As one of the few surviving monarchies in the world, the British Royal Family has been the source of inspiration and drama for many films throughout its history. Other than being set during the turbulent times of vicious politics or bloody reformations to show that the life of a royalty is not always a bed of roses, filmmakers have also mined the stories of strength and perseverance in the face of wretched scandals and undermining crises to inspire greatness and reverence in the common man.
| Naomi Watts as the late Princess Diana in "Diana".
With the release of "Diana", which also touches upon her tragic romance, we look at other noteworthy films revolving around the British Royal Family and its members, as they continue to be a subject of fascination and fealty of their loyal subjects.
"The Lion In Winter" (1968)
Peter O'Toole as King Henry II.
"The Lion In Winter" is set during a Christmas gathering called by King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and his wife Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine, played by the venerable Katharine Hepburn, where he decides which among his three sons – Richard, John and Geoffrey – he would choose to be his successor for the throne.
Adapted from the play by James Goldman based loosely on actual historical facts, and directed by Anthony Harvey, "The Lion In Winter" is one of the landmark films about the British Royal Family because it has all the fittings of a royal drama; secret plots, brother against and brother and forbidden affairs, all for the purpose of winning the right to the seat of power, and all done on a joyous Christmas day.
"The Lion In Winter" was also noted for giving Katharine Hepburn her third Oscar for Best Actress in one of the few shared wins of the award (with Barbara Streisand) and marked the debut appearance of Anthony Hopkins as Prince Richard.
"The Queen" (2006)
| Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II
"The Queen" was written by Peter Morgan (who also wrote this year's "Rush") and directed by Stephen Frears about the immense pressure faced by Queen Elizabeth II and her family, as they lived through the dilemma created by the death of someone who had shamed the family, but loved by the people.
Set just after the death of Princess Diana, who had by then divorced from Prince Charles and not strictly a member of the royal family anymore, the royal family suffers severe disapproval from the modern country under new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) who sees their lack of response to her death as heartless and cold. When the popularity of the monarchy plummets and voices call for its abdication, Queen Elizabeth II must come to terms with what it means to be a sovereign ruler unloved by her people and reconcile with them.
Helen Mirren's performance as Queen Elizabeth II would win her her only Oscar as Best Actress to date, and it is one that is deserved not for her regal imitation, but also putting a human face to one of the oldest living monarchs who has weathered through ten Prime Ministers, both World Wars, and royal scandals in her long reign. Her performance helps us to see the other side of the story of a long history of family and tradition being challenged by the forces of modernization.
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (2007)
| Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I
When King Philip II of Spain sets his eyes to conquer England and turn it into a part of his Catholic empire, a plot is hatched to dispose of its monarch, the aging Queen Elizabeth I. While finding romantic refuge in the dashing explorer Walter Raleigh (played by Clive Owen), the Virgin Queen is eventually forced to face the realities of an army coming to invade her country and the treacherous forces within her own court that would like to see her demise.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" is another story in the history of the royal family when enemies are kept closer than friends. Although the film won an Oscar in Costume Design, it should be best remembered for the performance of Cate Blanchett (who was also nominated for Best Actress), especially for her rousing speech to her soldiers before meeting the Spanish Armada.
"The Young Victoria" (2009)
| Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria
In Jean-Marc Vallee's "The Young Victoria", the barely adult Princess of Kent succeeds the throne as Queen Victoria, and is surrounded on all sides by those who would make a puppet out of her for their own ends, until she meets Prince Albert of Belgium (played by Rupert Friend), who may or may not have her best interests at heart.
Based on the early years of one of the greatest rulers of the British monarchy, "The Young Victoria" played by Emily Blunt may not require the onscreen hardness of Cate Blanchett or Helen Mirren's royal roles, but it is a refreshing change of pace to see that unconditional love can blossom in the cutthroat world of courtly love and unfaithful motivations.
"The King's Speech" (2010)
| Colin Firth as King George VI
In Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech", Colin Firth is Prince Albert and second in line to the throne, who has a stammering problem that would make him a dysfunctional monarch in the advent of the radio. To rid himself of his speech impediment, the Prince and his wife, Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter) seeks the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) and goes through unorthodox methods to loosen his tongue.
When Prince Albert ascends the throne as King George VI and uncertainty of war looms, he must learn to rise above the occasion and inspire the confidence of his imperial subjects when their morale is at its lowest.
This story of friendship and trust between king and commoner would win the hearts and minds of the people when it brought back an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, among a slew of others, making it one of, if not the most, memorable films about the royal family to date.
Cinema Online, 07 November 2013