24 Favorite Book, Movies and Songs that Depict Queen Elizabeth II
by Laurie Hertzel, Chris Hewitt, Chris Riemenschneider and Rob Hubbard
Star Tribune |
Most Minnesotans never got the chance to even catch a glimpse of the late Queen Elizabeth II. But we have come to know her, in a way, through the movies, TV shows, songs and books about her and inspired by her. We asked our critics to share their picks of the art inspired by the late, long-serving monarch.
“The Queen”: Helen Mirren won an Oscar for what’s probably the most nuanced fictional portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Peter Morgan’s drama finds the monarch in an unsettled state, wandering the grounds of her mansion after the death of Princess Diana. In a rare moment alone, while contemplating the beauty and freedom of a stag, we sense she would like to trade places with it. HBOMax.
“The Crown”: In this epic series, it has taken 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 debuts in November, and sixth, which is currently filming. Netflix.
“Diana: The Musical”: Queen Elizabeth sings in the show that had a brief, critically reviled Broadway run. Fortunately (or not) it was filmed, so Judy Kaye’s hearty performance as the mother-in-law from hell survives. She doesn’t seem much like the real queen in scenes when, in song, she exhorts her son to find “a princess we can get behind.” Netflix.
“The King’s Speech”: It’s sweet to watch little Princess Elizabeth and sister Margaret toddle around Buckingham Palace during the reign of their dad, King George VI (Colin Firth, who won an Oscar). In a movie not known for its light touch, it’s also quietly moving to ponder the girl who has no idea what her life will become. Amazon Prime
“The BFG”: “Downton Abbey” favorite Penelope Wilton stepped away from heckling the Dowager Countess long enough to film a queenly cameo in Steven Spielberg’s tender adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel (Guthrie veteran Mark Rylance also stars). It’s about a lonely girl and the big, friendly giant who befriends her. Amazon Prime.
“Saturday Night Live”: When the royals meet Kate Middleton (Anne Hathaway) for the first time, she gets a look at what really goes on behind the scenes. Turns out Queen Elizabeth speaks with a Cockney accent, prefers to be called Deborah, swears like a sailor and does “whatever the hell [I] want.” Another surprise: She’s played by Fred Armisen.
Pop and rock
“Her Majesty,” by the Beatles. After vague references to her throughout their canon, including “Penny Lane” and “For You Blue,” the U.K.’s greatest cultural force since Shakespeare honored their monarch on the last track on their last record. It was short, just 23 seconds, and it was cheeky. But unlike the rest of the songs listed below, it wasn’t done in disdain, with the future knight Paul McCartney calling her “a pretty nice girl.” Listen
“God Save the Queen,” by the Sex Pistols. Released to uproar in 1977 around Elizabeth’s silver jubilee, this one wasn’t so nice. “She ain’t no human being,” for instance. But singer Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) would later say that the oft-covered punk-rock anthem wasn’t intended to slight Elizabeth herself, but was more against the monarchy and the political system around her. Listen
“The Queen Is Dead,” by the Smiths. You probably won’t catch this Manchester band’s famously anti-monarchist singer Morrissey backpedaling on the meaning of the title track of their cult-loved 1986 album, which imagines Her Majesty with “her head in a sling.” But at least it also imagines Elizabeth having her say about Morrissey: “Eh, I know you and you can’t sing.” Listen
“Elizabeth My Dear,” the Stone Roses. A quiet filler track on the best British rock album of the late-1980s, it’s another scathing one: “I’ll not rest till she’s lost her throne.” Another Manchester band, the Roses unfortunately did not live up to that lyric or their hype and infamously rested after just one more album. The queen’s revenge? Listen
“Dreaming of the Queen,” Pet Shop Boys. There’s a little shade in it about how Diana was treated, but otherwise this 1993 nugget by the London synth-pop duo isn’t quite as spiteful. It speaks to Elizabeth’s ubiquity during her time, so much so she shows up regularly in British people’s dreams (“I was in the nude / The old queen disapproved”). Listen
On the wall of his office at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church, Philip Brunelle has a manuscript signed by Queen Elizabeth II, naming him an honorary Member of the British Empire. The founder and artistic director of VocalEssence, Brunelle has brought many a British work to these shores.
Here are five pieces Brunelle closely associates with the queen — the first three were performed at her coronation:
- George Frideric Handel, “Zadok the Priest”
- Hubert Parry, “I Was Glad”
- William Walton, “Orb and Sceptre — Coronation March”
- Judith Weir, “Ascending Into Heaven”
- John Rutter, “Bells in Paradise”
“Mrs. Queen Takes the Train,” by William Kuhn. Fighting a bout of melancholy, the queen slips on a hoodie for disguise and heads to King’s Cross to take the train to a beloved landmark in Scotland — the former royal yacht Britannia, moored near Edinburgh.
“The Uncommon Reader,” by Alan Bennett. A delightful novella in which the queen, following her corgis into a mobile library, takes up reading and finds her consciousness raised and her life changed.
“The Windsor Knot,” by S.J. Bennett. In this, the first in a planned trilogy called “Her Majesty the Queen Investigates,” a palace guest is found murdered in his bedroom. MI-5 begins questioning the household staff, but the Queen has other suspicions.
“The Palace Papers,” by Tina Brown. A big doorstopper of a book but intensely readable, examining the foils and travails of the modern house of Windsor, from Diana to Meghan. Queen Elizabeth II comes off very well here, as sensible, practical and a keeper of the rules, if not the peace.
“Crown & Sceptre,” by Tracy Borman. Borman’s lively history of the British monarchy begins with William the Conqueror and moves forward to modern day at a dramatic clip. Queen Elizabeth’s relations to 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 Olympic Games.
“Elizabeth II: A Queen for Our Time,” photos by Chris Jackson. The royal photographer for Getty Images has collected photos from the last 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 more than 1,000 portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, and this book collects a sampling of photos, paintings and other depictions of the queen from her birth onward.
“The Queen: 70 Glorious Years.” The official souvenir book of the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, compiled and published by the Royal Collection Trust in London, contains dozens of black and white and color photos of her life.