A Brief History of British Monarchs in Film & Television

“We will never be Royaaals”, which is precisely why we’re fascinated by the privileged lives of the noble born, their rise and fall, their scandals and affairs. In honour of  Netflix’ new original series The Crown about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II, I present to you this guide to British Monarchs in Film & Television…

1. A Knight’s Tale

Cast & Crew: Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, James Purefoy.

Who’s on the throne and when? Edward, the Black Prince of Wales was never actually King, but he was a legend anyways. He lived from 1330-1376.

This post-modern re-telling of one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” wittily illustrates that there is no greater asset than nobility of the heart. And while Heath Ledger is at the front and center of this ad astra per aspera story, it is the scene where the “Black Prince” (James Purefoy) rewards the commoner’s valour and integrity by knighting him that always gives me goosebumps.

2. The White Queen

Cast & Crew: Max Irons, Rebecca Ferguson.

Who’s on the throne and when? Eventually, Henry VII, 1485 – 1509.

The series is set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, fought between the House of York (whose symbol was a white rose) and the House of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose) for the throne of England. Interestingly, George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series Game of Thrones is also inspired by the same historical period and conflict.

3. The Tudors

Cast & Crew: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Henry Cavill, Natalie Dormer, Sam Neill

Who’s on the throne and when? Henry VIII, 1509 – 1547. The show covers his entire reign.

He is boastful, arrogant and acquisitive, he lacks moderation, temper and diplomacy that  and he is a terrible husband to all six of his wives (two of which he famously had beheaded) – in short, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ Henry VIII is the Donald Trump of British Kings.

4. The Other Boleyn Girl

Cast & Crew: Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson

Who’s on the throne and when? Also Henry VIII, 1509 – 1547. The film focuses on the period between 1521 to 1526 when Mary Boleyn was mistress to the king.

Like I said, Henry VIII was a right dick. Not only did he split from the Roman-catholic church so he could divorce his first wife for Anne Boleyn, he also swapped Anne’s sister Mary for her before that. Not to mention that he later had Anne beheaded when he had tired of her.

5. Reign

Cast & Crew: Adelaide Kane (Teen Wolf), Toby Regbo, Alan van Sprang (Shadowhunters), Megan Follows, Caitlyn Stasey (Tomorrow when the war began), Torrance Coombs, Anna Popplewell (The Chronicles of Narnia), Rachel Skarsten (Lost Girl).

Who’s on the throne and when? Mary Queen of Scots,  1542 – 1567, and Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I of England,  1558 – 1603.

This lush and sexy – yet outrageously historically inaccurate – drama follows the early years of Mary Stuart’s reign. Although the real appeal of the show is Mary’s tempestuous relationship with Francis Valois, the dauphin of France, the show ups the political drama towards the end of season 2 with the introduction of Elisabeth I (Rachel Skarsten), who famously beheaded her cousin in 1587.

6. Elizabeth & Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Cast & Crew: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough

Who’s on the throne and when? Elizabeth I of England,  1558 – 1603.

Academy Award-winning portrait of Elizabeth I and her difficult task of learning what is necessary to be a monarch. Mary Queen of Scots is also featured in the sequel.

7. Shakespeare in Love

Cast & Crew: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Judy Dench.

Who’s on the throne and when? Elizabeth I of England,  1558 – 1603. The film is set in 1593, when “Romeo and Juliet” presumably premiered.

Judy Dench epically steals the scene when it is revealed that the Queen herself was in attendance during the opening night of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Her exasperation with fuckboys like Tilney and her unapologetic sass are a glorious gift to feminists everywhere. Of course, the real Elizabeth I would have never been caught in a public theatre: she had the actors come to the palace and perform a private show for her and her inner circle.

8. Stage Beauty

Cast & Crew: Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, Alice Eve, Zoe Tapper

Who’s on the throne and when? Charles II, 1660-1685.

Stage Beauty is a quintessentially feminist period comedy about a young woman who dreams of being an actress in a time when performing was reserved for men. Rupert Everett portrays the fun-loving King Charles II who led the Restoration of the monarchy after the Cromwell revolution.

9. The Young Victoria

Cast & Crew: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Mark Strong.

Who’s on the throne and when? William IV, and subsequently Victoria of Kent, 1837 – 1901. The film focuses on the early years of her reign and marriage to Prince Albert.

This is essentially a romance film about the courtship and marriage of Victoria and Albert (Rupert Friend). I’ve seen it lots of times and I get giddy every time she proposes to him and teary-eyed at the epilogue when it reads that after Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria entered a deep state of mourning: she had his clothes laid out every morning while she wore black for the remaining 40 years of her life.

10. Victoria

Cast & Crew: Jenna Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Tom Hughes.

Who’s on the throne and when? William IV, and subsequently Victoria of Kent, 1837 – 1901.

The first series also focuses on the first few years of  Victoria’s reign, but unlike the film starring Emily Blunt, the show highlights the Queen’s intense friendship and infatuation with Lord Melbourne (Sewell).

11. The King’s Speech

Cast & Crew: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush

Who’s on the throne and when? George VI, 1936 – 1952.

When his brother abdicates the throne to marry an American divorcée, George VI becomes King. To cope with a stammer, the reluctant ruler starts seeing an Australian speech and language therapist on whom he relies to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast on Britain’s declaration of war on Nazi-Germany in 1939.

12. The Crown

Cast & Crew: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, John Lightgow.

Who’s on the throne and when? George VI, then Elizabeth II, 1952- present.

From the producers of The Queen comes a visually outstanding insight into the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and marriage and her subsequent struggle to come into her own as a ruler and mother.

13. The Queen

Cast & Crew: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings.

Who’s on the throne and when? Elizabeth II, 1952- present.

The film fictionalises the aftermath of Princess Diana’s tragic death, culminating in her memorable television address to the British people.



Note: I have consciously omitted A Royal Night Out for it is an offence on my anglophile sensibilities. Google it if you must.


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