I’m sure you’ve all heard about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement this week. I had no idea they’ve been dating for more than eight years, sounds like their romance is the stuff that dreams are made of. I haven’t been following news about them pretty closely, but from the occasional tidbits I heard, they seem like a good match and it’s nice to see they truly choose to be with each other. It’s cool that William gave his mother’s engagement ring to Kate… I kinda teared up when I read William saying that the giving Diana’s ring to his fiancé “… was my way of keeping her close to it all.” (Updated 4/26/11 – well, since the royal wedding takes place this weekend, my prayer is for William & Kate to have a wonderful and lasting marriage as grand as the wedding itself!)
In honor of the happy couple, I’m picking five favorite movies about the British monarch of the last couple of decades (I figure there’ll be too many if I don’t put a 20 year limit!). Here they are in order of release:
- Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (1997)
I have to admit this movie was on my radar because it’s Gerry Butler’s feature film debut. Butler didn’t have a big part, but he was pretty memorable as Archie, John’s supportive brother. But I’ve come to love this movie for the beautiful story of love and friendship between a grieving Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) who’s still mourning her dead husband and her servant John Brown (Billy Connolly) who adores her. It’s through their special friendship that she ‘comes back to life’ again, but their relationship caused quite a stir.
Dench and Connolly are both wonderful as the Queen and Mr. Brown (Dame Judi was nominated for an Oscar for her outstanding performance). Connolly is known for his comedic work but he proved to have some dramatic chops here. This movie is touching, funny and heartwarming, helped by a tight script and beautiful cinematography. The scenes of Balmoral Castle and the Highlands could double as a Scotland tourism promo.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Not exactly a film about a particular royal family, but Queen Elizabeth I plays a big part of the plot as a prominent supporter of English theater. It’s arguable whether Gwyneth Paltrow deserved her Oscar as Viola, the cross-dressing actress who auditions for the part of Romeo. No matter, I think the movie itself is enjoyable, it’s more of a rom-com set in the late 16th century London that focuses on the Bard’s forbidden romance that provides rich inspiration for his play. I guess even Shakespeare can get writer’s block
According to Wikipedia, Daniel Day-Lewis and Kenneth Branagh passed on the lead role, but I quite like Joseph Fiennes in this, he’s a passionate and captivating actor. This movie boasts a fabulous, mostly British cast: Judi Dench (again – and she won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her mere eight minute of screen time!), Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Imelda Staunton, Rupert Everet, Colin Firth and Ben Affleck.
The Queen (2006)
The story takes place post Princes Diana’s death. The Queen’s decision to retreat to her hideaway in Scotland’s Balmoral Castle upset the heartbroken public and puts pressure on newly elected PM Tony Blair, who constantly tries to convince the monarchy to address the public.
The film itself isn’t perfect, but I was captivated by Helen Mirren’s sympathetic but believable portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. She truly owned this film and elevated it above what it would have been under a lesser talent. It’s not just the amazing makeup work, but Helen Mirren had her mannerism and body language down to a science. The monarch is often portrayed in less-than-favorable light, but I like the fact that this movie didn’t seem to pass judgment on the Queen and carefully illustrated her as a truly complex character. Michael Sheen is also stunningly convincing and charismatic as Blair, I guess it helped that he has an uncanny physically resemblance with the real guy.
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age – (2007)
There is a good reason why I adore Cate Blanchett and considers her my all-time favorite actress. Her versatility is mind-boggling, in the same year she portrayed Queen Elizabeth I, she was also Bob Dylan in I’m Not There… both of which were nominated for an Academy Award in 1998 (she should’ve won both, IMO!)
Just like The Queen, Blanchett’s the best part of this sequel of the 1998 version. Queen Elizabeth I endured various political crises late in her reign of nearly 45 years, court intrigues, an assassination plot, the Spanish Armada; as well as a personal dilemma as he fell for Sir Walter Raleigh, played by the ever-s0-dashing Clive Owen. It’s arguable if this one lives up to the original, some call it style over substance. But I think it deserves to be on this list merely on Blanchett’s phenomenal acting.
- Young Victoria (2009)
This is the only one out of the five that I saw at the theater. I am a big fan of Emily Blunt and intrigued by the fact that this is about the younger version of the same queen in Mrs. Brown. Blunt at 26 with her luminous skin was quite believable as the teenage Queen who came to the throne at 18. The movie dramatizes the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria’s 63-year rule and her enduring, almost fairy-tale romance with Prince Albert. Rupert Friend is quite charming and sympathetic as Albert, who admired and respected the young queen when everyone wanted to control and manipulate her.
The assassination attempt towards the end took a lot of liberty from reality, but it sure makes for a dramatic scene. Mark Strong plays one of his many villainous roles as the queen’s adviser John Conroy, he portrayed him so convincingly that I really loathed him in this movie! The movie feels tedious at times, though those moments allow you to marvel at the beautiful scenery and intricate costumes. The music is beautiful too, I’m even considering buying the soundtrack.
Please note that at the time I made this list, I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, but I predicted that it might very well make my list. Sure enough I was right, I even championed for it in this Oscar Best Picture Fight Club and it won!
So, what are your favorite movies about British royals?