreds of years of their reign.  Here's my best attempt going back to Henry VIII who is unsurpassed in The Tudors TV series.  I'm sure there are other movies I've missed, so feel free to help me fill in gaps.  Here's one thing I found - Helen Mirren appears twice, as does Judi Dench.

Henry VIII (1509-1547) - There have been lots of movies and tons of books about Henry and his many wives, Anne of the Thousand Days, The Other Boleyn Girl, etc.  And Henry appears in all of those, from hot young Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Eric Bana to old and fat Richard Burton.

Edward VI (1547-1553) - He's rarely portrayed as anything more than a young boy.

Jane (9 days in 1553) - Lady Jane - A fascinating movie with a very young Helena Bonham Carter as a women who was put up as Queen to maintain the Protestant line for a bit, but failed.

Mary I and Philip, Elizabeth I (1553-1558, 1558-1603) - Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love - We get a kooky view of Mary just before she dies trying to get Elizabeth to protect the Catholics.  Thankfully, we have a pretty solid view of Elizabeth's reign and her Protestant faith.  We even see her as a friend of Shakespeare's for a few award worthy minutes.

James I (1603 - 1625) - The New World - He's creepy because his paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather were siblings.  His mother was Mary, Queen of Scots who has been played by Vanessa Redgrave and IMDB says Saoirse Ronan will be playing her soon.  He was the one who sent the explorers around the world because he was devoutly Protestant. Also James I was King for the original Guy Fawkes day, so he was obviously quite popular (that was a joke).

Charles I (1625-1649) - After him, there's a gap in the monarchy for a bit.

Charles II (1660-1685) - Restoration - He's played by Sam Neill who pulls of the pissy attitude that Charles II must have had given that his reign was pretty hard to come by.

James II, William III & II and Mary (1685-16881688-1702) - Orlando  They both have brief moments in Orlando putting Tilda Swinton's character in context.  Oh, and there's a whole college named for them, so that's cool too.

Anne, George I, George II (,1702-17014, 1714-1727, 1727-1760) - I sense there is something they appear in since it's such an uproarious time for the monarchy, switching from the House of Stuart to Orange to Hanover, but I can't find it.

George III / George IV / William IV (1760-1820, 1820-1830, 1830-1837) - The Madness of King George - This was a fascinating look at what happens to mental illness in the 1700s, and how a King is a King except when he's crazy.  There's good evidence to suggest that the madness that the King experienced was a disease called porphyria that caused nervous system issues for short periods.  Nigel Hawthorne as King George, the same King George who lost the American Revolutionary War, is amazing.  He was obviously scarred by losing the colonies.  His older son George IV is portrayed by Rupert Everett in the film as a dandy who liked women, but produced no children, so his younger brother William (only a child in the film) became King after him.  However, it was their younger brother's daughter who got to be Queen next.

Victoria (1837-1901)- The Young Victoria, Mrs. Brown  - We get a look at her earliest hours as Queen in Victoria and the beginnings of her love affair with Albert thanks to Keira Knightly.  And then later, Judi Dench plays Victoria nearing the end of her reign, and shows us a supposed affair with a friend (the Mr. Brown of the title).  I sense there is a lot more to her reign that would make up a movie.  There was a miniseries in 2001 that might have made a dent, but I haven't seen it.  As Empress of India and Queen of a huge empire, I'm surprised she doesn't have more screen time.

Edward VII (1901-1910) - Couldn't find anything on film except a short appearance in Mrs. Brown

George V / Edward VIII / George VI (1910-1936, 1936, 1936-1952)- The King's Speech, W. E., it's not really possible to talk about the reign of any one without the others since Edward VIII abdicated after less than a year as King after his father's death.  Michael Gambon as George V was pretty bad ass, and a pretty terribl father in The King's Speech.  Someday I'm sure we'll get a more definitive film about Edward VIII since he's incredibly fascinating (gave up the throne for a woman) and not particularly sympathetic so far (thought to sympathize with the Nazis).  Colin Firth did George VI justice, from the stutter to the strength (and even the smoking that led to lung cancer later).  Bit part for Elizabeth II, and Elizabeth, the Queen mum whose hair was perfect her entire life.

Elizabeth II (1952-present) - The Queen, though it only covers about 2 weeks of her reign it captures the mood of a country and an inside look at how the monarchy might see itself.


  1. Wow.

    I can honestly say that I never puzzled over this and wondered about who had been on film and who was missing. Sorta makes you wonder if those gaps are stories waiting to be told, or the regents who just made for unspectacular rule (sorta the same way we get forgettable presidents and prime ministers).

    Nicely done Jess - this idea just smack you in the forehead or does it come from a further interest in English history?

  2. I have a pretty strong interest in piecing together which monarch was in charge when what big event happened. Sort of like knowing the national events when a particular President was in office. But they have hundreds of years more, and different length terms, and power changing at the point of a sword. So yes, I find it fascinating.


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