Pretty Good Movies About Historical Royals
Ever since the early days of the film industry, the lives of real-life royals have made great source material for some pretty good movies. Past and present audiences alike seem fascinated by the lives of those who were born into, married into, or simply forced their way into royalty. And the appetite for these types of projects doesn't appear to be going away, as indicated by the success of recent films and television shows like The Crown and The Favourite.
When it comes to these films, some are more historically accurate than others. In fact, many of the royals portrayed in these movies have helped shape the course of history over the centuries. Some of the films are more critically acclaimed than others, with several of them winning Oscars or other major awards.
Below is a list of some of the numerous films about royals. Vote up the ones you enjoyed the most.
- 1330 VOTESPhoto: The Weinstein Company
The King's Speech revolves around the relationship between the future king of England, George VI, and Lionel Logue, a speech therapist hired to help Geroge control the stammer that has plagued him since childhood. The bulk of the story takes place in the months surrounding the decision made by King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne, a decision which leads to his younger brother being crowned king and culminates in King George VI giving a broadcast to the British Empire in 1939 shortly after war has been declared against Nazi Germany. Logue is at the broadcast to help, but by the end of it, the king is speaking clearly.
The film shows several methods that were used to help the royal overcome his stammer. One of these methods had Logue encouraging the king to use swear words. "The swearing wasn't just there for comic effect, it wasn't just there to express rage," Colin Firth told the BBC in 2011. "It was there because we see a very, very repressed man using forbidden words to have a moment of release."
In addition to watching footage of King George VI giving speeches in order to prepare for the role, Firth spoke with the film's screenwriter, David Seidler, who had dealt with a severe stuttering problem as a child. "He was incredibly eloquent about how that feels. He referred to a drowning sensation - when you hit that terrible silence that you can't climb out of. That's something I carried with me," Firth said.
The King's Speech received strong reviews and was a commercial success, earning more than $400 million at the worldwide box office. The film landed 12 Academy Award nominations. In addition to Firth's award for Best Actor, the film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, while Rush and Bonham-Carter were nominated for their supporting performances.
- Actors: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall
- Released: 2010
- Directed by: Tom Hooper
- 2181 VOTESPhoto: Apparition
This British film about Queen Victoria focuses on the years just before she inherits the crown, the early years of her reign, and her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. As first in line to King William IV's crown, the teenage Victoria is caught in the middle of a power struggle between her mother and Sir John Conroy (who want Victoria to sign papers declaring a regency that would give the other two power) and her uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, who attempts to form a strong alliance between his country and Britain by having his nephew Prince Albert attempt to court and eventually marry Victoria. She ascends to the throne shortly after her 18th birthday, which removes any need for a regency.
Early in her reign, her main advisor, Lord Melbourne, announces his intention to resign as prime minister after losing a Parliament vote to opposition leader Sir Robert Peel. When the queen refuses Peel's request to replace some of her ladies-in-waiting with supporters of his party, he rejects her invitation to form a new government, which puts Melbourne back in power. This crisis damages the public's confidence in the queen and a lonely Victoria turns to Albert, which results in them getting married less than one year later. Albert chafes at his lack of real power, although he is able to remove Conroy from the royal household and, as his wife's main advisor, limits Melbourne's and King Leopold I's influence. A rift develops between the couple when they argue about him going over her head to consult with Peel, but they reconcile after he saves her from an assassin's bullet.
Although screenwriter Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for writing for Gosford Park in 2002 and later created the TV series Downton Abbey) attempted to make the story as historically accurate as possible, critics pointed out that several events, such as the assassination attempt on the queen, were exaggerated for dramatic effect. While the film shows Prince Albert being shot, in reality, he was not injured. Still, the film received generally positive reviews and Emily Blunt received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
- Actors: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent
- Released: 2009
- Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
- 3222 VOTESPhoto: Gramercy Pictures
Elizabeth focuses on the early years of Queen Elizabeth I's long reign. The story opens with the Protestant Elizabeth being freed from years of house arrest and crowned as the new monarch after the demise of Queen Mary, her Catholic half-sister. The inexperienced queen suffers a disastrous defeat when she orders a military response to Mary of Guise's bringing French soldiers into Scotland. She's told by her advisor Francis Walsingham that Catholic priests and lords had conspired to provide trained soldiers for the queen's army in the hope of being able to remove her from the throne after her defeat. The queen proposes an Act of Uniformity that would bring together all English Christians under the Church of England while severing ties to the Vatican. This leads the Vatican to conspire with the Duke of Norfolk in an attempt to overthrow her.
Although she is having an affair with Lord Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth agrees to consider Mary of Guise's suggestion of marrying the latter's nephew Henry of France, which would build an alliance between the two countries. However she ends up rejecting him in favor of Dudley, only to banish the latter when she discovers he is married. She later survives an assassination attempt, and when the evidence points to Mary of Guise, Walsingham travels to Scotland and does away with her.
The queen learns about another plot against her, this one involving a Vatican promise to make the Duke of Norfolk King of England if he marries Mary, Queen of Scots (the daughter of Mary of Guise). Walsingham tells her that Lord Dudley is involved in this plot, but though all of the other conspirators are executed, she spares the life of her ex-lover, saying this will serve as a reminder to herself of how close she came to danger. She later proclaims herself to be "married to England" and ascends the throne as the "Virgin Queen."
The film tries to stuff many of the events that did happen over the course of Queen Elizabeth I's long reign into a brief five-year span, while making up other events entirely - for example, Walsingham did not assassinate Mary of Guise, although he was heavily involved with the arrest and eventual beheading of Mary of Scotland. And there is no evidence Lord Dudley was ever involved in a plot against Queen Elizabeth I. Many historians also criticized the film for portraying the queen as indecisive and weak rather than as the strong, resolute ruler she was. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the film received generally positive reviews and Blanchett was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the queen.
- Actors: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough
- Released: 1998
- Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
- 4136 VOTESPhoto: The Samuel Goldwyn Company
The Madness of King George concerns the deteriorating mental health of King George III of England. The action takes place in 1788, when the king's increasingly bizarre behavior leads to a power struggle between Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and Leader of the Opposition Charles James Fox. The opposition leader forms an alliance with the Prince of Wales, who knows he will be named king if his father is found mentally incompetent. Even as the king undergoes treatments, Fox introduces a bill to the members of Parliament that would give the Prince of Wales the power to act as king. However, King George III recovers enough that he is able to stop the passage of the bill and keep control of the throne.
The acclaimed film was nominated for 15 BAFTA Awards and four Academy Awards. Nigel Hawthorne won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and was nominated for an Oscar, while the film itself won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.
Hawthorne first played George III in the stage play that was the basis for the film version of The Madness of King George. The actor said the play "is about a man who knows that he is ill and not insane, being treated for insanity, and that's the tragedy."
The filmmakers suggest that George III's behavior was a result of him suffering from acute porphyria, a liver disease that also attacks the nervous system. But that theory has been challenged by many, including a research project that in 2013 stated George III had actually suffered from mental illness.
- Actors: Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Rupert Everett, Rupert Graves
- Released: 1994
- Directed by: Nicholas Hytner
- 5147 VOTESPhoto: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Set during Christmastime 1183, The Lion in Winter revolves around the question of which of the sons of King Henry II and his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine will be chosen to inherit the throne. Henry II favors his youngest son, John, while Eleanor - who has been released from prison for the holidays - pushes for their eldest surviving son, Richard. The couple agrees that Henry II will name Richard heir if the latter marries the half-sister of Eleanor's ex-husband, King Phillip of France, even though this half-sister is Henry II's mistress. In return, Eleanor will turn control of Aquitaine over to John.
But Richard refuses to go through with the marriage. Henry II has all three of his sons imprisoned and declared unfit to inherit the crown after discovering John and middle son Geoffrey conspired with King Phillip to try and declare war on England. Although he condemns his sons to death, he ends up allowing them to escape even as Eleanor gets ready to return to prison.
The Lion in Winter was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It won three, including Hepburn's third trophy for Best Actress. Although the characterizations are relatively historically accurate, much of the action in the film is fictional.
- Actors: Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Merrow, John Castle, Timothy Dalton
- Released: 1968
- Directed by: Anthony Harvey
- 6166 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
The Duchess is based on the life of Georgiana (Spencer) Cavendish, who was born into nobility and later became the Duchess of Devonshire after marrying William Cavendish in 1774 when she was just 17 years old. The film presents the marriage as being arranged in order for Cavendish to father a legitimate male heir, and he is upset when she ends up giving birth to a daughter. Georgiana befriends Lady Bess Foster and invites her to come live with the couple. She feels betrayed when she discovers Bess has begun an affair with Cavendish, although the other woman explains her motives revolve around trying to regain custody of her children. Georgiana then has an affair of her own with politician Charles Grey, continuing the relationship even after her husband rapes her - an event that results in a pregnancy and the birth of the married couple's son.
When Cavendish threatens to destroy Grey's political career and keep Georgiana from ever seeing her children again, she ends the affair, even though she is pregnant with Grey's daughter. She gives birth in secret, then gives the baby to Grey's family to be raised as his niece. She later reconciles with her husband and resumes with him and Lady Foster. The film's credits reveal that Grey went on to become the prime minister of England, that Georgiana eventually got to meet her illegitimate daughter, and that before she passed, she gave Cavendish and Lady Foster her permission to get married.
The film got generally good reviews, especially for the work done by the lead actors. It also won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Adapted from Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana Cavendish, the film skims over or ignores many details of her life, such as her likely gambling habit, her perpetual debt, and her status as a fashion trendsetter in London society. Instead of focusing on how much power and influence she had among the Whig Party (her husband was a member of the House of Lords and she cultivated many powerful friends through her role as a political hostess), the film revolves around her unusual marriage and her affair with Grey.
- Actors: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
- Released: 2008
- Directed by: Saul Dibb