Queens On Screen

To mark this weeks historic visit of The Queen to Ireland we look at our favourite movie queens

If this week’s wall-to-wall coverage of the state visit to Ireland of dear old Betty Windsor has left you gagging for more royal goodness, then look ye no further humble subject. To mark the end of the Queen’s historic visit – historic, because it marks the first time ever that someone went on the Guinness Storehouse tour and didn’t end up falling out onto the street, baloobas, afterwards – movies.ie has compiled this guide to queens on the screen. Curtsey before the following:

*Queen Elizabeth II:

Sure, we’re all well aware of Helen Mirren’s Oscar-bagging interpretation of the reigning monarch in The Queen (2006), but what about Jeannette Charles? This professional Liz-a-like is great, silent fun opposite Leslie Nielson in The Naked Gun (1988). The 83-year-old actress also appeared as QEII in Goldmember, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and, er, Big Brother 10. See also little Freya Wilson as the-then Princess Elizabeth in The King’s Speech (2010).

*Queen Elizabeth I:

The ‘Virgin Queen’ – or ‘The Heretic Queen’ as the Catholics call her – has been immortalised on screen more times than any other British monarch. The innately imperious Cate Blanchett is most people’s favourite, earning Oscar nominations for both Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). Dame Judi Dench brought a wicked sense of humour to her Tudor Queen in Shakespeare in Love (1998), winning an Oscar for what is essentially an 8-minute cameo.

Going back in time, Glenda Jackson wore the crown in Mary Queen of Scots (1972), as did Bette Davis, twice, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Virgin Queen (1955). Most bizarrely, Quentin Crisp played Elizabeth opposite Tilda Swinton in Orlando (1992). On the TV side, Helen Mirren also played the Tudor queen in the 2005 miniseries Elizabeth, as did Anne-Marie Duff in The Virgin Queen (2005).

*Mary, Queen of Scots:

Katherine Hepburn was one of the first to play the doomed Scottish queen – and first cousin of Elizabeth I – in the 1936 flick Mary of Scotland (1936), followed by Vanessa Redgrave in Mary Queen of Scots (1972). Most recently, Samantha Morton was fearsome as Mary in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

*Queen Victoria:

You could make a decent double bill from the most famous movies about Blighty’s longest-reigning monarch (to date – come on Liz II, six more years, you can do it old bean!). Emily Blunt is passionate and romantic as The Young Victoria (2009), while Judi Dench is heart-breaking as the grieving monarch in her later years in Mrs Brown (1997). It’s almost enough to make you forgive the real Vickie for her impassive reaction to the Irish Famine of the 1840s. Almost.

*Christina, Queen of Sweden:

Greta Garbo is at her sexually ambiguous best – daringly so for the time – as the 17th century Swedish throne-warmer in Queen Christina (1933). The movie doesn’t, ahem, beat around the bush when it comes to referencing the real Queen’s supposed lesbianism: in one scene Garbo kisses her lady-in-waiting, while in another, she cross-dresses and successfully passes as a man.


The popular image of the ancient Queen of the Nile is intimately bound up with the image of the late Elizabeth Taylor who played her in the disastrous 1963 movie, Cleopatra. Still, the movie is worth checking out for the histrionic passions on display between Taylor and her “immortal love” Richard Burton as Marc Antony.


History’s most famous proponent of cake-eating got the offbeat cinematic treatment by Sofia Coppola in the 2006 titular biopic. In Coppola’s version, the French queen, as played by Kirsten Dunst, is seen as a bored, frustrated, spoiled brat amidst a court of proto-hipsters. Critics carped at the anachronistic use of music and blatant historical licence. Still, it’s nothing to lose your head over (there had to be one joke, right?).

*Narissa, Queen of Andalasia:

Okay, she’s not a real queen (or is she…?), but this royal witch, nemesis of our heroine Giselle (Amy Adams) in Enchanted (2007), deserves a mention for her sheer cartoonish, fairytale wickedness. She gets extra points for being played by Susan Sarandon in unfettered scenery-devouring mode.

*Clarisse Renaldi, Queen of Genovia:

Another (utterly, utterly shameful) fictional fave, this time played by the poshest English woman on the planet, Julie Andrews, in the harmless – even by Disney teen movie standards – The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (‘cos it’s about a royal engagement. See what they did there?). Clarisse’s biggest royal challenge? Administering the classiest makeover ever to bushy-browed, frumpy, frizz-heir to the throne Anne Hathaway.

*Gertrude, Queen of Denmark:

Shakespeare’s Gertrude, mother of the tortured Hamlet, is what my mother would call “a right rip”. No sooner is one husband in the grave than she’s shacked up with her brother-in-law (and her husband’s killer), Claudius. Don’t worry, she gets hers in the end, the brazen hussy (saving you some time there Leaving Cert students). Glenn Close gives good Gertrude opposite Mel Gibson in the 1990 film version, as does Julie Christie in Kenneth Branagh’s epic 1996 incarnation.

*Iracebeth, the Red Queen:

For sheer gleeful fun, take in a viewing of Tim Burton’s otherwise wretched Alice in Wonderland and revel in giant-headed Helena Bonham Carter’s shrieking, head-chopping Queen of Hearts. And then throw the DVD in the bin. And set the bin on fire. And then bury the ashes 50 feet underground. Terrible, terrible film.

Words – Declan Cashin