The Bottom Line Ten great films about royalty.
I have considered composing this list for a long time and carefully considered which films I would choose as the best depictions of royalty on screen. As a royalty buff and a lover of this genre of films, here are my choices as the top ten ever made.
Lion in Winter
This is considered, one of the greatest royalty film ever made. I would definitely put it as one of the top two. The entire film is carried by the brilliant and remarkable exchange between Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. These two great talents ignite this film and gear it with an intensity and drama which has made this film one of the most lauded ever to make it to screen. Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton provide an excellent support cast here as the sons, but clearly are outshone by the towering presence of Hepburn and O’ Toole as the lead characters.
This truly is one of the best films made about royalty ever made. Helena Bonham Carter brings a magnificent vulnerability to the role of Lady Jane Grey (Queen Jane) which adds to the heartbreaking quality of this tragic story of a young girl forced into being the ultimate pawn in a deadly game of politics. Cary Elwes, with his beautiful boyish looks provides an excellent second as Jane’s ill-fated husband, Guilford Dudley, the son of the lecherous Duke of Northumberland and brother to Robert Dudley, who would be queen Elizabeth I’s favorite. This is an intense and powerful drama. The episodes between Lady Jane and Mary Tudor before and after she has become queen (played powerfully by Jane Lapotaire), are such that anyone would find sympathy for Jane’s position, as she gets caught in this web of deadly intrigue. Mary Tudor’s chilling line in this film: “You did not heed my warning, Cousin Jane.” Absolutely bone-chilling! This is a powerful film and definitely one of the best concerning royalty.
Edward II is a magnificent, post-modern interpretation of the life and reign of England’s Edward II. As a homosexual, Edward boldly attempted to live openly with his lover, Piers Gaveston, whom he kept close to him on the throne. Edward’s progressive lifestyle tested and pushed the limits of the English court. The romance between Edward and Piers is beautifully presented in this film and is one of the most touching and elegant aspects of the film. This film, much like the South African gay film, Proteus, makes use of visual play and a confusion of eras. Some characters appear in scenes dressed in modern garb and some scenes have modern elements fused into them. It makes quite an interesting play with time and space. This is a quality film that is worth seeing.
Mary Queen of Scots(Vanessa Redgrave)
Vanessa Redgrave gives a thrilling and powerful performance here as Mary Queen of Scots. I dare say, however, that is quite upstaged by Glenda Jackson in her defining role as Queen Elizabeth I. Again, the kinetic energy created by the exchange between these two divas lights up the screen and makes this a magnificent film, full of dramatic tension. Vanessa Redgrave carried off an Oscar nod for this role. Both she and Glenda Jackson truly stood out in this film and should have received the highest accolades in the industry.
This is a thrilling French film, full of suspense and drama, starring Isabelle Adjani as Queen Margot of Navarre and France, the daughter of the shrewd and vindictive queen, Catherine de Medicis, widow of Henry II of France. This film is sensuous and provides a captivating retelling of the intense struggles for control of France and the power of the French throne. The film is completely in French and has English subtitles.
Desiree is perhaps the best royalty flick to ever come out of Hollywood. The film relates the story of Bernadine Eugenie Desiree Clary, the daughter of a prosperous silk merchant in Marseilles, who would become the Queen Consort of Sweden. The title character of Desiree is played by the illustrious Jean Simmons. Everything begins as Desiree’s older sister, Julie, becomes engaged to and subsequently marries an up and coming young man from a not so prosperous background named Joseph Bonaparte. Through this relationship, Desiree meets, falls in love with, and becomes engaged to Joseph’s younger brother, Napoleon Bonaparte(played by the lovely Marlon Brando). This romance blossoms like a most beautiful and passionate flower until Napoleon meets the beautiful, charming, and socially powerful, Josephine de Beauharnais. With Josephine’s entrance onto the scene, Napoleon drops Desiree like a rotten potato and proceeds towards his eventual reign as Emperor. In the midst of her insult and despair, Desiree is courted by a man who would become one of Napoleon’s finest generals and later his most successful enemy, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Rising to the rank of marshal under Napoleon’s reign as Emperor, and receiving several titles, including Prince of Ponte Corvo, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte becomes one of the most powerful men in Napoleon’s empire and one of his most trusted statesmen. Desiree, having married Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, has also gained great status in the French Empire, especially as her sister and brother in law become King and Queen of Naples and later King and Queen of Spain. Through a series of events and Jean Baptiste Bernadotte’s disenchantment with Napoleon, Bernadotte accepts the offer of the Swedish crown to be adopted by the King of Sweden and become the heir to his throne. With this, Bernadotte and Napoleon become enemies and Bernadotte is key to the downfall of Napoleon. This film is full of intrigue and brilliantly weaves together the story of Napoleon and Desiree as it develops throughout the years. Subsequently, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte and Desiree established the House of Bernadotte on the throne of Sweden, which is the Royal House of Sweden at present. By an interesting twist of fate, Desiree’s son, King Oscar I of Sweden, married Josephine de Beauharnais’ granddaughter, Princess Josephine of Leuchtenberg, and their mutual descendants occupy the thrones of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Belgium.
Glenda Jackson is the best Queen Elizabeth I that there has ever been on screen, hands down (thank you Helen Mirren). Elizabeth R is a powerful miniseries in which Glenda Jackson masterfully displays all of the regal command, mystery, and intrigue of Elizabeth I of England. This is definitely one of the best Royal films in existence.
I just saw this film about a month and half ago and I must say I was quite impressed. Helen Mirren is impressive as Elizabeth I. I would say she is second only to Glenda Jackson in this role. This film, made for cable, is full of gusto and suspense. Mirren’s performance is greatly seconded by Jeremy Iron’s Robert Dudley and Hugh Dancy’s Earl of Essex. I highly recommend this film.
Joanna the Mad (Juana de la Loca)
This Spanish film is a captivating look at Spain’s neurotic, slightly mad queen, Joanna, commonly known as Joanna the Mad. Mother of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, wife of Philip of Flanders,Austria, and Burgundy (who ruled as Philip I of Spain), daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the most powerful monarchs in Europe, and sister of that ill-fated queen, Katherine of Aragon (wife of Henry VIII of England), Joanna was a woman of passion, a trait which scared the men of her day and which won her the reputation of being a mad woman. This film effectively portrays her nebulous relationship with her philandering husband, Philip I of Spain, and the male prejudice that she had to fight against as the queen of Spain. This is an interesting historical film and definitely worth watching.
Anne of a Thousand Days
This film is hands down the best royalty films ever made. Detailing the thousand days that Anne Boleyn spent as Queen Consort to Henry VIII, Genevieve Bujold delivers a powerful performance in the title role, one that trounces the presence of Richard Burton in the film as Henry VIII. The sparring between these two figures is dynamic, forceful, and fiery. Bujold and Burton bring a red hot chemistry to the screen which provides for all of the suspense, intrigue, and intensity within. This film is also replete with magnificent sets and wardrobe, true to the 1960s tradition of making films about the Renaissance. Genevieve Bujold appears on screen in some killer outfits and the decor of each scene is richly crafted. I must give three cheers to Genevieve Bujold as her Anne Boleyn is regal, masterful and commanding. The dialogue in this film is rich and masterful. Perhaps the most powerful line in the film is one of the last ones delivered by Anne Boleyn as she says “But Elizabeth is yours. Watch her as she grows; she's yours. She's a Tudor! Get yourself a son off of that sweet, pale girl if you can - and hope that he will live! But Elizabeth shall reign after you! Yes, Elizabeth - child of Anne the W**re and Henry the Blood-Stained Lecher - shall be Queen! And remember this: Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours! She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built! Yes - MY Elizabeth SHALL BE QUEEN! And my blood will have been well spent!” Powerful! Simply powerful!
These are my picks as the best royalty films. I hope you enjoy them and consider them as worthy of recognition as I do.