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Queen Elizabeth II: A look at the women who have played Her Majesty on film and TV screens

The personal life of the longest-serving monarch has proved irresistible to film and television producers and scriptwriters

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Claire Foy as the Queen and Matt Smith as the Duke

Claire Foy as the Queen and Matt Smith as the Duke

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in a teaser trailer for the new series of their drama, The Crown

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in a teaser trailer for the new series of their drama, The Crown

PA

Helen Mirren at the 90th Annual Academy Awards, Hollywood, 2018 (Credit: Alamy/PA)

Helen Mirren at the 90th Annual Academy Awards, Hollywood, 2018 (Credit: Alamy/PA)

Press Association Images

Imedla Staunton as the Queen

Imedla Staunton as the Queen

Helen Mirren in The Queen

Helen Mirren in The Queen

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Claire Foy as the Queen and Matt Smith as the Duke

There’s no standard unit of measuring fame but if there was, Queen Elizabeth II — the longest reigning monarch ever — would undoubtedly be crowned the most famous living person across the globe.

Her Majesty appears on the banknotes and coins of at least 35 different countries, her image appears on stamps.

Her visage has been used to create art — think Andy Warhol’s 1985 Reigning Queens silkscreen print series. She has been referenced in music (and not always referential in tone: God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols and The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead were anthems for the UK’s anti-monarchists).

The Queen has proved to be an irresistible subject for television, stage and films during her reign, particularly since the 2000s when the role attracted some of the most acclaimed stars of stage and screen.

The watershed moment came in 2006 with Peter Morgan’s film, The Queen, featuring Helen Mirren as a monarch struggling to juggle her duties as a matriarch at the head of a family dealing with the loss of Princess Diana, and a desire to do so privately, and the demands of an aggrieved, mourning public.

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The tension between the two positions is set out by Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair, the then Labour Prime Minister who famously coined the phrase, ‘The People’s Princess’ in Diana’s honour.

The historical drama’s success saw it garner dozens of award nominations from BAFTAs and Academy accolades — Mirren won the Oscar for Best Actress.

It was the start of a long-term fascination with the Royal family for Morgan who would take the subject matter to the stage with The Audience, a West End and Broadway play which had Mirren and Kristin Scott Thomas in the lead role in the London production.

Its plot centred on the weekly meetings The Queen has with her prime ministers, known as audiences, from the start of her reign in 1952 to present day.

The monarch’s life on the throne across the decades would be later explored in greater detail in the lavish multi-million pound Netflix production, The Crown, which would swap actors every two seasons to match the monarch and the royal family as they grow older.

The first ‘Crown’ Queen was Claire Foy whose portrayal of a carefree young mother and wife who unexpectedly has to assume the responsibility of carrying on the royal lineage just months into her marriage.

Reflecting on the monarch’s early years on the throne, Foy would insist that she had a new-found respect for the Queen, telling Vogue Magazine in 2016: “I never considered the personal impact of the job. I think it’s easy to put [the Royal family] on a pedestal, or lambast them and think they’ve got loads of money and houses.

“It’s easy to do that and turn them into something disconnected, but it’s not easy to look at them on a human level because it takes a huge amount of compassion and sympathy. But I think it’s worth doing, because I think they’re an amazing family.”

Likewise, Mirren — raised in a working-class London home that was “very anti-monarchy” as the actress herself put — expressed a great admiration for the Queen’s devotion to her country.

On collecting her Oscar, she praised the Queen for maintaining “her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle” through her reign.

“She’s had her feet planted firmly on the ground, her hat on her head, her handbag on her arm and she’s weathered many, many storms... If it wasn’t for her, I most certainly wouldn’t be here. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Queen,” Mirren said, holding her Oscar aloft.

Series three and four of The Crown saw acclaimed actress Olivia Colman step into the role, with Morgan announcing that Harry Potter star Imelda Staunton would take over for the last two series, bringing it to an end during the early 2000s, according to the show’s producers.

The final chapter of The Crown, which will be released in two parts. will continue to focus on Queen Elizabeth II, and it will feature the same main cast as in series five, but there are thought to be a few new additions including the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, who will appear during her early romance with Prince William.

BAFTA winner Staunton has said that she was “frightened” to take on the role, stressing her tenure would cover an era that would be freshest in the public’s mind. She acknowledged Colman and Foy had set the bar high in previous series, saying: “I’m delighted to be here, inheriting the role of Queen Elizabeth from two outstanding actresses… I will do my utmost to maintain the very high standard that they set.”

Not all of the Queen’s depictions on screen have been as a grown-up though. In A Royal Night Out (2015), teenage princesses Elizabeth and Margaret secretly venture out of Buckingham Palace to join in the VE (Victory in Europe) Day celebrations in 1945 with street revellers returning home in the early hours of the morning.

It shows a 19-year-old Elizabeth plead with her father, King George VI, who eventually relents against the Queen’s wishes. The young women leave the palace incognito, chaperoned by an army officer, but both slip away from their escort and separately they meet a naval officer and an airman on leave.

In reality, though, the princesses were part of an organised group of 16 went out at 10pm to mingle with the crowds.

Many actresses have played the Queen but it’s not many that have played her more than once. Mirren has played the Queen both on screen and on stage.

Channel 4’s The Queen featured five actresses, including Emilia Fox and Samantha Bond, playing the Queen at different stages in her life.

The actor who has played her the most, however, is arguably Jeanette Charles, whose resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II saw her being cast in some of the biggest comedy movies of the 1980s — The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and 1985’s National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985). The comedy thread of her career continued with Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).

Of course, let’s not forget that the Queen herself has shown a sense of humour by playing herself, appearing on screen with Daniel Craig in 007 mode for Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics.

The premise of the skit was that the famous spy was escorting HM to the stadium. Her cameo was surrounded in secrecy, with members of the royal family — and even the government — not aware of the comedy sketch.

The Queen also displayed some of her wit when she poked fun at Craig’s expense, something which the Bond star recalled to talk show host James Corden’s The Late, Late Show in February.

“We were having our photograph taken, and she just went, ‘Oh no, he’s the one that doesn’t smile,” said Craig.

He added that the 96-year-old is “very funny, wants to crack a joke, and crack a joke about me”.


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