An infallible emperor, endlessly scrutinized on stage and on screen

She was the most opaque of celebrities, a silent film star who somehow flourished in the world of TikTok. If no one other than her closest friends and family knew exactly what Queen Elizabeth II was like, that’s exactly what she wanted.

Her majestic reserve, her soulful expressions, her resistance to personal revelation—all these made the queen, Whose 96 on Thursday. died on, a unique object of imaginative speculation. She was the profile of a woman that people could fill in as much as they wanted. And fill it he did. Over the years, Elizabeth was a character in an endless stream of feature films, made-for-TV movies and television series – biopics, satires, dramas, comedies, you name it – as well as occasional documentaries, plays, musicals and novels.

His life was remarkable for a long period of time, his reign notable for containing so much history. But no one was beheaded, no one was conspired against, no one was imprisoned in a tower. The dramas about her predecessors in the job – Elizabeth I, Henry V, Henry VIII, Richard II, to name a few – are full of grand plots and high stakes. The dramas about Elizabeth II were more introverted, all trying to address the tantalizing and unanswered question about her: What kind of person was she?

The actors who have wrestled with that issue cannot be counted. “The Crown” alone required three women to portray Elizabeth in different eras of her life: Claire Foy in her early life, Olivia Colman in her middle years, and Imelda Staunton as Queen in winter.

Here are some additional highlights of Elizabeth’s portrayal in film and on stage, and sometimes in fiction, over the years.

as a princess

Elizabeth’s early years were marked by two cataclysmic events: the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII from the throne in 1936, which took her fragile father into the job of king and put him in the line of succession; and World War II, which happened when she was still a teenager.

In “The King’s Speech” (2010), the young Princess Elizabeth, played by Freya Wilson, appears briefly in the background of the drama about the efforts of her father, now King George VI, to overcome his stammer and gain confidence. With more rights to address the nation when Britain enters the war in 1939. (The real-life Queen is said to have found the film “moving and enjoyable”.)

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“A Royal Night Out” (2015) takes place in 1945 in London amid the fervor of VE Day. Bouncing from Buckingham Palace, accompanied by cheering crowds, Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and her younger sister, Princess Margaret (Bel Powley), embark on a wild night of drinking, dancing, flirting, swimming in fountains and riding the city bus. are involved.

as queen

In an effort to rid himself of a mystery he later regretted, in 1969 the Windsors were the subject of a 90-minute fly-on-the-wall documentary, “The Royal Family”. Viewed by 37 million Britons, it included scenes where Prince Philip attempted to cook sausage on the barbecue, Prince Charles went water-skiing and the Queen fed carrots to her horses. The Queen later ordered that the film never be aired again, deciding that it might have shed too much light on her family.

In 1982, an unemployed house painter broke into Buckingham Palace and walked into the Queen’s bedroom, where he stayed for at least 10 minutes until help arrived. There is no documentary footage, but actor Emma Thompson played Elizabeth in the 2012 TV drama “Walking the Dogs” of the incident.

Diana Years

The Queen makes endless appearances in countless plays devoted to the disastrous marriage between her son Charles and his wife Diana, Princess of Wales. Usually his job is to express terror at his procrastination or to register dissent about how his unruly behavior is affecting his children, his family, and the monarchy.

Selected examples of this genre include “The Princess in Love”, a trash film about Diana betraying Charles with an army captain James Hewitt, much to the dismay of the Queen (Lisa Daniels). . There’s also “Whatever Love Means” an equally trashy account of the adulterous romance between Prince Charles and his ex-girlfriend and future wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, in which the Queen is played by Stella McCusker. Most recently, “Spencer” (2021), starring Kristin Stewart as a mentally fragile Diana, and Stella Gonet as Elizabeth, panics when her daughter-in-law opens before her eyes. goes and becomes incomprehensible.

And “The Crown” was preceded by Stephen Frears’ film “The Queen” (2006), when Britain was plunged into mourning and anger after Diana’s shocking death in a car accident in 1997. Played by the reticent, tradition-bound Elizabethan Helen Mirren, she is shown grappling with her own personal suffering as she is repeatedly forced to succumb to national pressure and express herself publicly.

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queen on stage

Later, Mirren reprized her role on stage in Peter Morgan’s “The Audience” (2013), playing the Queen over the course of 60 years, as she discusses politics and other matters with a succession of prime ministers at their scheduled weekly meetings. does.

Prunella Scales made a sudden, witty appearance as Queen in Alan Bennett’s one-act play “A Question of Attribution” (1988), about Anthony Blunt, Elizabeth’s “surveyor of paintings”—essentially her art collection. The curator of – who was later exposed as a Soviet spy.

Veteran actor Judy Kaye appeared as a wisecracking Elizabeth, giving scathing advice about marriage and fidelity to an embattled Prince Charles in the short-lived Broadway production of “Diana: The Musical” (2021).

Filmed versions of all three plays were broadcast on television.

A stunt double dressed as Queen Elizabeth parachute at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012. When the world saw the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, it was rejoicing that the Queen was playing along. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

queen in comedy

Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine that the queen behind closed doors is actually full of mischief and spontaneity? “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988), Elizabeth (Janet Charles, whose uncanny resemblance to the actual monarch played roles over the years) attends an Angels-Mariners baseball game at Dodger Stadium for some reason. She throws the first pitch, participates in The Wave and escapes an assassination plot when Leslie Nielsen’s character, in a major break with royal protocol, wrestles her down and shields her from her body.

Charles reprized her role as Elizabeth in other films, including “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985), in which she meets Chevy Chase at a reception line in a dream sequence, and the detective spoof “Austin Powers in Goldmember”. ” (in 2002. whom she knights the title character, played by Mike Myers.

On “Saturday Night Live” in the 2010s, Fred Armen imagined Queen as a brash, unscrupulous East End gangster. Deploying a Cockney accent, his Elizabeth taunts and threatens Kate Middleton, newly engaged to Prince William, the minute the prince leaves the room. (Bill Hader played the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, as an equally pugilistic.)

Similarly, June Squibb gave a royal finger to a non-British contestant by joining the crowd at Wimbledon in Andy Samberg’s “Seven Days in Hell” (2015).

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as royal grandmother

The younger generation of the royal family has featured in several ripped-off-the-headline TV melodramas. For example, the romance between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has been the subject of three Lifetime TV movies (so far). Actor Maggie Sullivan played the queen for each of them.

In another Lifetime film, “William and Catherine: A Royal Romance” (2011), Jane Alexander, respected as queen, accommodates her grandson’s decision to marry a commoner.

Queen as a Literary Character

A big question about the Queen is what her imaginative life was like, beyond her well-known interests in things like dogs and horses. British author Alan Bennett conjures up an alternate reality in his brilliant novel “The Uncommon Reader”, in which Elizabeth happens to be in a mobile library outside Buckingham Palace, and it changes her forever.

First, she reads easy-to-read books from authors like Ivy Compton-Burnett and Nancy Mitford. Soon she is dealing with Proust, discussing Jean Jeanette with the President of France and delving into the biography of Sylvia Plath. She finds that reading gives her a better understanding of other people and, ironically, loses herself in oblivion and solitude.

Bennett writes, “He who had led a different life found that she wanted it.” “Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized.”

queen as herself

It was the perfect expression of Elizabeth’s rare ability to be everywhere at once without distancing herself, and the tiniest semblance of her understandable humour. When the world watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, it rejoiced, that the Queen was playing along.

A brief film that helped end the ceremony, bustling at Buckingham Palace with James Bond (Daniel Craig wearing a black-tie), opened with several royal corgis dodging and entering the monarch’s office. She was at his desk, resplendent in pink. “Good evening, Mr Bond,” she said.

The two then flew helicopters across London and parachuted into the Olympic Stadium – Elizabeth, before the film ended, was a stunt double for that part. And then the real queen, in that same pink outfit, regularly took her seat as the audience in the stadium applauded it with joy. Perhaps he was touched or thrilled; It was impossible to know.

His face was absolutely emotionless.