Just as we’re mildly obsessed with the Royals in life, so too, are we fascinated with TV series and films based on the monarchy. And with the release of not only Mary Queen of Scots but the acclaimed Irish-produced The Favourite (the darling of award season), you can bet the obsession will go nowhere fast. From the sumptuous sets, lavish costumes and must-see performances, we’ve scoured the streaming and film reel landscapes to find some of the best royal-related programming to get stuck into this long weekend:
BBC series Versailles tells the story of King Louis XIV. The show begins when the king is 28-years-old and decides to make his royal hunting lodge into a grand palace known as Versailles. The Sun King, as he is later called, ultimately succeeds and while his reign is intriguing, the setting almost overshadows everything. Ornate interiors, grand architecture, and expansive gardens make this one so visually appealing (some scenes were filmed at Versailles), you’ll want to watch it to the end. This is a slow burner, but two episodes in, you’ll find yourself hooked.
The White Queen
The White Queen follows the machinations of three powerful women as they attempt to manoeuvre through a bitter and violent war for the throne that has pitted the House of York against the House of Lancaster. The show, based on Philippa Gregory’s series of historical novels, was a hit in the US, but slipped under the radar here. The show follows Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), consort to Edward IV of England, Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) of the House of Lancaster and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), queen consort of Richard III. And for those that don’t know, Margaret Beaufort was the grandmother of Henry VIII, so you might think it a sort of prequel before diving into The Tudors.
Over the course of four seasons, Showtime’s The Tudors tracks the early and later years of Henry’s reign, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the lusty, arrogant Henry with aplomb – he’s far removed from the infamous portrait in the history books. Created by veteran English screenwriter Michael Hirst, the series breathed fresh life into the age-old tale of an unsatisfied king and six of seven wives who met unfortunate ends. Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer steals the first two seasons as the sensuous Anne Boleyn, but the entire show is enthralling and worth watching in full.
The lavish series – it cost Netflix $100 million to make – chronicles the adult life of Queen Elizabeth II (played by a suitably restrained Claire Foy), from her 1947 marriage onwards. All ten episodes were written by Peter Morgan (who was behind the Oscar-winning film The Queen), and it starts just before Elizabeth was forced to take the throne after the sudden death of her father, King George VI in 1952. Foy is exceptional in the title role; the whole thing is elegant and full of rich detail and historical accuracy as it examines the power of the royal monarchy and the young woman who was to lead it. Worth a rewatch even if you’ve seen it already as we await the third season and the great, now Oscar-nominated Olivia Colman step into the series as the monarch approaches new decades.
Former sidekick of Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman, shines as the English monarch Queen Victoria and we are given a fresh insight into her reign and passionate marriage to Prince Albert played by Burberry model-turned-actor Tom Hughes and the close relationship she enjoyed with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (played by the highly dashing Rufus Sewell). Season one ended after the birth of her first child and season 2 opens six weeks after the princess’s birth and will follow Victoria’s adjustment to life as sovereign and mother, while Albert continues to seek an understanding of his role as consort. It’s an underrated watch. Season 3 is due to air the end of this month.
Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth I remains unparalleled on film. Her breakout role sees her reveal Elizabeth in all her glory; her early years from an innocent monarch many intended never to allow sit on the English throne to a fully-fledged queen of distinct power. She sacrifices herself; her very being for the sake of her country and its people and Blanchett executes this pain, sorrow and sense of duty to perfection.
This visual spectacle from Sofia Coppola is more style over substance, but for anyone even mildly interested in the controversial Queen of France, this is a worthy contender to this list. She was plagued by rumour, gossip and an unconsummated marriage (for seven years) during her early days as queen and by the time her family was produced all of France had revolted – no longer would its people stand to eat ‘cake’ (though that she ever said the phrase at all has been widely disputed). Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal as Marie Antoinette herself isn’t quite as emphatic as it needs to be, but she makes a beautiful queen and it’s a gorgeous watch.
The King’s Speech
England’s Prince Albert (Colin Firth in an Oscar-winning role) must ascend the throne as King George VI (father to Queen Elizabeth II), but he has a speech impediment, making his public life a nightmare. Knowing that the country needs her husband to be able to communicate effectively as a king, Elizabeth (an observant and deft Helena Bonham Carter) hires Lionel Logue (the ever brilliant Geoffrey Rush), an Australian actor and speech therapist, to help him overcome his stammer. An extraordinary friendship develops between the two men, as Logue uses unconventional means to teach the monarch how to speak with confidence. It’s a gem of a movie.
Helen Mirren was one of few who could breathe real life into Queen Elizabeth II, an almost obtuse figure in her later years. The movie takes place during one of the most controversial moments of her time – following the death of Princess Diana. Queen Elizabeth II struggles with her reaction to her death and how best to convey this to the general public. Prime Minister Tony Blair steps in, knowing that her stubborn silence is having an almost detrimental effect on the monarchy. Mirren rightfully won an Oscar for her performance in the 2006 film.
Shakespeare in Love
This one is worth not watching for its general plot but for the twenty-two minutes the great Judi Dench as a Queen Elizabeth I later in her reign. Dench won an Oscar for her performance in what was one of the shortest screen roles ever awarded by the Acadamy. Hers is a daunting monarch; more proof that the queen would sacrifice her reign for nothing and no one. Dench is sublime.