One of the most prestigious – and demanding – roles an actress can play must surely be that of Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps that’s why so many performers regarded as ‘acting royalty’ seize the chance to portray the Queen on screen, giving us their interpretation of an icon.
Here are some of the most famous, skilful portrayals we’ve seen in recent years.
Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006)
Set during the turbulent period following the tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997, The Queen features a sensitive, dignified performance from one of Britain’s greatest actresses.
Central to the film is the tension between Helen Mirren’s Queen and the fresh-faced Prime Minister, Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen). For the monarch, Diana’s passing is ‘a private matter’; she wants the Royal Family to remain at Balmoral, out of the public eye. By contrast, Blair urges her to return to London and address the British public, who are mourning ‘the people’s princess’.
As Mirren remarked in the Telegraph before the film’s premiere, playing Elizabeth II is ‘a wonderful acting role’. She accepted the part shortly after the real monarch granted her the title of Dame in recognition of her distinguished career in the theatre and on screen.
More honours followed The Queen’s release, including the Best Actress Oscar at the 2007 Academy Awards. Collecting the coveted gold statuette, Mirren praised the monarch’s ‘dignity [and] sense of duty’.
The actress is one of only a handful of performers to have achieved the ‘triple crown’ of acting (i.e. receiving an Oscar, Tony and Emmy award) – a suitably regal accomplishment!
Dame Emma Thompson in Walking the Dogs (2012)
Another dramatic event is explored by the TV programme Walking the Dogs. Early one morning in 1982, the Queen wakes to find a dishevelled intruder (played by Eddie Marsan) in her bedroom at Buckingham Palace. ‘I wanted someone to talk to,’ the man offers by way of explanation. The monarch, as portrayed by Emma Thompson, must keep the situation under control until help arrives.
Thompson’s performance brings Elizabeth II’s strength and resilience to the fore. As the Independent emphasised in its review, she ‘captured that singular steeliness without froideur that defines our perception of the Queen’.
Like Mirren, Thompson has received a damehood for her stellar acting work.
Samantha Bond in The Queen and I (2018)
Based on Sue Townsend’s acclaimed novel, The Queen and I imagines an alternative reality in which the monarchy is abolished overnight by a republican Prime Minister, Jack Barker. He unceremoniously hurls the monarch’s crown off the balcony at Buckingham Palace and compels the ex-royals to make new lives for themselves on a deprived housing estate.
Samantha Bond’s version of the Queen rises to the challenge, demonstrating admirable resourcefulness and determination, as well as coming to the aid of her new neighbours.
Similarly, Bond rose to the challenge of playing an instantly recognisable figure – ‘we’ve been watching her all our lives’, she said at the time.
The actress is also famous for playing a fictional member of the social elite, Lady Rosamund Painswick, in the hugely successful period drama Downton Abbey.
Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton in The Crown (2016 onwards)
The cast, locations, budget and more – every aspect of The Crown is epic. Its creator, Peter Morgan, wrote The Queen, so you could say that Netflix’s ambitious, compelling drama has an impressive royal pedigree.
Chronicling Elizabeth II’s long marriage and reign, The Crown spans several decades. (Incidentally, did you know that the Queen first met her future husband, Prince Philip, in Dartmouth, Devon, the home of our seated titles and Lord and Lady of the Manor titles?)
Three outstanding actresses have been chosen to portray the Queen at different stages of her life: the rising star Claire Foy (in series one and two), national treasure Olivia Colman (series three and four), and the tremendously accomplished Imelda Staunton (series five).
Only the first three series of The Crown have been released so far, which means that viewers have many more episodes to look forward to over the coming months.
Play Your Part in a Privileged World with an Elite Title
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While they’re not the same as titles of nobility bestowed by the Queen, our decorative titles are an affordable, thoroughly enjoyable way to impress your peers.
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