Royal times: Some of the screen’s top kings and queens

Fanning Out

Thanks to ‘Victoria,’ a look at movie monarchs

Included among subjects that people never seem to tire of: the royals.

Maybe it’s been a case lately of such globally popular couples as William and Kate, and Harry and Meghan, keeping the topic fresh and contemporary. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t hurt the makers of movies and television programs – a current example being the Jenna Coleman-starring PBS “Masterpiece” drama “Victoria,” which has just started its third season.

Thus, it’s a good and appropriate time to reflect on the film world’s most impressive portrayals of royalty. Here are some of our favorites.

Charles Laughton in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” (1933):
As the British king with many loves, Laughton became one of the earliest recipients of the Academy Award for best actor.

Yul Brynner as King Mongkut of Siam in “The King and I” (1956):
Though he had other great roles, the signature one for Brynner had to be his Oscar-winning re-creation of his stage role as the stern ruler challenged by the ideas of schoolteacher Anna (Deborah Kerr).

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in “The Lion in Winter” (1968):
A true match of wills and skills was yielded by this pairing of performers, with Hepburn earning her third Oscar as best actress.

Richard Burton as King Henry VIII, “Anne of the Thousand Days” (1969):
Though the story is told from the stance of Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold), Burton did some of his best later work as the monarch who had to decide whether she should live or die.

Vanessa Redgrave as “Mary, Queen of Scots” (1971):
Though the script used dramatic license in purporting that Mary encountered Elizabeth I (played by Glenda Jackson), Redgrave was Oscar-nominated for her portrayal.

Kenneth Branagh as “Henry V” (1989):
Also the film’s director and screenwriter, Branagh was superb as Shakespeare’s version of the king who led a campaign of his own against France during the Hundred Years War.

Nigel Hawthorne in “The Madness of King George” (1994):
The great Hawthorne put total dedication and energy into his performance as the dementia-afflicted King George III.

Ian McKellen as “Richard III” (1995):
While Shakespeare also supplied the basis for this retelling of another of his classics, the story was transposed onto the 1930s with a riveting McKellen in the lead.

Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, “Mrs. Brown” (1997) and “Victoria and Abdul” (2017):
The magnificent Dench won a Oscar as Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love,” but just as impressive are her reenactments of another queen’s two surprising friendships.

Cate Blanchett as “Elizabeth” (1998):
Not only did Blanchett score with critics as Elizabeth I in this film, she got to revisit the queen by depicting the later years of her reign in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007).

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, “The Queen” (2006):
Mirren won nearly every major film award in sight for her depiction of Elizabeth II in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

Emily Blunt as “The Young Victoria” (2009):
The title tells the subject in this dramatization of Queen Victoria’s early years on the throne and her relationship with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).

Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech” (2010):
An outstanding Firth with an Oscar and many more honors by depicting the speaking problem the king had, and the steps he took to overcome them with a therapist’s (Geoffrey Rush) help.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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Jan 16, 2019 8:34 pm

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend in Young Victoria was a fantastic movie. That was my favorite. Elizabeth with Kate Blanchette was also a really good movie. I’ve watched the others but these two are my faves for sure.

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