Queen Marie (2019)
This film, some of it filmed on location at Peleș Castle, focuses on the ultimately successful efforts of Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) to gain Allied support for the enlargement of her country at the Paris peace talks in 1919. There’s a lot that is good about the movie, but especially considering that the actual personality of the title character seems to me like it ought to have been perfect for the screen, I found it ultimately disappointing. It’s frustrating in a historical film when many of the supporting roles and visual details are well done, but the lead character just isn’t quite right. (I also felt that way about The Tudors.) From everything I’ve read about the real Queen Marie, she got her way in Paris in 1919 by charming and dazzling the Allied leaders, playing her role as an “exotic” Balkan queen to the hilt. But I didn’t get that from the film’s portrayal by Roxana Lupu, who just sort of scolded and glared at them, with (ironically for a movie) very little of the real Queen Marie’s theatricality. It was hard to believe that this version of Queen Marie would have succeeded in convincing the Allies to double the size of her country. I think to get Queen Marie right, an actress would probably have to act in a sort of anachronistic, theatrical, melodramatic way that would be considered "over-acting" for most roles today. However, Woodrow Wilson comes across as an arrogant ignorant jerk who doesn’t understand Europe, so I liked that. Georges Clemenceau mostly has a big mustache, which is also true.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
The fictitious meeting of the two Queens (common enough in film) is far from the worst of it. There is almost nothing of the 16th century left in this film. As my brother put it, the members of the cast seemed like they were checking their iPads in between scenes, not convincing as period actors at all. And why were Scottish noblemen who were actually perfectly well groomed (you can look their portraits up on Wikipedia) portrayed looking as though they had just emerged from caves? I’m sure I could be castigated for saying this, but the heavy-handed Diversity casting was just ridiculous. (A black English ambassador to Scotland? Blacks in John Knox's congregation? Asian or mixed-race ladies-in-waiting in both Queens' inner circles? In 16C Britain? Really?) The film is irritatingly slow and pretentious, cutting needlessly between short scenes, frequently abandoning dialogue in favour of slow pacing with Ominous Music and Meaningful Glances, with Mary and Elizabeth’s secret meeting place conveniently festooned with abundant hanging linens to dramatically prevent them from really seeing each other. This was one of the worst royal period films I have ever seen, and I usually like royal period films.
The Favourite (2018)
Well that was...interesting. It’s well done I suppose. Sometimes a little taken with how artsy it is. Not very respectful; I felt the audience were invited to mock Queen Anne (1665-1714) (Olivia Colman), though one could also sympathise. Parts made me uncomfortable. I think the film was accurate in depicting the remarkably high-handed way the Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) (Rachel Weisz) treated the Queen—until, of course, they finally fell out for good, with Sarah displaced by Abigail [Hill] Masham (1670-1734) (Emma Stone). Sometimes the soundtrack was fantastic and other times it was weird and irritating.
Outlaw King (2018)
More historically accurate than Braveheart, but then Harry Potter is probably more historically accurate than Braveheart, so that doesn't say much. Did we really need another "Brave Scots/Evil English" production? As a movie it's not bad. The use of "Your Majesty" is anachronistic; Scottish kings were addressed as "Your Grace" and even in England "Majesty" did not become de rigeur until the 16th century. The film has Edward I die on the way to the May 1307 Battle of Loudoun Hill (where the English were actually led by Aymer de Valence, not by the Prince of Wales), but in fact the old king died in July. His son Edward II is rather unfairly depicted as simply a mean-spirited brute, with no nuances to his character. Chris Pine's Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) is a convincing leader and it's easy to see why men would follow him. (It was his sister Mary, not his wife, who was held in a cage suspended outside a castle, though Elizabeth was also imprisoned and I can see why they didn't want to introduce an otherwise extraneous character.) At least a postscript at the end makes it clear that Scotland and England owe their present union to the King of Scots inheriting the English throne in 1603. (I'm convinced that many people still imagine that Great Britain came about via some sort of oppressive English conquest of Scotland.) If you have Netflix and like medieval scenery, costumes, and battle carnage it's worth two hours of your time as long as you take its bias with a grain of salt.
Darkest Hour (2017)
There were things I disliked about this movie, which mainly concerns Winston Churchill (1874-1965) (Gary Oldman), but here I just want to say that Ben Mendelsohn is probably the most convincing onscreen King George VI (1895-1952) I've seen.
Viceroy's House (2017)
I had to wait a long time to see this movie (released in the UK in March but not showing in Dallas until the end of September), and I'm glad I did, but I wouldn't want anyone to get their history from it. Historians have been rightly critical of the assertion that Pakistan was just a cynical plot secretly cooked up by Churchill and Jinnah two years earlier. Even though I admire Mountbatten in other contexts, and his tragic murder tends to colour everything in retrospect, I'm not actually convinced that he was totally blameless in his handling of Partition. There seems to be a bit of "look how wonderfully progressive the Mountbattens were, unlike all those nasty other British." Gillian Anderson nevertheless is a perfect Lady Edwina (1901-1960); Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville is less convincing as Lord Louis (1900-1979).
Victoria and Abdul (2017)
No one who loves seeing the splendour of the late Victorian British Monarchy brought to life will want to miss this visually captivating film, and twenty years after Mrs Brown Dame Judi Dench is splendid in her second feature film performance as Queen Victoria. Yet I couldn't help feeling that Anglophiles like me were being taken advantage of a bit. Too much of the movie is essentially the same heavy-handed "Message" over and over again: "look how scandalised these horrid snobbish racist courtiers are by the Queen's friendship with a completely innocent Indian Muslim!" It wore thin after awhile; I don't think the character of the real "Munshi" Abdul Karim (1863-1909) (Ali Fazal) was quite as spotless as depicted, and the Court didn't care for Scotsman John Brown either. One suspects that the film was even trying to manipulate its 21st century audience into accepting the burka (worn by Karim's wife and mother-in-law) as a normal part of British life. Particularly galling was the villainous misrepresentation of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), who while he did indeed resent the Munshi actually shared his mother's lack of racial prejudice (freely socializing with Jews and once flying into a rage when it was suggested that the King of Hawaii not be granted parity with European kings). The 1901 deathbed scene at Osborne House (which I visited in 2011) was distorted by having the Kaiser (who within the family would have been called "Willy," not "Wilhelm") just stand there stiffly, reflecting none of the affection for his grandmother he is known to have demonstrated on that occasion. A minor quibble: Victoria would have referred to her Empire's populace as "subjects," not "citizens," a word that in the 19th century was still associated exclusively with republics. That said, there is plenty of grandeur and humour, and I was never bored. In the end, the film still reflects a more positive view of the Empire, the Monarchy, and the great Queen-Empress herself than leftists will be comfortable with (hence its negative review in The Independent), so I have to give it that. I have no idea how I would apply a star system to this film; fortunately, I'm not a movie critic. On the whole, I'd say, by all means see it if it's the sort of thing you like, but take its moralising with a grain of salt.
The King's Choice (2016)
Jesper Christensen is outstanding as Norway's heroic King Haakon VII (1872-1957) who refuses to capitulate to German demands in 1940. The sacrificial bond between the King and his subjects is deeply moving. My only complaint was that I wished the English subtitles had appeared below the picture rather than on it; sometimes they were hard to read, and explanatory historical text (not absolutely necessary for me, but probably important for most non-Norwegian viewers) was too small.
The Death of Louis XIV (2016)
Basically two hours of watching an old man die. This is not an action film. Captures the 1715 court atmosphere well though. I was particularly moved by the scene (accurate, I believe) when the King embraces his five-year-old great-grandson and successor, soon to be Louis XV, telling him (fruitlessly, alas) not to imitate his taste in war. Oddly, not one note of music (the rather anachronistic Mozart Mass in C Minor) is heard until over 100 minutes into the film.
The Exception (2016)
I'm not sure if The Exception ever made it to many American theaters, but I watched it online in June in Colorado after a friend told me how to find it. While much about it is fictional, Christopher Plummer is outstanding as the elderly exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941). And his evident horror at Himmler's casual reference to the euthanasia of disabled children epitomises the fundamental difference between the Second and Third Reich, while the villainous SS inspector's utter contempt for the Monarchical old order ought to upend the conventional wisdom that National Socialism was "right-wing."
Victoria (2016- ) (TV)
While I intend to continue watching it, based on the first season (which aired in the UK in late 2016 and the US in early 2017) I have a lot of reservations about this series. For Victoria to treat Lord Melbourne as a potential husband was totally absurd, and I get a little bored by the fictional "Downstairs" stories which I see as a blatant attempt to mimic Downton Abbey. I sometimes find the music irritating, especially in scenes when something that actually sounds appropriate for the early 19th century is called for. Nevertheless, not a programme monarchists can miss.
The Crown (2016- ) (Netflix)
In its first season, this seemed like the gold standard of recent English-language royal period dramas. While I think Matt Smith's Prince Philip is a little whiny, and there was a scene in which Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) speaks to the young Queen Elizabeth II (a consistently excellent Claire Foy) with a raised voice that I don't think he would have ever used, most of the performances and the series itself are stellar. No monarchist will fail to be moved by Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary, and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret is exactly how I had always imagined the young Margaret to be. Jeremy Northam is an excellent Sir Anthony Eden. But I've never been convinced by any onscreen portrayal of the Queen Mother, and this series is no exception. Unfortunately, over the course of the second season, departures from history became too much for me, particularly a cruel lie regarding the young Prince Philip and the tragic death of his sister Princess Cecilie (1911-1937), and an odd Nazi obsession infected some episodes. See my blog for thoughts on the second season's final episode.
Versailles (2015-18) (TV)
I haven't always been sure about this series, having especially disliked the portrayal of Queen Marie Therese (1638-1683) in the first season, but unlike The Crown I thought this show got stronger as it went on in the second season, though it remained the case that with so many characters there were some of whose identity I was never quite certain. (I suppose the court at the real Versailles might have been that way too.) George Blagden as Louis XIV (1638-1715) and Alexander Vlahos as Philippe (1640-1701), whose portrayals I'd always liked, remained outstanding. Jessica Clark as Philippe's new wife "Lieselotte" (1652-1722) and George Webster as William of Orange (1650-1702) were welcome additions. And the finale ended with a sort of proto-republican witch being burned (concluding the Affair of the Poisons), which I didn't mind at all.
Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015-16) (TV)
On my last night of watching it in April 2017, I stayed up past 2:00 to finish this series on the life and reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558). While not always historically perfect, it's a stirring and powerful drama from start to finish that will lift these distant royal historical figures from paintings and books into your heart. The Emperor's final scene, in which on his deathbed he finally addresses his promising young illegitimate son "Gerónimo" (Don Juan of Austria), who has come to be the pride and joy of his final years (and one day will lead Christendom to victory at Lepanto), as "my son" ("mi hijo") for the first and only time, is profoundly moving. As with its predecessor Isabel, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Watch it online with English subtitles here.
Isabel (2011-14) (TV)
Superb and addictive drama of the life of Spain's great Queen Isabella (1451-1504) (Michelle Jenner), the first season of which covers her life from adolescence until her accession as Queen of Castile in 1574, focusing on her struggles with her half-brother Enrique IV (1425-1474) (Pablo Derqui). The entire cast, with Rodolfo Sanchez as King Ferdinand (1452-1516), deliver outstanding performances that completely transport the viewer into the world of the 15th and early 16th centuries, and no monarchist will fail to be moved either by Isabel's steely determination and passion for justice or by the stalwart devotion of those who are loyal to her. Season 2 covers Isabel's reign from 1574 until the conquest of Granada and discovery of America in 1492, with Season 3 continuing through her death in 1504. Over the years I have seen so many movies and television series about royal historical figures, and I don't think I have ever been so moved as by this one. I am amazed that such a realistic and sympathetic treatment of a woman whose values and actions were often very far from contemporary political sensibilities was made at all. And how refreshing it was to never have to object to any of the sort of blatant and unnecessary departures from historical fact one often encounters in these kinds of productions. The series (official site) is available for free with English subtitles in North America on Drama Fever. Highly recommended, equal or superior to everything else on this list.
Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
Bill Murray is great as President Roosevelt, whose 1939 visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth forms the centre of this drama based on an FDR mistress's secret diaries, but I was less convinced by the other characters especially Olivia Colman as the Queen who (with the writers) turns her into a shrewish, fussy snob--about as unlike the real, warm, fun-loving Queen Elizabeth as she could have been, even unfavourably comparing her husband in private to his recently abdicated brother, which anyone who knows anything about Queen Elizabeth's post-abdication views of "David" would know she never would have done. The actual Queen Elizabeth tended to view challenges and unfamiliar things (like hot dogs) as an Adventure; that's probably why she lived to be 101. The "Queen Elizabeth" depicted in this movie would have worried herself to death several decades before 2002. Samuel West, though like Colin Firth totally lacking anything resembling the real King's gaunt features, is somewhat more suitable as King George VI, but while the look and feel of the 1930s is captured convincingly this is not a film for those who like royalty depicted with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
A Royal Affair (2012)
This visually lush and compellingly acted Danish film concerns the ill-fated relationship of Denmark's British-born Queen Caroline Matilda (1751-1775) (Alicia Vikander), sister of King George III, with the progressive Dr Johann Struensee (1737-1772) (Mads Mikkelson), physician to her eccentric (though perhaps not literally insane) husband King Christian VII (1749-1808) (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). (For more see my blog.)
Farewell, My Queen (2012)
As a French-speaking but visibly foreign German surrounded by French actors and actresses who is the same age as the real Queen at the time of the Revolution, Diane Kruger was an inspired (and apparently sincere) choice for the role of Marie Antoinette, and royalists will find the loyalty of her fictional servant Sidonie (Léa Seydoux) touching. However the film makes too much of Marie Antoinette's friendship with Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and too little of the Queen's by-then-deepened sense of religious, maternal, and political duty, with the King (Xavier Beauvois) reduced to a nonentity, as if nothing had changed since the early years of their marriage. It's hard to go wrong with the set when one has been allowed to film at Versailles, but the film overall is rather forgettable as royal period dramas go.
I have to admit that I was not predisposed to like this movie [why did it ever occur to anybody that it would be a good idea for Madonna to make a movie about Wallis Simpson (1896-1986) (Andrea Riseborough) and Edward VIII (1894-1972) (James D'Arcy)?], but I don't think my prejudice was unjustified. This is an odd and tedious film, frequently and disconcertingly interrupting the historical narrative [which it tries to make bold and daring by having Anne Boleyn...er, Natalie Dormer portray Queen Elizabeth (1900-2002) as a humourless snob] with a parallel modern plot which is dull when not indulging in gratuitous shocking scenes of domestic violence that only contribute to making this movie unpleasant to watch in every way. It's true that I'm not a fan of the historical Wallis or Edward either, but somehow I doubt even viewers more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt will find W.E. worthwhile.
The theory that the Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the real author of the plays and poems of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is flimsy enough without adding royal incest to the mix, but Joelly Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave are a great Queen Elizabeth I in this "political thriller" which is satisfying enough as entertainment as long as it is not taken too seriously.
Henri 4 (2010)
Fortunately available with English subtitles in its entirety on YouTube, this is a fine film about one of France's greatest kings, Henri IV (1553-1610) (Julien Bosselier). Towards the end the king's genial interactions with his loyal and grateful subjects--who do indeed have chickens in their pots--are deeply moving, especially if one knows what's coming next. Only complaint: Henri's brother-in-law Charles IX (1550-1574) only lived to be 23, so it was bizarre to cast as him an actor (Ulrich Noethen) who was 51 in 2010. (Why do historical movies so often do things like that?) Nevertheless, highly recommended should you have two and half hours to spare.
The King's Speech (2010)
I liked this movie quite a bit when I saw it the first time, but have grown less enamoured of it in retrospect over the years. I suppose my opinion may have been coloured by Colin Firth (George VI) turning out to be an anti-royalist in real life, but Peter Hitchens's criticisms also made me think. (See my full review here.)
Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott's latest medieval epic has little to do with the traditional Robin Hood legend and even less to do with actual history, but looks spectacular and includes a fine performance by Eileen Atkins as Queen Eleanor (1122-1204). (See my blog for more.)
Princess Kaiulani (2009)
Q'orianka Kilcher stars as the courageous heiress to the Hawaiian throne (1875-1899) whose eloquence impressed Americans but was unable to prevent the annexation of her homeland by the United States. The movie's sympathies are clearly with the Hawaiians and their monarchy, though Sanford Dole seems a bit whitewashed in order to make Lorrin Thurston the sole villain. Not a fast-paced film, but a beautiful and moving one.
The Young Victoria (2009)
Emily Blunt stars in this gorgeous and mostly historically faithful production dramatizing the great queen's early years, produced by Sarah Ferguson and with a cameo by Princess Beatrice as one of her great-great-great-great-grandmother's ladies-in-waiting. (See my full review here.)
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Based on the historical novel by Philippa Gregory, this film (starring Natalie Portman as Anne, Scarlett Johansson as her less famous sister Mary, and Eric Bana as the King) trivializes the issues of Henry VIII's reign ("I have torn this country apart for you," Henry angrily tells Anne. Really? We see no indication of it...) and does not adequately convey the passage of time. Not much to recommend other than the sets and costumes. For a gleefully scathing review see Gareth Russell's blog.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Reprising her role as the title character, Cate Blanchett delivers a stellar performance in this visual feast, but the movie is marred by ponderous dialogue, gratuitous historical inaccuracies, and a transparently Whiggish caricature of Philip II of Spain (1527-1598; acceded 1556) (Jordi Mollà) and Catholicism. Why the filmmakers felt entitled to entirely replace the actual text of Elizabeth I's famous Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, one of the great patriotic orations of history, with feeble inanities of their own creation is beyond me.
The Tudors (2007-10) (TV)
Not much of a television watcher in general, I purchased digital cable solely in order to be able to view this series, and it was worth it. An excellent cast (though I grew increasingly dissatisfied with the choice of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII) brings tremendous energy to a colorful and engrossing period production. Purists may be irked by the merging of Henry VIII's two sisters into one character and other incidents of dramatic license.
The Crown Prince (2006) (TV)
Max von Thun stars as Archduke Rudolf (1858-1889). I found it difficult to sympathize with his character, but I suspect that was more the fault of the actual Rudolf than the actor; in other words, an effective production that rings true, though I didn't think Sandra Ceccarelli quite captured the dreaminess of his mother Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898).
Goya's Ghosts (2006)
This engrossing period film on the rarely dramatized era of Spain during the Napoleonic wars is hard to pigeonhole ideologically, being hard on both the Church and the Revolution, and likely to make partisans of either alternately uncomfortable. Randy Quaid and Blanca Portillo are so convincing as King Carlos IV (1748-1819; reigned 1788-1808) and Queen Maria Luisa (1751-1819) that they might have stepped out of Goya's (Stellan Sjarsgård) portrait.
The Queen (2006)
With a riveting performance by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen Frears's film transcends the republican sympathies of the director and writer to deliver an essentially sympathetic and inspiring inside look at the British royal family's difficult week following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. (See my full review here.)
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Antonia Fraser's biography offers a stunning rendition of the court at Versailles. (See my full review here.)
Elizabeth I (2005) (TV)
Starring Helen Mirren in the title role, this superbly acted drama focuses on the queen's relationships with favorites Robert Dudley (Jeremy Irons) and Robert Devereux (Hugh Dancy). Mirren's rendition of the Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, perhaps the best ever filmed, is particularly memorable.
The Virgin Queen (2005) (TV)
Anne-Marie Duff's performance and make-up convey the aging of this much-portrayed monarch more convincingly than any previous version.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley Scott's epic captures the spectacle but not the spirit of the Crusades, trivializing religious motivations and promoting an anachronistic agnostic pluralism. Edward Norton portrays Baldwin IV (reigned 1174-85), the leper King of Jerusalem.
The Libertine (2004)
John Malkovich portrays an authentically tolerant King Charles II in this compelling if necessarily unpleasant drama of the decline of the debauched Earl of Rochester (Johnny Depp).
Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003) (TV)
Rufus Sewell brilliantly captures the character of Britain's King Charles II (1630-1685; acceded de jure 1649 / de facto 1660) in this excellent BBC drama.
To Kill a King (2003)
While the movie's sympathies are clearly with the "moderate" parliamentarian Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671) (Dougray Scott) [as opposed to the presumed "extremes" of Cromwell (1599-1658) (Tim Roth) and Charles I (1600-1649) (Rupert Everett)], a royalist viewer's convictions are unlikely to be shaken, given the depictions of Roundhead tyranny and the admirable portrayal of Fairfax's royalist wife Anne (Olivia Williams). Cromwell's anachronistic liberal speech to the crowd following the King's execution is only the most obvious deviation from history.
Henry VIII (2003) (TV)
Ray Winstone delivers a credible performance as England's most notorious king (1491-1547; acceded 1509) in this enjoyable miniseries.
The Lost Prince (2003) (TV)
Stephen Poliakoff's drama is a well-acted and beautifully designed account of the short, sad, life of Prince John (1905-1919), youngest son of King George V.
The Lion in Winter (2003) (TV)
Andrei Konchalovsky's remake, starring Patrick Stewart as Henry II and Glenn Close as Eleanor, is respectable, even affecting at times, but somehow lacks the original's sense of authentically carrying personalities across eight centuries.
Starring Joseph Fiennes, this biopic absurdly whitewashes the founder of Protestantism, trying to turn him into a modern champion of religious freedom, but includes somewhat more believable portrayals of Elector Fredrick the Wise of Saxony (1463-1525) by the late Sir Peter Ustinov and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) by Torben Liebrecht.
The Last Samurai (2003)
A powerfully moving tribute to Japanese traditionalists, loyal to their young Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura) even as they courageously battle his modernized army.
Bertie and Elizabeth (2002) (TV)
I've seen this, but forgot to add it to this page at the time and don't remember it very well, so here's a review by another American monarchist blogger.
Napoléon (2002) (TV)
Interesting but (perhaps inevitably) jumpy and superficial A&E biopic of the legendary French emperor (1769-1821; reigned 1804-1815), a parvenu and usurper but nevertheless a key figure in royal history.
The Emperor's New Clothes (2001)
Ian Holm makes the deposed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte almost endearing as he fictitiously escapes from St. Helena to Paris but must come to terms with obscurity rather than restoration.
Victoria and Albert (2001) (TV)
Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth star as Britain's longest reigning monarch (1819-1901; acceded 1837) and her beloved husband (1819-1861) in this lavish, sentimental, and quite believable depiction of their marriage.
Juana La Loca (Mad Love) (2001)
Excellent Spanish drama of the life of Fernando and Isabel's daughter Queen Juana of Castile (1479-1555), from her marriage in 1496 to the death of her husband King Felipe in 1506.
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
This account of the scandal which contributed to the French Revolution tries unsuccessfully to create sympathy for the countess whose scheming destroyed the reputation of the innocent Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793).
L'Anglaise et le Duc (The Lady and the Duke) (2001)
This controversial film is the first French movie ever to depict the Revolution in an unambiguously negative light--a must-see for monarchists. A Scottish royalist living in revolutionary France is torn between her loyalty to King Louis XVI (never depicted) and her affection for his disloyal cousin the Duc d'Orleans (1747-1793).
This heroic portrayal of a Siamese princess who sacrificed herself for her country sheds light on the history of a country which still reveres its monarchy today.
Le Roi Danse (2000)
Director Gerard Corbiau captures ancien regime France in all its glory; a must-see for enthusiasts of both the French monarchy and Baroque music. In Louis XIV (Benoît Magimel) the badly behaved genius composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (Boris Terral) found a patron who fully understood the power of the arts and lavishly exploited it to the hilt. (See my blog for more. Available at YouTube in fourteen parts; here is the first.)
Julian Sands portrays Louis XIV (1638-1715; acceded 1643) in this elegant adaptation of the story of the Prince de Condé's perfectionist steward.
Ferdinando e Carolina (1999)
This glimpse into the early married life of King Ferdinando III/IV of Naples & Sicily (1751-1825; acceded 1759) and Queen Maria Carolina (1752-1814) feels appealingly authentic in its earthiness, though occasionally the dialogue (or at least its subtitled translation) suggests a forced attempt to educate the audience, and the movie ends rather abruptly. Be sure to catch the amusingly anachronistic mistranslation of the nationality of the ambassador who comes to call on the young King.
Anna and the King (1999)
This film was banned in Thailand for historical inaccuracies in its depiction of the relationship between Siamese King Mongkut (1804-1868; acceded 1851) and British governess Anna Leonowens, but I enjoyed it.
Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)
A bit old for the role at 46, John Malkovich nevertheless captures the weakness of King Charles VII (1403-1461; acceded 1422, crowned 1429) in this inaccurate and occasionally annoying drama of the life of France's patron saint (Milla Jovovich).
Joan of Arc (1999) (TV)
Superior to Messenger, this epic stars Leelee Sobieski in the title role and Neil Patrick Harris as a rather Machiavellian King Charles VII.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715; acceded 1643) and his fictional twin in this mediocre adaptation of the story by Alexandre Dumas père.
Heroic portrayal of England's "Virgin Queen" (1533-1603; acceded 1558) by Cate Blanchett; focuses on the difficult early years of her reign, beginning in the middle of Queen Mary's.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
I did not like this movie at all, but Dame Judi Dench's Oscar-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth I (the only redeeming feature) warrants its inclusion here.
Mrs. Brown (1997)
Dame Judi Dench (a staunch royalist in real life) is superb as Britain's Queen Victoria in middle age.
Criticized by some Orthodox royalists, this animated feature on the most famous daughter (1901-1918) of Russia's Tsar Nicholas II makes no attempt to be historically accurate or even plausible, but as a children's film is reasonably entertaining if one's expectations are not too high. In my opinion, children who see this movie should gently be told the sad truth.
Rasputin (1996) (TV)
HBO's biopic on Nicholas and Alexandra's mysterious Friend is better than most movies made for television. Despite the title, it continues the story of the Imperial Family after Rasputin's death and is as much about the Romanovs as it is about their "dark servant of destiny."
A Royal Scandal (1996) (TV)
An amusing and justifiably irreverent look at the disastrous marriage of Britain's King George IV (1762-1830; acceded 1820) and Queen Caroline (1768-1821).
Catherine the Great (1995) (TV)
Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in this colorful but uninspired and unconvincing dramatization of the early life and reign of Russia's most famous ruling Empress.
An exciting film, but also pernicious, perhaps one of the most damaging and dishonest movies ever made, encouraging Scottish separatism and Anglophobia by promoting lies about Scottish and English history.
Sam Neill does a good job as Britain's pleasure-loving King Charles II (1630-1685; acceded 1660).
Richard III (1995)
I was not convinced by the "updating" of Shakespeare's play to a 1930s fascist England, but Sir Ian McKellan is great as the title character (1452-1485; acceded 1483).
La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) (1994)
This lengthy but fascinating French film set in the 1570s features Isabelle Adjani as Queen Margot (1553-1615), the daughter of the scheming Queen Catherine de Medici and the reluctant wife of King Henri IV of France and Navarre.
The Madness of King George (1994)
Nigel Hawthorne gives a moving performance as Britain's unfortunate King George III (1738-1820; acceded 1760). The original play was called "The Madness of George III," but distributors worried that Americans would think they'd missed the first two.
Edward II (1991)
Strange but compelling modern adaptation of Marlowe's play about medieval England's openly homosexual king (1284-1327; acceded 1307).
Henry V (1989)
Kenneth Branagh is magnificent as one of England's most heroic kings (1387-1422; acceded 1413) in his superb adaptation of the Shakespeare play.
The Last Emperor (1987)
Opulent and engrossing depiction of the unusual life of China's Emperor Pu-yi (1906-1967; reigned 1908-11 and in Manchuria 1934-45).
Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy (1986)
Nicol Williamson credibly captures the difficulty of the situation in which Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979) found himself as the last Viceroy and first Governor-General of India against the vast, complex, and fascinatingly filmed drama of Indian and Pakistani independence. Convincing royal supporting roles include Windy Hiller as his mother Princess Victoria (1863-1950) and Owen Holder as King George VI (1895-1952). Interesting trivia: Janet Suzman, who played Mountbatten's aunt Empress Alexandra in Nicholas and Alexandra fifteen years earlier, plays his wife Edwina (1901-1960) here.
Lady Jane (1986)
An endearing portrait of England's nine-day queen (1537-1554), enjoyable despite silly attempts to attribute modern progressive/egalitarian ideals to Jane (Helena Bonham Carter) and her husband (Cary Elwes).
Peter the Great (1986) (TV)
Maximilian Schnell stars in this enjoyable miniseries profiling Russia's Tsar Peter I. (1672-1725; acceded 1682/89).
Mostly about the composers Mozart and Salieri, this also includes a good performance by Jeffrey Jones as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790; acceded 1765/80).
This production of Shakespeare's tragedy, which undoubtedly would be far more effective on stage than on the screen, is brilliantly acted by Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, though its visually minimalist approach may be tedious for those, like me, who prefer their sets and costumes elaborate and authentic to the era depicted.
Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978) (TV)
This can't be the most memorable miniseries ever, since I ordered it from Netflix thinking I had never seen it before and then realized while watching it that I almost certainly had, though to be fair, my reluctance to sit through the whole thing a second time may have something to do with the fact that Edward VIII (1894-1972; acceded and abdicated 1936) (Edward Fox) is one of my least favorite royal personalities. Nevertheless I'd recommend the thorough and thoughtful production to anyone interested in the period. There's an interesting discussion of it (opinions not necessarily endorsed) here.
Edward the King (1975) (TV)
Timothy West stars in this thoroughly enjoyable and comprehensive recreation of the life of Britain's King Edward VII (1841-1910; acceded 1901).
Fall of Eagles (1974) (TV)
This docudrama of the decline and fall of the three great European empires from the mid-19th century through World War I features excellent performances that often succeed in giving one the eerie feeling that one is observing the real personalities depicted.
Helmut Berger may have been an excellent choice for Bavaria's "mad" king Ludwig II (1845-1886), but unfortunately his performance, Wagner's music, and the beautiful sets and costumes still do not add up to a truly satisfying movie, which at four hours moves at the pace of a glacier, and which tries too hard to be eccentric itself rather than simply depicting an eccentric character. I hope that someday King Ludwig, who ought to be a period picture director's dream, will inspire something better.
Mary Queen of Scots (1971)
Vanessa Redgrave as the title character and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I lead a great cast, though I wish movies about the two queens wouldn't always insist on having them meet (twice in this case) when in fact they never did. I suppose it makes for good drama though. Many of the cast are visibly too old for their roles at the beginning of the film (1558, when Elizabeth was 25 and Mary only 16), but for obvious reasons this ceases to be an issue as it goes on.
Elizabeth R (1971) (TV)
Glenda Jackson stars in perhaps the most dramatically sophisticated adaptation of the life of Queen Elizabeth I. The dialogue, acting, and attention to historical detail are admirable, but I would recommend taking the [quite substantial] series in small doses so as to avoid becoming even more weary of the queen's temper and mood changes than her poor advisors and favorites must have been.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)
Except for the strange and irritating music, Roman Polanski's adaptation of the classic Shakespeare play about Scotland's tormented usurper (reigned 1040-1058) is admirable.
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
While not by any means a great movie, the adaptation of my favorite book definitely deserved its Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. The resemblance of members of the cast to the actual historical personages is convincing. Michael Jayston is Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918; reigned 1894-1917) and Janet Suzman is Empress Alexandra (1872-1918).
Too favorable to the title character (Richard Harris) for my taste, but the great Alec Guinness nevertheless makes Britain's ill-fated King Charles I (1600-1649; acceded 1625) a sympathetic character.
Edward II (1970) (TV)
Ian McKellen delivers a heartrending performance as the pitiable king in this BBC television adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's play.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII (TV) (1970)
I've watched only the Catherine Howard episode, but Keith Michell is perfect as the ailing Henry VIII, perhaps the best such performance I've seen. I wish though that he had been paired with a younger actress; while Angela Pleasence's acting is admirable, at 28-29 she was obviously no teenager, and the youth of the doomed Catherine (1525?-1542) is crucial to the story.
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
First-rate drama with Geneviève Bujold as Queen Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) and Richard Burton as King Henry VIII of England.
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn are wonderful as King Henry II (1133-1189; acceded 1154) of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204).
The Rise of Louis XIV (1966)
Jean-Marie Patte stars as the young Sun King in Roberto Rossellini's admirably realistic depiction of the early years of the great monarch's reign.
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) eloquently stands up to King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw).
Peter O'Toole shines as King Henry II at odds with former friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton).
The King and I (1956)
The classic musical, more reliable as entertainment than as history, stars Yul Brynner as Siam's King Mongkut.
Sissi (1955), Sissi: The Young Empress (1956), Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)
An enchanting Romy Schneider portrays the young Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) in this beautifully filmed, sentimental but basically truthful trilogy set in the 1850s. Some aspects of the historical chronology are fudged a bit but the personalities are brought to life authentically. One admirable aspect of the movies is that while Sissi's difficult mother-in-law (and aunt) Sophie (Vilma Degischer) is definitely the antagonist, the film wisely does not make her one-dimensional or evil; she has feelings too and is not an entirely unsympathetic character.
The Virgin Queen (1955)
Bette Davis returns as Queen Elizabeth I.
Ivan the Terrible (1944/1958)
In Sergei Eisenstein's two-part epic, Nikolai Chersakov portrays Tsar Ivan IV (1530-1584) as a Strong Leader who Stalin could admire, opposed to the aristocracy and the Church. The Coronation scene is magnificent and the otherwise unkown child actor Erik Pyryev gives an excellent brief performance as the young Ivan, shedding light on why he would grow up so suspicious of the boyars, an experience shared by his successor Peter the Great.
Henry V (1944)
Laurence Olivier masterfully directs and stars as England's legendary warrior king (1387-1422). I especially liked the device of framing the play as an actual production (complete with backstage chaos) in Shakespeare's time, shifting almost imperceptibly from the world of 1600 to 1415 and back again.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
Starring Bette Davis as the aging Elizabeth I and Errol Flynn as her young favorite doomed by his pride, this production abounds in color and drama, though the portrayal of Essex as a sort of proto-democrat seems rather anachronistic.
While the title reflects this film's obvious admiration for the short-lived Mexican monarchy's leading republican antagonist, the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian (1832-1867; acceded 1864) and Empress Carlota (1840-1927) are portrayed sympathetically and effectively by Brian Aherne and Bette Davis.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Ian Hunter is the mostly absent but heroic King Richard the Lion Heart (1157-1199; acceded 1189) in this exciting drama.
If I Were King (1938)
Entertaining comedy with an amusing portrayal of King Louis XI of France (1423-1483; acceded 1461) by Basil Rathbone.
Marie Antoinette (1938)
Suitably lavish drama of the life of France's tragic queen. (Gareth Russell reflects on the drawbacks of movies about Marie Antoinette, singling out this one as the best.)
Aleksandr Nevsky (1938)
Soviet classic (with score by Sergei Prokofiev) about the valiant Prince of Novgorod (1220-1263) who defended medieval Russia from the Teutonic Knights.
Competently depicts the ill-fated love affair of Archduke Rudolf of Austria (1858-1889) and Baroness Marie Vetsera.
Mary of Scotland (1936)
Katharine Hepburn aptly plays the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587; reigned 1542-67)
The Crusades (1935)
Henry Wilcoxon is King Richard I and Loretta Young is Queen Berengaria in Cecil DeMille's epic drama of the medieval conflict between the West and Islam.
Catherine the Great (1934)
Lavish but inaccurate and somewhat boring drama of the early life of Russia's Empress Catherine II (1729-1796; acceded 1762).
Queen Christina (1933)
Greta Garbo delivers an admirable performance as the unique Queen Christina (1626-1689; reigned 1632-54) of her native Sweden.
Rasputin and the Empress (1932)
Not a very good or historically accurate movie, but important for two reasons. This is the film regarding which Prince Felix and Princess Irina Yusopov successfully sued MGM Studios for libel, and it is the only movie that Hollywood "royalty" Ethel (Alexandra), Lionel (Rasputin), and John (Prince Chegodieff, the Yusopov character) Barrymore made together.