Sunday, June 26, 2011

Favorite Movie Monarchs

"If the British monarchy is good for nothing else, it's superb at producing the subjects of films."
                  ROGER EBERT

Some of my favorite movies are about monarchs. I think this is because the format for a movie about royalty is often grand and dramatic. (I also have a thing for British movies, but that's an entirely different discussion...) I've found that my favorite movies about kings and queens are not ones that show how lavish and fabulous their lives are. My favorites are usually films about the downside of being royal, monarchs struggling with public perception or the sheltered nature of their lives.

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite movie monarchs:

Queen Elizabeth I
Played by Dame Judi Dench

The main reason that the arts flourished in the Elizabethan Age is because Queen Elizabeth loved the theater. She would have theater troupes perform for her at the palace. Judi Dench doesn't do anything half-way. She completely gave herself over to this role. Despite the fact that she is on screen for less than 15 minutes, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and rightly so. In Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth has a sharp tongue and fierce way about her that I love. Men and women alike find her incredibly intimidating.

Favorite Royal Moment: After the performance of Romeo and Juliet, Viola is in danger of being revealed as woman and the queen comes to her defense and speaks my favorite line from the movie: "I know something of a woman in a man's profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that."

Prince Edward
Played by James Marsden

The reason I love Enchanted so much is because it's a send-up of the great Disney princess films and Prince Edward is a perfect example of that. In the film, Edward ventures from his perfect, animated kingdom of Andalasia to New York City to find his lost love, Giselle. He is well-intentioned, but also incredibly narcissistic and dumb. If you think about it, most Disney princes are very one-dimensional. They exist only to brandish a sword, sing a song or two, and then save the damsel in distress. James Marsden plays Edward so over-the-top and he's even more hilarious when compared to Patrick Dempsey's uptight lawyer. Edward is definitely the funniest character in the film.

Favorite Royal Moment: The chipmunk, Pip, is trying to mime to Edward that Nathaniel is not trying to save Giselle, he's trying to kill her, and Edward keeps guessing wildly wrong things. The scene is funny for a number of reasons: First, whenever you play charades, there's always that one person who is terrible at guessing and the writers are making fun of that. Also, Edward's guesses are wonderfully vain. When Pip keeps miming "dying" and "death" and Edward guesses, "I'm even handsome when I sleep!" and "You'd die without me here!"

King George III
Played by Nigel Hawthorn

The Madness of King George is about King George III's descent into insanity and the political and royal corruption that takes place as a result of his inability to properly rule. The film starts a few years after the colonies have won their independence, which was very trying for the king. For years his insanity ebbs and flows. The film is also about the sorry state of medical practices in the 1700s. There are many scenes where the king is forced to endure many terrible treatments that were thought to cure mental illness. Nigel Hawthorn was not very well known to film audiences because he was mainly a stage actor in Britain, but he was an incredible actor. He played King George III in a way that was both darkly comedic and very sad. He completely carried the film. I would say that the insanity spread to the Academy voters who gave the Oscar to Tom Hanks instead. (I love you, Tom Hanks, but come on, Forrest Gump was not deserving of an Oscar.)

Favorite Royal Moment: There are many comedic moments in the film and my favorite is a scene where the king discusses the new country of America with one of his advisors.
KING GEORGE: What of the colonies, Mr. Pitt?
PITT: America is now a nation, sir.
KING GEORGE: It is? Well we must try and get used to it. I have known stranger things. I once saw a sheep with five legs...

Princess Ann 
Played by Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday is my favorite Audrey Hepburn film. She plays Princess Ann, a young woman who is bored with her over-scheduled, sheltered life. The writing never actually tells us what country she is from, but that doesn't matter. When her good-will tour of Europe takes a stop in Rome, she sneaks out and spends a day in the city with a young American writer. The very first scene of the film is one where Ann is at a ball and she has to greet hundreds of foreign dignitaries. As she meets them, the camera cuts to a shot of her feet under her dress. She takes her sore foot out of her shoe and her shoe falls over and during the rest of the introductions she tries to get her foot back in her shoe. It's such a charming way to introduce Ann. Sometimes people underestimate how funny Audrey Hepburn could be. This is the role that introduced Audrey Hepburn to the world (her credit reads "Introducing Audrey Hepburn") and it was quite an introduction, an Oscar-winning introduction in fact. Hepburn is incandescently beautiful in all her movies, but I think she never looked lovelier than in Roman Holiday.

Favorite Royal Moment: In the evening, Ann and Joe (Gregory Peck) go out dancing and two of Ann's secret servicemen spot them and there is a skirmish as Ann and Joe escape. However, before they escape, Joe throws a few punches and Ann gleefully smashes a guitar over a secret serviceman's head. I love it because it's the polar opposite of how Ann is introduced, all prim and proper. The scene is a lot of fun to watch.

Queen Elizabeth II
THE QUEEN (2006)
Played by Dame Helen Mirren

For the most part, I find the British monarchy ridiculous and unnecessary, but I have to say, I like the current queen very much. She's always struck me as very smart and strong-willed, as if her pampered lifestyle didn't affect her the way you would expect. Did you know that at the age of 18 she was a mechanic in World War II? She basically watched the job kill her father and then became queen at the age of 27. The Queen is about a small section of her reign. The film is about the aftermath of Princess Diana's death. Many felt that the queen handled it very poorly. She refused to fly the flag at half-mast above Buckingham Palace and it took her days before she spoke publicly on the matter. Though the royals could be thought of as the "bad guys" in this film, Helen Mirren, in an Oscar-winning role (are you sensing a trend in this list?), plays the queen with real strength. You get the feeling that she's not malicious (as the media made her out to be), she's conflicted.

Favorite Royal Moment: I love the scene where Prime Minister Blair (Michael Sheen) meets HRH for the first time since getting elected. He is sort of overwhelmed and she is very straight-forward with him. She holds the power the entire scene. The meeting is short and formal, but there are some great lines. It's an impressive scene for Mirren.

King George VI
Played by Colin Firth

Let me first start off by saying that I saw The King's Speech four times in theaters and it never gets old. Colin Firth was pegged for the Oscar win MONTHS in advance. Sorry James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg, but no one else had a chance to win. He plays Prince Albert (soon-to-be King George VI), who had a terrible stutter. He was never meant to be king, but his older brother Edward abdicated the throne in order to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson. The theme I love most in the film is the fact that Albert was really the first monarch who had to be king on television and on the radio. There's a line in the film where he says, "In the past, all a king had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people's homes and ingratiate ourselves with them." As prince and then as king, Albert was expected to give grand speeches and make public appearances. Firth plays him with so many layers. He's incredibly self-conscious, but also very stubborn. In his early scenes with his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) he is proud and haughty, but then there are some beautiful and emotional scenes with Helena Bonham Carter, who plays his wife, where he cries and pours out his soul to her. There is not a false step in the entire performance.

Favorite Royal Moment: Albert has a terrible argument with his brother who makes fun of his stutter by calling him B-B-B-Bertie. As Albert vents to Lionel, his speech therapist, he drops a few swears and Lionel points out that he doesn't stutter when he swears and encourages him to shout as many swears as he can think of. Then follows the most hilarious part of the movie. Colin Firth starts shouting swear after swear, louder and louder and faster and faster as Lionel eggs him on. "Yes! Defecation flows trippingly from the tongue!" The first time I saw it in the theater, I was afraid the 80-year-old woman in front of me was going to die from laughing so hard.
A close second is the scene where he makes up a bedtime story for his daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

Queen Victoria
Played by Emily Blunt

Other than The King's Speech, The Young Victoria is the best movie about royals released in a long time. Emily Blunt portrays Queen Victoria during the turbulent first years of her reign. She became queen when she was just 18 and there were many people who wanted her to sign over her duties until she was older, but she refused. The film largely focuses on her relationship with Albert and how they fell in love and ruled as a team. Albert was an incredibly devoted spouse, even taking an assassin's bullet for her. In terms of historical power couples, Victoria and Albert are right up there with John and Abigail Adams. It takes a very good actress to play a role like this and Emily Blunt plays it beautifully. Blunt is one of those actresses whose career I'm very excited to watch. She is incredibly talented. If you want a good picture of her abilities, watch The Young Victoria and Sunshine Cleaning.

Favorite Royal Moment: One of the first times Victoria meets Albert, they play a game of chess. They are very closely watched by her mother and a number of other women who are in the same room, so they carry on a very quiet conversation so they can't be overheard. Victoria talks about how sometimes she feels like a chess piece, as though she's simply being moved around by powerful politicians.
ALBERT: Then you had better master the rules of the game until you can play it better than they can.
VICTORIA: You don't recommend I find a husband to play it for me?
ALBERT: I should find one to play it with you, not for you.

And there you have it. A few of my favorite movie monarchs.

Who are some of your favorites?

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