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The Queen, Onscreen!

Written by Omair Alavi

Queen Elizabeth remains the only monarch to have been played on screen by herself and others!

Queen Elizabeth wasn’t just the monarch of the United Kingdom but was the queen regnant of 32 sovereign states during her life, serving as monarch of 15 of them at the time of her death on September 8, 2022. However, that didn’t stop her from becoming the most portrayed person in the world and was part of Hollywood films, TV movies, series, and even Indian flicks. From Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for portraying the Queen to Indian film star Hrithik Roshan, many stars played Elizabeth II in their own way.

However, the best onscreen moments the Queen had, featured herself with popular British characters, and if you want to know about that, you have to must read this article all the way through.

The Queen as Herself

During the 1960s, the Queen commissioned a documentary titled Royal Family to celebrate the investiture of Prince Charles, who has now replaced her as the head of the monarchy. Directed by Richard Cawston, the 90-minute documentary covered a year in the Queen’s life and gave the public an insight into the private side of the Royal family. It was aired in 1969 and was well-received, however, it was banned in 1977 for unknown reasons. Today, only a leaked version exists on YouTube today but it was the first time the Queen acted like a normal human being in front of the camera.

Although she had opened the Montreal Olympics that took place in Canada in 1976, when the Olympics came to London in 2012, she declared them open in style. She played herself in a skit also featuring Daniel Craig’s James Bond, where she, after summoning Agent 007, leaves her study in Buckingham Palace, and walks out to a waiting helicopter, from which (her double) parachutes into the Olympic Stadium. The James Bond theme in the background kept the audience enthralled and when the Queen herself emerged from the Stadium, it erupted with applause.

Three months before her death, the Queen also appeared in a short video broadcast which featured her having tea with Paddington Bear. Contrary to the James Bond skit where she had just one line, she had a proper conversation with the famous British character regarding tea and sandwich, after which the Bear thanked her for everything as if thanking her for the entire United Kingdom.

Hollywood and its many portrayals of The Queen

Despite being part of the documentary Royal Family in the late 1960s, Hollywood didn’t discover the Queen’s talent for acting and hence had to depend on actresses to play the monarch on screen. Had it not been for Leslie Nielsen’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)the rule of not portraying The Queen onscreen might not have been broken. Played by actress Jeanette Charles, the film revolved around the adventures of the bumbling police lieutenant Frank Debrin, who is assigned to protect Queen Elizabeth during her visiting the United States. Due to his stupidity and falling in love on the job, Frank Debrin is able to foil the assassination attempt and save the Queen.

In Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English (2003)actress Prunella Scales plays Queen Elizabeth II who abdicates her throne to save her royal corgis. However, Johnny English has other ideas and while he manages to stop the coronation of the blackmailer, he gets crowned King himself, before restoring Elizabeth rightfully to the throne, in exchange for a knighthood.

The Queen wasn’t the only monarch to feature in Agent Cody Banks: Destination London (2004), since the second half revolved around the G7 Summit at Buckingham Palace, which was attended by the major leaders of the world. How Frankie Muniz’s title character was able to save the day is something that makes this film worth your while, as is the clapping and dancing of the dignitaries present, including Her Royal Highness.

Although The Queen (2006) featured a serious actress (Helen Mirren) playing the monarch for the first time, it didn’t sit well with those who were portrayed onscreen. It revolved around the events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and the behaviour of the Royal Family which angered the public. Helen Mirren’s portrayal was so real that she went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, which was followed by the Best Actress award and Best Film Award at the BAFTA.

Before there was The Crown on TV, there was Diana: Her True Story!

Long before anyone thought that it was possible to portray the Queen onscreen, British TV did that in style in the adaptation of Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story. Actress Anne Stallybrass played Queen Elizabeth II opposite Serena Scott Thomas’ Lady Diana, and the TV film was aired in 1993 when all the characters were alive and well. This TV film damaged the Royal family’s reputation big time, just as the book it was based on did, and until The Crown came, it was considered the best portrayal of the rulers of the United Kingdom.

The Crown has so far featured Queen Elizabeth in all of its four seasons played by as many as two different actresses – Claire Foy in the first two seasons and Olivia Colman in the next two. The series revolves around the life and times of Queen Elizabeth and although the makers might have taken some creative liberty in portraying the Queen, it is by far the closest portrayal of the monarch on either films or TV. In the first two seasons, she is shown to learn the tricks of the trade while in the next two, she is the dominating force that drives her family.

The forthcoming season will feature Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth and is likely to revolve around the 1990s, a time when a fire damaged Windsor Castle, Prince Charles and Lady Diana parted ways and later the Princess of Wales died in a road accident, but not before falling in love with a non-Royal, Dr Hasnat Khan.

The Queen was once defeated by the Minions!

Her reign might be 70 years long, but according to Minions, there was a time when the Queen was dethroned for a brief moment! Yes, in the first Minions flick, the plot revolved around the theft of the Imperial State Crown from Queen Elizabeth II. Voiced by Jennifer Saunders, the character of the Queen is dethroned in this animated adventure after one of the Minions named Bob accidentally pulls the ‘Excalibur’ from the stone, thus replacing her as the King of the United Kingdom. However, when the Minions realize their mistake, they successfully defeat their former master Scarlet (voiced by Sandra Bullock), reinstate the Queen who knights Kevin, and hand over gifts to the other two for their services. Although her Crown is stolen soon after, she remains the Queen for the rest of her days.

When the Queen went to ‘Bollywood’

And then there was the mind-blowing portrayal in the second movie of the popular Dhoom (2006) series, where Indian film star Hrithik Roshan played a conman who could become literally anyone using prosthetics. In the opening sequence of the film, Hrithik Roshan boards a train taking Queen Elizabeth II through the Namib Desert. He then disguises himself as The Queen to steal her crown, and then escapes from the train, giving the Indian film industry its most realistic portrayal of the monarch.

If that wasn’t enough, Bollywood ‘cast’ the Queen in Sajid Khan’s Housefull (2010) which featured a segment where one of the characters was supposed to be rewarded by Her Majesty. However, when the hall where the ceremony was taking place was filled with nitrous oxide, the audience, including the Queen, broke into an uncontrollable outburst of laughter.

In Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s Shaandaar (2015), actor Sanjay Kapoor’s character believes everyone is Sindhi and refers to them by their nick name. When he mentions one Lizzy to others, the audience gets to know that he meant Her Highness Queen Elizabeth II, who in his opinion was a Sindhi by birth. -Ends

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Omair Alavi

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