The Queen on the Screen
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
The closest Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has ever come to movie stardom was back in 2012, when a tuxedoed Daniel Craig, in the guise of James Bond 007, escorted her to the opening of the Olympic Games in London. The event was actually a short film directed by Danny Boyle as part of the opening ceremonies for the Games.
Shot on location at Buckingham Palace, it finds the Queen greeting everyone’s favorite British Secret Service agent in her drawing room with a demure “Good evening, Mr. Bond.” With her beloved corgis scampering about and leading the way, Her Royal Highness joins Bond at the palace’s helipad, “hops” on board and then flies over her kingdom to the Olympic stadium. It was indeed a fun bit—and truly a thrill to see. And watching the Queen parachute out of the helicopter a few minutes later was even wilder! (Okay, it was a body double.…)
Queen Elizabeth has never actually acted in a movie. That’s not what she’s supposed to do. But her life and reign and actions have served as the stuff of screens small and large for many years, particularly over the past two decades. Be they comic or dramatic, on television or in the movies, the one thing all these depictions have in common is that they give her the respect that comes with almost 70 years of grace on the throne, making her the longest-reigning monarch in the history of Britain.
Here are a half-dozen of her most notable on-screen “appearances:”
The Queen (2006)
Directed by Stephen Frears
A few years after she was a made a Dame Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2003, Helen Mirren brought honor and dignity to the role of Her Majesty as she struggles to understand the feeling of the people of England following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Dame Helen won both an Academy Award and England’s BAFTA Film Award for her nuanced portrayal.
The King's Speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper
In her motion picture debut, young Freya Wilson is pert and precious as 9-year-old Princess Elizabeth, darling daughter to her father, King George VI, as he attempts to overcome his painful stammer. It’s a very small part, to be sure, but adds nice detail and genuine feeling to this Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
The Simpsons, Season 15 (2003)
Directed by Jim Reardon and Mark Kirkland
An admirably animated image of the Queen appeared in no fewer than six episodes of the legendary American TV staple. Elizabeth’s finest turn by far is in the Season 15 installment “The Regina Monologues,” wherein the Simpsons are on vacation in London and Homer accidentally backs his rental car into the Royal Carriage, prompting the Queen to sentence him to imprisonment in the Tower of London. She ultimately pardons the idiotic American after he apologizes, but only under the condition that the Simpson family take Madonna with them when they leave England.
A Royal Night Out (2015)
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Canada’s Sarah Gadon stars as an 18-year-old Elizabeth who joins her sister Margaret on V.E. Day in 1945 as they slip into disguises and away from their escorts to embark on an evening of adventure, excitement and a possible go at romance. Director Jarrold keeps the goings-on saucy but sweet in this largely fictional comedy-drama that masks the reality that the sisters did hit the town, but they were in a group of 16 and returned home relatively early.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
Directed by David Zucker
While on an extended visit to Los Angeles, Her Majesty endures all manner of affectionate physical comedy with Leslie Nielsen’s intrepid law enforcer Lt. Frank Drebin in this beloved comedy from the team that brought you Airplane!. The Queen is portrayed here by actress Jeanette Charles, who for decades was the screen’s reigning Elizabeth II look-alike, with credits that included Saturday Night Live (1977), The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).
The Crown (2016-2020)
Directed by Benjamin Caron, Philip Martin, Stephen Daldry and others
Over the course of four seasons and forty hour-long episodes, the wildly popular Netflix series has taken a deep, detailed dive into the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The first two seasons featured Claire Foy during Her Majesty’s younger years, while Seasons 3 and 4 found Olivia Colman taking on the royal mantle. The production and performances are sterling across the board, with Foy and Colman each garnering Emmy Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards for their work.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.