Screen kings and queens

As The King's Speech is released, Gerard Gilbert surveys the tumultuous history of monarchs on film and TV, and offers suggestions for future royal appointments
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

William I (1066-87)

Michael Gambon played the Conqueror in the 1990 TV play Blood Royal: William the Conqueror, while the Gladiator screenwriter William Nicholson is rumoured to be penning a Hollywood version. Come on, Russell, once more unto the breach.



William II (1087-1100)

Spooks star Peter Firth played the uncrowned William Rufus in Blood Royal: William the Conqueror. He was most famous for being killed by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest – there must be a murder mystery in there. Should suit a redhead. Damian Lewis?



Henry I (1100-35)

He was played by Clive Wood as an elderly monarch in Channel 4's The Pillars of the Earth, and there is bonk-buster mileage in the fact that he sired more illegitimate children than any other monarch. Can Jonathan Rhys Meyers take time out of The Tudors?



Stephen (1135-54)

Scottish actor Tony Curran played Stephen in The Pillars of the Earth, but his only other screen portrayals were in an episode of ITV's monk-sleuth series Cadfael, where he was played by Michael Grandage, and in the 1978 BBC series The Devil's Crown, played by Frederick Treves.

Henry II (1154-89)

Peter O'Toole, natch. He played Henry in Becket (1963), with Richard Burton as the troublesome priest, and in The Lion in Winter (1968), with Katharine Hepburn as the troublesome missus, Eleanor of Aquitaine.



Richard I (1189-99)

Anthony Hopkins played Prince Richard in The Lion in Winter, but as the king, the Lionheart appears most in Robin Hood movies – think Richard Harris in Robin and Marian (1976), Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Patrick Stewart in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).



John (1199-1216)

The support villain of Robin Hood movies, played by Claude Rains in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Ian Holm in Robin and Marian (1976).



Henry III (1216-72)

Henry III appears in his father's death scene in a 1984 BBC version of King John, played by Rusty Livingstone. Battles with Simon de Montfort dominated his reign – a two-hander for Christian Bale and Gerard Butler?



Edward I (1272-1307)

The Hammer of the Scots, and William Wallace's great foe, so we're talking Braveheart, with Patrick McGoohan as Edward 1. With so many historical inaccuracies, is it time for a new biopic?



Edward II (1307-27)

The ill-fated (with the red-hot poker and all that), bisexual Edward, played by Peter Hanly in Braveheart, gets a more sexually explicit treatment in Derek Jarman's 1991 film, Edward II. Steven Waddington played him.



Edward III (1327-77)

He started the Hundred Years War, survived the Black Death, and outlived his son, the Black Prince. But he's rarely portrayed on screen, so it seems time for a French epic about rapacious Albion, with Daniel Auteuil as the victor of Crécy and Poitiers.



Richard II (1377-99)

Derek Jacobi played him in a 1978 BBC production of Shakespeare's play. The most dramatic event of his reign was the Peasants' Revolt. Can we suggest a Ken Loach account of the timely uprising, starring Daniel Radcliffe?



Henry IV (1399-1413)

A regicidal usurper, Henry might have been overlooked by screen dramatists if it hadn't been for Shakespeare's Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, combined in the 1965 Orson Welles film Chimes of Midnight, with John Gielgud as Henry.



Henry V (1413-22)

Olivier or Branagh? Who are we kidding? Laurence Olivier is the definitive victor of Agincourt, his 1944 film of Shakespeare's play being rich with invention and the tide of history.



Henry VI (1422-61 & 1470-71)

Weak and ineffectual, starting the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI isn't the stuff of screen heroes. But Tudor propaganda, helped by Shakespeare, turned him into a pious martyr. David Warner played him in Wars of the Roses (1965).



Edward IV (1461-70 & 1471-83)

The Yorkist claimant was a courageous leader who survived the worst period of the Wars of the Roses. The nugget for dramatists is that he married beneath him, for love. Bring it on, Robert Pattinson and Scarlett Johansson.



Richard III (1483-5)

Dissed by Shakespeare as a hunchback, Richard III was still a ruthless operator. He's played by Basil Rathbone in Tower of London (1939) and Peter Cook in The Black Adder (1983), but definitive portrayals belong to Laurence Olivier in 1955 and Ian McKellen, in a 1995 adaptation set in a fascist 1930s England.



Henry VII (1485-1509)

Eclipsed by his larger-than-life son, the victor of Bosworth has fared badly on screen, his few portrayals including John Woodnutt in the 1971 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Dominic West in McKellen's Richard III.



Henry VIII (1509-47)

Along with his daughter Elizabeth, Henry VIII is the most oft-portrayed monarch, thanks to those six wives. But sorry, Rhys Meyers fans: the best Henry is either Keith Michell in The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).



Edward VI (1547-53)

The boy monarch was 16 when he died of tuberculosis, the pawn of courtiers. Not much of a role. He is the monarch in endless revisions of The Prince and the Pauper. Oliver!'s Mark Lester appears in the famous version from 1977.

Lady Jane Grey (1553)

Queen for nine days, Jane's story has everything, from intrigue and arranged marriage to death on the chopping block aged 18. Helena Bonham Carter played her in the 1986 weepie Lady Jane, but we're surely due another.



Mary I (1553-58)

Far less cinematically popular than her younger sister, Bloody Mary has been portrayed by Jane Lapotaire, Joanne Whalley and Sarah Bolger. But the actress who impressed most was Kathy Burke in Elizabeth (1998).



Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Flora Robson, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff and, next year, in the thriller Anonymous, Vanessa Redgrave: the list of actors playing the Virgin Queen is long and imposing. Honorary mention goes to Sally Potter's jeu d'esprit in casting Quentin Crisp in Orlando.



James I (1603-25)

The first Stuart and the intended target of the Gunpowder Plot is scantly represented on screen. Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and dear old Dudley Sutton have played him. Jonathan Pryce, in Terrence Malick's The New World, is the most recent.



Charles I (1625-49)

Honorary mentions go to Rupert Everett in To Kill a King (2003), and to the 1980s mini-series By the Sword Divided, but the best Charles I is Alec Guinness in Cromwell (1970), a Van Dyck portrait come to life.



Charles II (1660-85)

After puritan rule by Richard Harris... sorry, Oliver Cromwell... the monarchy is restored. The Merry Monarch has been played by an unlikely bunch: Vincent Price, George Sanders, Rufus Sewell and Sam Neill in Restoration (1995).



James II (1685-88)

The Catholic zealot brother of Charles II was played by Charlie Creed-Miles in Charles 11: the Power and the Passion (2003), but the Glorious Revolution requires its own film. Step forward, James McAvoy, Last King of Scotland star.



William III (1689-1702)

William III ousted his father-in-law, James II, in the name of his wife Mary II. Olivier played him in a 1985 bio-series about Peter the Great of Russia, while, played by Bernard Hill, Billy Boy was somehow mixed up in The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005).



Anne (1702-14)

Played by Margaret Tyzack in the BBC drama The First Churchills (1969), the famously fat daughter of James II is ripe for re-discovery. Casting directors will probably plump for someone famously skinny. Keira Knightley?



George I (1714-27)

Cold and dull, or cultured and shrewd? Either way, film-makers are unanimous in disregard for the first Hanoverian. His terrible relations with his heir, the future George II, might make an interesting story. Played by Peter Bull in Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948).



George II (1727-60)

A monarch more defined by the Jacobite Rebellion than by anything else, George was played by Martin Miller in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948). A new film, Young Pretender: the Story of Bonnie Prince Charlie, is due at Christmas 2012. Stephen Fry as George II?



George III (1760-1820)

Nigel Hawthorne, of course, in The Madness of King George (1994). Hawthorne was Oscar-nominated in this historically accurate and winning screen adaptation of Alan Bennett's play.



George IV (1820-30)

Rupert Everett was convincing as the foppish Prinny, the Prince of Wales who gave us the Regency period, in The Madness of King George; the rotund Nigel Bruce in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) far less so.



William IV (1830-37)

The "sailor king" had a 20-year relationship with an actress and inherited the throne at the age of 64. Peter Ustinov played him in the 2001 BBC series Victoria and Albert and Jim Broadbent was he in Young Victoria (2009).



Victoria (1837-1901)

More actors have played Victoria than any monarch, including Anna Neagle, Rosemary Leach, Prunella Scales (twice) and Emily Blunt. Best was Judi Dench, magnificent as the grief-stricken queen in Mrs Brown (1997).



Edward VII (1901-10)

Timothy West played Bertie in ITV's 1975 series Edward the Seventh. Denis Lill was better in the Lillie Langtry bio-series Lillie, but I retain a soft spot for Simon Russell Beale's surreal turn in the BBC's The Young Visiters (2003).



George V (1910-36)

Michael Gambon's George V contributes to his son's stammering in the The King's Speech. Other notable portrayals include David Troughton in All the King's Men (1999) and Marius Goring in Edward and Mrs Simpson (1980).



Edward VIII (1936)

Good times for portrayals of the abdicant. Tom Hollander was sly in Channel 4's Any Human Heart, and Guy Pearce is feline and feckless in The King's Speech. Both convince more than Edward Fox in Edward and Mrs Simpson.



George VI (1936-52)

Colin Firth has made the stammering monarch his own in The King's Speech, with a performance of quiet bravura that seems destined for Oscar glory.



Elizabeth II (1952-)

Helen Mirren opened the floodgates on realistic portrayals of our living monarch. Since then, Channel 4's The Queen cast five actresses as Her Maj. My favourite is Prunella Scales's cameo in the BBC version of Alan Bennett's A Question of Attribution.

Comments