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The Best Actors Who Played Historical Royals On Film & Television

August 6, 2020 14.4k votes 1.6k voters 50.4k views19 items

List RulesVote up the most impressive actors who portrayed royals.

Who are the best actors who have played royals? One tried-and-true pathway to success for actors in Hollywood is by playing a royal, since many actors who played royals have received critical acclaim and accolades for their performances. For example, several actresses who have played royalty - including Olivia Colman, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench - have won Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmys. Likewise, some of the best royals actors - like Colin Firth, among others - have earned award recognition for their work.

Each actor approaches his or her royal role differently. Some actors who have played kings, and actresses who have played queens, use their prep time to undertake extensive historical research, while others evaluate historical figures just like any other character. But all have the challenge of portraying historical figures in a unique way, since many royals have been played by several different actors over the years.

Vote up the actors who did the best job bringing historical royals to life.

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  • Cate Blanchett As Queen Elizab is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Actors Who Played Historical Royals On Film & Television
    Photo: Elizabeth: The Golden Age / Universal Pictures

    Cate Blanchett has played Queen Elizabeth I - who enjoyed one of the longest reigns in English history, ruling from 1558 to 1603 - two times: first in 1998's Elizabeth and then in the 2007 sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Each film focuses on a specific period of Elizabeth's life, ranging from her struggles as a young woman on the throne to her savvy statesmanship in later life.

    Both of Blanchett's Elizabethan performances - in which she portrays a fiery, sharp, and conflicted monarch - earned her Academy Award nominations. In fact, she is one of only a handful of actors to receive an Oscar nomination twice for the same role.

    Blanchett is one of a long line of actors - like Glenda Jackson and Judi Dench - who have portrayed Elizabeth. She admires Elizabeth's Shakespearean complexity: "If you look at the long legacy of actresses who've played her and will continue to play her, it's a little bit like the female Hamlet."

    • Age: 51
    • Birthplace: Ivanhoe, Melbourne, Australia
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  • Colin Firth As King George VI is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Actors Who Played Historical Royals On Film & Television
    Photo: The King's Speech / The Weinstein Company

    2010's The King's Speech dramatizes King George VI - who led the United Kingdom through WWII - and his struggles to overcome his debilitating stammer. Colin Firth stars as the troubled king.

    Though Firth's research materials were limited - "the royal family don't let you get that close," he said to the BBC - Firth relied on footage of George VI to get his performance right.

    Critics applauded the "theatrical gusto" of Firth's "touching" depiction of George. Firth's performance - which succeeded partly because he had empathy for his character - and the film won four Oscars, including Firth for best actor.

    • Age: 60
    • Birthplace: Grayshott, United Kingdom
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  • Natalie Dormer As Anne Boleyn is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Actors Who Played Historical Royals On Film & Television
    Photo: The Tudors / Showtime

    Before she was Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, Natalie Dormer was Anne Boleyn in The Tudors, Showtime's sexed-up version of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. Henry executed Boleyn - perhaps his best-known and most controversial bride - in 1536.

    According to Dormer, a history buff, getting to portray the Tudor queen "was a pairing of my two favorite loves, acting and history." She immersed herself in research to prep for the role. Dormer said of her performance:

    By the time I walked on to the scaffold [for Anne's execution] I hope I did have that phenomenal air of dignity that Anne had - because she went out in the most incredible manner. It was one of the best experiences of my career so far [...] Anne was a pawn in a man's world.

    The Hollywood Reporter gushed that the "exquisite Natalie Dormer as the ill-fated Anne Boleyn is reason to celebrate" the series. Since Dormer claimed she "didn't want to play [Anne] as this femme fatale," her portrayal of the sharp queen even won over some Anne Boleyn scholars, like Susan Bordo.

    • Age: 38
    • Birthplace: Reading, United Kingdom
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  • Claire Foy As Queen Elizabeth  is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Actors Who Played Historical Royals On Film & Television
    Photo: The Crown / Netflix

    Netflix spared no expense for The Crown, which ranks as one of the most expensive television series ever produced. Each season of the prestige drama tracks several years in the life of Queen Elizabeth II as she struggles to balance her personal relationships and regal role. 

    For the first two seasons, Claire Foy played Elizabeth in the 1950s and early 1960s. Her experience on The Crown actually helped Foy understand Elizabeth as a person:

    [Before this project] I thought she was just the queen and he was Prince Philip, and that was just who they were, without thinking about them as a mother or a father or daughter. So, it's been really interesting to try and understand them as human beings. And when you see what they've been through, it's relatively easy, to be honest. I have a huge amount of respect and understanding for them.

    Foy's "stellar" portrayal of Elizabeth earned her numerous accolades, including Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG awards.

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