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Movie Marathon Idea: Majestic British Monarchs

December 1, 2010

All Hail the King/Queen!  Get ready for a salute to those whose divine right trumps your puny commoner’s wishes.  Throughout history, great monarchs have ruled the continents, high seas, and your local cineplex.  Here are three of my favorites on film.

1.) Elizabeth (1998)

Shekar Kapur’s bold film is a historical disaster but a visual triumph.  He mistakenly sets the adventures of Elizabeth Rex among medieval cathedrals and crumbling castles (the Tudors were much fonder of their grand manors than the motte and bailey or gothic relics of the Plantagenets), but what a setting it is.  Love among the ruins has never looked more fabulous.  Boasting a bravura and career-making performance by the always-wonderful Cate Blanchett, the movie focuses more on Gloriana’s obsession with childhood sweetheart Robert Dudley (the underappraciated Joesph Fiennes) than on her groundbreaking political and religious reforms, but the period-esque costumes are stunning, and the whole film is a study in well-crafted mood from beginning to end. Keep an eye out for Daniel Craig in one of his first major roles, as a Catholic priest tortured by Elizabeth’s spy master. 

2.) The Madness of King George (1994)

The monarch who lost those minor colonies to the upstart American rebels was also one of Britain’s most tormented souls.  One of England’s most ineffective but memorable rulers, he is here admirably played by  Nigel Hawthorne as a man veering in-between selfish sanity and deliriously happy madness.  Suffering from what we now know was probably acute intermittent porphyria, which causes seizures, dementia and severe gastric issues, George III had quite a few other problems to deal with in his reign.  Chief amongst them was his wayward son, the Prince Regent (portrayed with foppish glee by Rupert Everett), who managed to eat, drink and be otherwise merry while his father wasted away under dubious medical care.  Director Nicholas Hytner makes George into a misunderstood and deceptively multi-faceted man, whose true focus was his large and raucous family. One of the few English monarchs to have a happy and contented marriage,  George had trouble translating his connubial bliss into effective leadership.   Helen Mirren plays his stalwart and loving wife, Queen Charlotte, who stuck by her husband through thick and thin, even when his madness led to a crush on a fellow courtier…

3.) Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Although best known at the time for his turbulent marriage to U.S. superstar Liz Taylor, Richard Burton gives one of his most memorable performances as Henry VIII in Charles Jarrot’s 1969 biopic of the equally turbulent relationship of Henry and Anne Boleyn.    Anne, played by French Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold, was the woman that changed the course of British history, and this lush and startling film traces her mystifying hold over Britain’s most notrious monarch.   Anne was stylish, smart, and dynamic, making her both admired and envied.  She made as many enemies as she did supporters, which ended in her untimely downfall and execution for treason at the young age of  35.  She was a staunch believer in religious and social reform, giving more to charity during her brief reign than any of Henry’s other queens (including the pious Catherine of Aragon) combined.    It was her mistaken belief that as Henry’s queen she deserved a faithful husband that would lead to her beheading.  Bujold’s performance goes from outraged maiden to defiant queen, and Burton’s Henry VIII shows depth and emotion right up to the end, when he may have had second thoughts about the demise of his first true love. 

God Save the King and Queen –  May your own households be as grand as any kingdom, and your throne be far more comfortable than the monarchs we’ve discussed above….

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