10 Best Royal Films
Next in line to inherit the throne of Royal films is DIANA. The film takes audiences into the private realm of one of the world’s most iconic and inescapably public women – the Princess of Wales, Diana (two-time Oscar nominee NAOMI WATTS) — in the last two years of her meteoric life.
On the occasion of the 16th anniversary of her sudden death, acclaimed director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the Oscar-nominated Downfall) explores Diana’s final rite of passage: a secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (NAVEEN ANDREWS, “Lost,” The English Patient), the human complications of which reveal the Princess’s climactic days in a compelling new light. DIANA is in select theaters now.
As long as filmmakers have been bringing the lives of England’s Kings and Queens to the silver screen have moviegoers been going to the cinemas to be schooled in British Monarchy.
So Arise, Sirs and Ladies, for here is a look at the 10 best royal films. Lest ye be sent to the Tower of London – “He who draws the sword from the stone, he shall be king” – we’ll begin with the “first” King of England.
Honorable Mention: EXCALIBUR
Complete with relatively unknown actors at the time – Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Nigel Terry and Gabriel Byrne - Nicol Williamson as Merlin was the highlight of John Boorman’s tale of England’s King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The gorgeous cinematography, which made this movie such a standout, was from Alex Thomson who received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography and also went on to win a number of awards.
It’s been reported that the documentary ‘Behind the Sword in the Stone’ had recently wrapped photography and is looking for funding to complete post production. It features interviews with the original cast more than 30 years on and retraces the steps it took to make the fantasy epic.
“Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
Mel Gibson came into his own as a director with BRAVEHEART, an account of the life and times of medieval Scottish patriot William Wallace’s struggle to unify his nation against King Edward I of England (Patrick McGoohan).
Gibson is William Wallace, a bold Scotsman who uses the steel of his sword and the fire of his intellect to rally his countrymen to liberation from the English occupation of Scotland. James Horner’s emotional, bagpiped filled score solidified BRAVEHEART on our list as one of the best royal films.
The film was the winner of five Oscars at the 68th Academy Awards including Best Picture of 1995, Best Director (Gibson), Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing.
9. THE YOUNG VICTORIA and HER MAJESTY, MRS. BROWN
In what’s become our favorite bookend films on the famous monarch, THE YOUNG VICTORIA and HER MAJESTY, MRS. BROWN are absolute delights for devout royalists.
Victoria is crowned Queen of England. In THE YOUNG VICTORIA , Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) delivered an incredibly compelling performance as Queen Victoria in the turbulent first years of her reign. Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice) portrayed Prince Albert, the suitor who wins her heart and becomes her partner in one of historys greatest romances. This love story, set amongst all the intrigue of the court, also featured Paul Bettany (Iron Man, The Da Vinci Code), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Jim Broadbent (The Damned United, The Chronicles of Narnia), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Tristan & Isolde).
In MRS. BROWN, rugged Scotsman John Brown (Billy Connolly) is a lowly servant who looks after Queen Victoria’s horses. Yet when circumstances bring them together, the result is a passionate friendship that scandalizes a nation. Grieving widow Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) withdraws into sadness for years, until plainspoken manservant John Brown disrupts her mourning. But as their friendship grows, it results in personal and political ramifications for both of them.
Dench saw a Best Actress Oscar nomination and John Madden’s charming picture was one of the best films of 1997.
The longest reigning monarch up to date is Queen Victoria who sat on the throne for 63 years. However…
8. THE QUEEN
…should Queen Elizabeth II still be reigning in September 2015, she will surpass Queen Victoria (her great, great grandmother) as the longest reigning monarch, so God Save The Queen!
The British prime minister and the Royal Family find themselves quietly at odds in the wake of a national tragedy in THE QUEEN from director Stephen Frears.
After Diana, Princess of Wales died in an auto accident in Paris on August 31, 1997,, Prime Minister Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) saw a potential public-relations disaster in the making, and took it upon himself to persuade Queen Elizabeth II (played by Helen Mirren) to make a statement in tribute to the fallen Diana – an action that went against the taciturn queen’s usual nature.
Mirren’s portrayal was spot on and she received the Best Actress Oscar at the 79th Academy Awards.
THE QUEEN was released the same year that Helen Mirren played Queen Elizabeth I in an acclaimed miniseries for British television; The Queen also gave Michael Sheen his second opportunity to play Tony Blair after portraying the prime minister in the television film The Deal.
7. HENRY V
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” (Act IV, Scene III)
Kenneth Branagh wrote, directed and played the second English monarch of the House of Lancaster in HENRY V.
While Variety called it “a stirring, gritty and enjoyable pic which offers a plethora of fine performances from some of the U.K.’s brightest talents,” the movie was filled with British thespians such as Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, Alec McCowen, Judi Dench, Richard Briers, Robbie Coltrane and Brian Blessed.
It’s no wonder Branagh’s Oscar-nominated performance and direction, its regal score by Patrick Doyle and the easy to follow Shakespearean lines were so highly praised.
Richard Burton as Thomas Becket went head to head with Peter O’Toole as King Henry II in BECKET
O’Toole delivered an electrifying performance as the mischievous Henry II, who surprises England by naming his trusted valet Thomas Becket (Richard Burton in a career defining role) as Chancellor.
But when Henry next appoints him Archbishop Of Canterbury, Becket shocks the world by openly defying the King with his newfound faith and compassion. Will a desperate ruler now destroy a beloved friend to save his splintering kingdom? John Gielgud co-stars in this stunning epic based on the Broadway sensation and was brought to the screen by Hal Wallis, the legendary producer of ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS – which we’ll get to in a second.
5. THE KING’S SPEECH
Those loyal to the crown were excited about this film even before it was released.
After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England.
With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King will overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that inspires his people and unites them in battle.
Based on the true story of George VI, THE KING’S SPEECH follows the King’s quest to find his voice. Colin Firth won Best Actor and the film was Best Picture winner much to the delight of monarchists everywhere.
4. THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE
While he lost the American Colonies and had the longest reign of any British King, George III was a tad MAD at times.
Parents to 15 children (maybe that was it), King George and Queen Charlotte were played by Helen Mirren and Nigel Hawthorne in THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE. In this tale, the royal Dad goes a little off the deep end and his conniving son tries to usurp the throne.
Have you noticed the recurring theme on our list – Helen Mirren?
Nigel Hawthorne missed out winning the Oscar to Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump that year. An absolutely masterful performance from Hawthorne was matched by that of Ian Holm’s Doctor-to-the-King.
There is a “those-dumb-yanks” claim that the title was changed from The Madness of George III to THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE by its distributors to avoid the possibility that American audiences would think it was the third installment of a “Madness of George” movie series.
Although Nicholas Hytner, the film’s director, admitted that the claim is “not totally untrue,” he also divulged that the most important factor was that “it was felt necessary to get the word King into the title.” The change was not primarily motivated by a perceived need to cater to Americans’ alleged ignorance, but by a prudent recognition of cultural differences between America and England.
3. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Winning six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, director Fred Zinneman’s A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS was the ultimate standoff.
In 16th-century England, King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) betrays the Roman Catholic Church to divorce his wife and marry his latest conquest Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave). Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) is then forced to choose between his principles and duty to his heretical king, who has begun executing the treasonous with increasing frequency. The historically profound battle of ideals also involves Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles), Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern), and More’s valiant wife (Wendy Hiller).
As with most British history films, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS’ also featured an ensemble of Anglican actors - Susanna York, Nigel Davenport, Corin Redgrave and a young John Hurt.
2. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII and ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS
So let’s segueway into none other than His Majesty, Henry VIII.
Alas, this one was a tie. We loved ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS for Genevieve Bujold’s Anne Boleyn and Richard Burton’s Henry, while the actresses who embodied the eight wives in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII were all perfectly cast as his unmitigated equals.
Seeing as we didn’t want to run the risk of losing our heads over the Tudor films, both found a spot on our list.
Watch Best Actor winner Charles Laughton in the funniest scene from THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII.
1. ELIZABETH and MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
“I am my father’s daughter.”
Our final films on the list had to go to two monarchs – ELIZABETH and MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS.
The two Queens could hold their own to any man and Cate Blanchett proved that in her Oscar-nominated turn as “The Virgin Queen” in director Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 film. ELIZABETH was nominated in 7 categories in the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress, with Jenny Shircore receiving the Oscar for Best Makeup.
While these women never met in real life, the fictional face-to-face encounters between Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave in MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971), the power and tenacity are a wonder to watch.
Historically, Elizabeth had her confined in a number of castles and manor houses in the interior of England after preceiving her as a threat. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, and was subsequently executed. Mary’s son, James, ironically succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne and became James I of England.