It’s funny, royalty has always fascinated the public and why shouldn’t it? There’s this distance between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ A distance that is not easily bridged and their problems don’t seem like ours–except in books or movies when we’re allowed to be up close and personal with them. Some of the films on this list are about real royals and some are about fictional royalty, but what they all have in common is that feeling of knowing these monarchs and wanting to root for them.
Starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, it examined the life of the long-lived British monarch and her grief for her husband. One of the most well-known stories about Queen Victoria was her deep affection for Prince Albert, and her long mourning after he died. Dench was sublime as Victoria, and this remains one of my favorite films about the nineteenth century queen.
The Man in the Iron Mask
Based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, it’s also one of my favorite DiCaprio films as he portrays two brothers–one the ruler of France and the other, his twin who has been consigned to live behind a mask in an impregnable fortress. Also featuring appearances by some older Musketeers, who in an effort to curb the excess of the wicked King, free his brother and seek to change France’s future.
Based on the Shakespearean play, which is of course based on history or at least the interpreted history of the time, the film stars Kenneth Branagh as the titular Henry and his war with France. It’s brutal and dark and dirty, but I cannot listen to his St. Crispins Day speech without shivering!
The Lion in Winter
This is about another Henry, the II to be precise and stars Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Terry and so many more. All three of Henry II’s sons want to inherit and then there’s Henry II’s fierce bride–Eleanor of Aquitaine who went to war against her husband and ended up being his prisoner. Unlike a certain later Henry, Henry II didn’t execute his bride, because he still valued her council.
This is another film featuring Peter O’Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as the titular Becket. The two men were very close, the best of friends, and confidants, but the schism between them when Becket follows God’s law rather than his king’s becomes the root of the powerful story of struggle between monarch and church, and between two friends.
The King and I
The musical featuring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr is a different type of story–it’s about humanizing the monarch for real as the western governess shakes things up in the palace of Siam. And there’s singing and dancing. What? Don’t judge.
Back to Britain we go with Cate Blanchett playing the part of Queen Elizabeth, heir to the throne of her sister Queen Mary, and their father King Henry VIII following the deaths of her siblings (Elizabeth was third after her brother’s death and later Mary’s, fourth if you consider Lady Jane Grey was queen for a whopping 17 days between her brother’s death and Mary). Cate Blanchett is sublime as the young Elizabeth, raised under the threat of death from a very early age. Her mother is Anne Boleyn and was executed by Henry VIII, Mary both hated and loved her sister, and you get the feeling that Elizabeth both feared and loved Mary, but Elizabeth changed the face of Britain and became one of the longest reigning monarchs–she’s also the last Tudor.
The Princess Diaries (I and II)
Anne Hathaway shone in the role of Mia, the princess of a tiny little country she’d never even heard of. Based on the series by Meg Cabot, this is one of those go to feel good movies about the transformation of a girl to a princess and a coming of age for Mia as she truly discovers who she is–and the second film has Chris Pine in it. Yum!
Coming to America
Yes, it’s a comedy. Yes, it stars Eddie Murphy–but it’s also a wonderful reverse tale of rags to riches in the sense that Murphy’s prince is SOOO cossetted and protected and everyone harkens to his every whim, that he wants to find real love and a real woman, so he goes to America and learns the value of hard work, humility and humbleness. Arsenio Hall is a riot and I adored James Earl Jones as his father.
And my favorite film about a royal returns us to Britain one more time, only for a tale that is not often told. I am one of those people who does not see a ‘love story’ when I hear about how Edward VIII gave up the throne for the “woman he loved.” His younger brother was then thrust into a role he’d never expected during one of the most defining period’s in British history. George VI became an exceptional ruler, but he had to overcome a personal stutter and anxiety to do so, and for the first time, we get a real glimpse of what this must have been like in the brilliant film The King’s Speech, staring Colin Firth as George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue. What truly makes this film stand out to me is that it is a story of friendship, and a story of love.
So what are you favorite films about Royals?
Some Like It Royal releases on January 13th!