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    Dignity, Humor … and What Did She Have in That Purse?

    By Jan Wahl–

    Elizabeth the Second was a monarch who was so complicated that she needed three women to play her in The Crown. She herself was often an enigma, not letting us see under the pomp and circumstance. But when she did, the results could be most charming. 

    When beloved Paddington Bear had formal tea with Her Majesty, he had problems with a jam sandwich. Her Highness opened up her purse and took out a wrapped marmalade sandwich, saying that this is where she always kept one. In another humorous skit, hunky Daniel Craig as OO7 paid her a visit; lucky Queen. And her great love for her corgis touched my heart, being a dog fan myself.

    Okay: sandwiches, Daniel Craig, and dogs. Add adoration of big jewelry, bright colors, and hats. The Queen and I had so much in common!  

    Many fine actresses have had the opportunity to play Queen Elizabeth II. In the aforementioned The Crown, she was played as a young woman by Clara Foy, later by Olivia Colman, and in senior years by Imelda Staunton. There aren’t too many of us who don’t love this Netflix series, now filming its sixth season. Two of my favorite actors have been added:  Leslie Manville as Princess Margaret (love that wild royal spare) and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip. But, of course, it will be Imelda Staunton who will drive the action as the formidable Queen. 

    Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was remarkable for encompassing so much history. Since she died at the advanced age of 96, we had a long chance to speculate on this impressive person of non-stop speculation. She has been the subject of an endless stream of movies, plays, and series; books and articles have never stopped and are now everywhere all at once.  Nobody was imprisoned in the Tower or beheaded, but the drama was there and palatable. 

    In one of my all-time favorite films about her father, King George V1, The King’s Speech shows us Elizabeth as a young girl (portrayed by Freya Wilson.)  The crown is firmly planted on her young head as her fragile father passes and she is called back from an African honeymoon to transform from a young bride to Queen of England.  Even the biggest drama queens among us cannot top that!

    Many genres of film have been part of the Queen’s story. Let’s begin with comedy. Though there are comical moments in The Crown, sometimes lighter moments in her life are illustrated or just made up.  The latter would be the fun of 2015’s A Royal Night Out. The time is VE Day in London, 1945. Somehow the two Royal daughters are sprung from the palace, mingling and free for once in their lives. Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) engage in flirting, drinking, dancing, and riding a city bus (gasp!). You will have a fun ride yourself with this fresh and funny fantasy.

    The divine Emma Thompson was perfectly cast as her Maj in 2012’s Walking the Dogs. Based on a true story, the film tells how an intruder broke into the Queen’s bedchamber and had a ten-minute sit-down chat with the monarch. Thompson brings both gravitas and warmth to this portrayal. Is there anything Thompson can’t play perfectly, from her early Shakespeare roles to the recent Good Luck to You, Leo Grande? If you have not seen this gutsy and very sexual comedy drama from 2022, get thee to it as soon as possible. Thompson is a woman who hires a sex worker hoping to discover a sensuality she never allowed herself before. She should’ve won every award possible for this performance, but I digress.

    While there are many others about Queen Elizabeth II in the drama category, my personal favorite is 2006’s The Queen. The film depicts the Queen’s complex public and private reactions to the death of Diana in 1997. This is an inside look at how she handled, or mishandled, the death of the beloved Diana. Helen Mirren shows us the inner conflict as she tries to be there for her grandsons as well as her country. It is no wonder Mirren won the Oscar. The performance is a deep dive into the Queen’s sorrow, bewilderment, and even confusion. Mirren’s tradition-bound Elizabeth struggles with this anguish and we feel every frame of it—grief, anger from her public, bowing to national pressure, holding on to her persona … this is one fabulous film and bears watching a few times.

    The best documentary for my money (in Euros or pounds) is Elizabeth at 90, a 2016 TV special commemorating her 90th birthday. It is also titled A Jubilee Tribute to the Queen by the Prince of Wales, or is broken up into two different films.  Both are interesting as we watch archival footage and even peer into royal reactions as they themselves watch private and public films of the family.

    Whether portrayed in a drama, comedy, romance, or documentary, this is a monarch who will live forever.    

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Off the Wahl
    Published on September 22, 2022