It is likely that most Americans have never had the chance to see Queen Elizabeth II in person. But we got to know her, in a way, through the movies, the TV shows, the songs, and the books about her and inspired by her. We asked our critics to share their art picks inspired by the late, longtime monarch.
On the screens
“The Queen”: Helen Mirren won an Oscar for what is probably the most nuanced fictional portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. Peter Morgan’s drama finds the monarch in an unstable state, wandering the grounds of his mansion following the death of Princess Diana. In a rare moment alone, contemplating the beauty and freedom of a deer, we feel that she would like to exchange places with him. HBOMax.
“The crown”: In this epic series, it took three actors to play the queen: Claire Foy in the first two seasons, Olivia Colman in the next two and Imelda Staunton in the fifth, which begins in November, and the sixth, which is currently filming. . Netflix.
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“Diana: The Musical”: Queen Elizabeth sings in the show which had a brief critically reviled Broadway run. Luckily (or not), it was filmed, so Judy Kaye’s warm performance as the stepmother from hell survives. She doesn’t look much like the real queen in the scenes where, in song, she urges her son to find “a princess we can pledge ourselves to.” Netflix.
“The King’s Speech”: It’s nice to see little Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret walking around Buckingham Palace during the reign of their father, King George VI (Oscar-winning Colin Firth). In a movie not known for its levity, it’s also moving to reflect on the girl who has no idea what her life is going to become. Amazon Premier
“The BFG”: ‘Downton Abbey’ favorite Penelope Wilton walked away from the Dowager Countess heckling long enough to film a queen appearance in Steven Spielberg’s tender adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel (Guthrie veteran Mark Rylance also stars) . It’s about a lonely girl and the big friendly giant who befriends her. Amazon Premier.
“Saturday Night Live”: When the royals meet Kate Middleton (Anne Hathaway) for the first time, they find out what’s really going on behind the scenes. It turns out that Queen Elizabeth speaks in a Cockney accent, prefers to be called Deborah, swears like a sailor and does “everything I can”. [I] want.” Another surprise: she is played by Fred Armisen.
“His Majesty”, from the Beatles. After vague references to her throughout their canon, including ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘For You Blue’, the UK’s biggest cultural force since Shakespeare honored their monarch on the final track of their latest record . It was short, just 23 seconds, and it was cheeky. But unlike the rest of the songs listed below, it wasn’t done with disdain, with future knight Paul McCartney calling her “pretty nice girl”.
“God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols. Launched in 1977 around Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, this one wasn’t so friendly. “She is not a human being”, for example. But singer Johnny Rotten (née Lydon) would later say the oft-covered punk-rock anthem was not intended to offend Elizabeth herself, but was more against the monarchy and the political system around it.
“The Queen is Dead”, by the Smiths. You probably won’t see Morrissey, the famed anti-monarchist lead singer of this Manchester band, backtracking on the meaning of the title track from their cult 1986 album, which imagines Her Majesty with “her head in a sling”. But at least it also imagines Elizabeth having a say about Morrissey: “Hey, I know you and you can’t sing.”
“Elizabeth my dear”, the stone roses. A quiet filler on Britain’s finest rock album of the late 1980s, it’s another scathing track: “I won’t rest until she loses her throne.” Another band from Manchester, the Roses sadly did not live up to these words or their hype and sadly rested after just one more album. Revenge of the Queen?
“Dreaming of the Queen”, Pet Shop Boys. There’s a little nuance to how Diana was treated, but otherwise this 1993 nugget from the London synth-pop duo isn’t nearly as bad. This speaks to Elizabeth’s ubiquity in her time, so much so that she appears regularly in Britons’ dreams (“I Was Naked/The Disapproved Old Queen”).
On the wall of his office at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, Philip Brunelle has a manuscript signed by Queen Elizabeth II, making him an honorary member of the British Empire. Founder and Artistic Director of VocalEssence, Brunelle has brought many British works to these shores.
Here are five pieces that Brunelle closely associates with the Queen – the first three were performed at her coronation:
- George Frideric Handel, “Zadok the Priest”
- Hubert Parry, “I was happy”
- William Walton, “Orb and Scepter – Coronation March”
- Judith Weir, “Ascension to Heaven”
- John Rutter, “Bells in Paradise”
“Mrs. The Queen Takes the Train,” by William Kuhn. Battling a fit of melancholy, the Queen dons a fancy dress hoodie and heads to King’s Cross to catch the train to a beloved landmark in Scotland – the former royal yacht Britannia, moored near Edinburgh.
“The Uncommon Reader”, by Alan Bennett. A delicious short story in which the queen, following her corgis in a mobile library, begins to read and sees her conscience rise and her life changed.
“The Windsor Knot”, by SJ Bennett. In it, the first in a planned trilogy titled “Her Majesty the Queen Investigates”, a palace guest is found murdered in his bedroom. MI-5 begins to interrogate the household staff, but the queen has other suspicions.
“The Palace Papers”, by Tina Brown. A chunky but intensely readable doorstop of a book, examining the foils and toils of the modern Windsor house, from Diana to Meghan. Queen Elizabeth II does very well here, as sensible, practical and guardian of the rules, if not of the peace.
“Crown and Scepter”, by Tracy Borman. Borman’s animated story of the British monarchy begins with William the Conqueror and continues to the present day in a dramatic clip. Queen Elizabeth’s relationships with Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and her own corgis are explored, as well as the unforgettable role she played in the James Bond scene during the 2012 Olympics.
“Elizabeth II: A Queen for Our Time”, photos by Chris Jackson. The Getty Images royal photographer has collected photos from the past 20 years of the Queen’s reign, from tours to family visits to state dinners.
“Elizabeth II: Princess, Queen, Icon”, published by the National Portrait Gallery, London. The National Portrait Gallery holds over 1,000 portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, and this book brings together a sampling of photos, paintings and other depictions of the Queen from her birth.
“The Queen: 70 Glorious Years.” The Queen’s Official Platinum Jubilee Souvenir Book, compiled and published by the Royal Collection Trust in London, contains dozens of black and white and color photos from her life.