Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee has been upon us for a couple of weeks now. And by us, I don’t simply mean her British subjects, but a lot of people all over the world, not least Americans who seem strangely fascinated by a woman who represents almost everything they once fought a war to be rid of. Still, I know how they feel. There is something about watching an 86-year-old woman step onto a barge in the river Thames and set sail in blistering weather, defy the elements, keep waving at the crowds, look dignified and do exactly what she’s been doing for the past 60 years come hell or high water that makes you kind of… admire her. So what if her 90-year-old husband gets a bladder infection the next day? The show must go on (as it did with a star-studded concert) and the Queen must continue doing what she does without revealing any emotion.
Liz Windsor has done this shtick for a long time now and shows no sign of retiring. Admittedly, people like CNN’s Piers Morgan got carried away a little too much in the ass-kissing department during the Jubilee festivities, but there was always the acerbic @Queen_UK Twitter account to put things into perspective.
These events made me think of how the current Royal Family has been portrayed on TV and in films. It’s certainly a mixed bag. We’ve had several TV movies and miniseries that have been largely failures. They have included Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982; where Christopher Lee played Prince Philip), The Women of Windsor and Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After (both of them produced in 1992, the year the Queen labeled her “annus horribilis”), Diana: Her True Story (1993; based on a book by Andrew Morton) and Princess in Love (1996).
One exception should be the entirely fictional To Play the King (1993), where Michael Kitchen played a sovereign who reminded one very much of Charles (even though the creators insisted that it wasn’t their intention). That miniseries was interesting because it aimed to depict a conflict between the evil but democratically elected leader of the country and the good-hearted but naive hereditary ruler. The other TV movies and miniseries simply wanted to exploit the tabloid fodder of the time.
Queen Elizabeth has fared better in the movies (if one doesn’t count the beating she took from Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) in The Naked Gun (1988)). The greatest portrait of her remains the one created by Helen Mirren, as written by Peter Morgan, in The Queen (2006). The film depicted one of Elizabeth’s worst periods (and mistakes), but still managed to make her look more human than we’ve ever seen her.