Good Movies Featuring Royalty

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 4:06 pm

These good movies featuring royalty include queens, kings, tsars, and emperors. While most of them don’t come to an especially pleasant end (who did in the 16th century?), their lives remain filled with battle, romance, and plenty of intrigue. From the Forbidden City of China to the bloody battlefields of Agincourt, this list of good movies featuring royalty has a little something for everyone.

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Henry V (1989) – Kenneth Branagh stormed onto the scene by writing, directing, and starring in his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play The Life of Henry the Fifth. Filled with brotherhood, battle, and Shakespearean dialogue that can actually be understood, it’s must-see viewing for any fan of The Bard or good movies featuring royalty. The Battle of Agincourt is especially stunning, eschewing Laurence Olivier’s choice of a sunlit field for knee-deep mud and wails of the dead and dying. The stellar supporting cast includes Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Christian Bale, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Paul Scofield, and Brian Blessed.

The Last Emperor (1987) – A visually stunning biopic about the life of Puyi, the real-life last Emperor of China. From his royal upbringing in the Forbidden City to his capture and “re-education” at the hands of the Communist party, this Bernardo Bertolucci film examines every aspect of his epic and ultimately pitiful life. Co-starring Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

Elizabeth (1998) – Cate Blanchett captured plenty of critical praise for her leading role as Queen Elizabeth I of England. Taking the throne after the death of her half-sister, Elizabeth inherits a bankrupt kingdom surrounded on all sides by enemies. As she navigates a sea of potential marriage candidates, she engages in a romantic interlude with Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), fights off plots by everyone from the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) to Pope Pius V (Sir John Gielgud), and gains the necessary backbone to eventually declare herself “The Virgin Queen.” Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film provides a lavish (if somewhat factually inaccurate) look at life amidst 16th century English nobility.

Napoleon (1955) – A sweeping epic that takes a look at the life of Napoleon I of France. Napoleon is played by two actors to depict the various stages of his life, Daniel Gelin and Raymond Pellegrin. From the battles at Waterloo and Austerlitz to his romance with Josephine de Beauharnais (the radiant Michele Morgan), the film hits all the high points and features a supporting cast comprised of such notables as Orson Welles and Erich von Stroheim.

The Lion in Winter (1968) – Based on a Broadway play, the film stars Peter O’Toole as King Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor. As the two bicker gather on Christmas in 1183 and bicker over who should be the next ruler, deals are arranged and plans are made. The whole affair soon erupts into a chaotic mess of backstabbing, and his three sons and potential heirs (Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, and John Castle) find themselves in the dungeon while Henry plots his next move. A complete work of fiction, it’s nevertheless a gripping tale of love and intrigue. Nominated for seven Oscars, it would win three.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) – The Oscar-winning film begins in 1527 with Henry VIII (Richard Burton) becoming bored with his wife, Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas), and his chief mistress. Then he spies his mistress’ younger sister, Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold), and decides he must have her. Anne resists at first, but the intoxicating effects of power slowly begin to work their magic on her. Nominated for 10 Oscars it won just one for Best Costume Design. Still, Bujold’s performance alone is worth the price of a rental.

Mrs. Brown (1997) – This film wasn’t expected to do much, but it ended up being a surprise hit at the box office and earned an Oscar nomination for Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria. Withdrawn after the death of her consort in 1861, Victoria is slowly coaxed back into public life by the appearance of John Brown (Billy Connolly), a Scottish servant of her former husband. As their relationship deepens, whispers begin to circulate of a possibly inappropriate relationship. That’s when the vultures come out.

The Queen (2006) – Depicting a fictional account of the events following the death of Princess Diana, The Queen focuses on HM Queen Elizabeth II, portrayed with uncanny depth by Helen Mirren (in an Oscar-winning role). Michael Sheen co-stars as Tony Blair, and James Cromwell also puts in an appearance. A fascinating look at the nature of royalty, especially considering that none of the other entries on this list had to deal with the scandal-crazed modern media.

A Man for All Seasons (1966) – Paul Scofield won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. Loved, respected, and envied as a man true to his principals, More is placed in a seemingly impossible predicament when he’s asked to (a) sign a letter that would request the Pope give King Henry an annulment and (b) recognize the monarch as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. As his sticks to his beliefs, More’s enemies move to plot his downfall. Also starring Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, John Hurt, Wendy Hiller, and Susannah York, A Man for All Seasons would capture a total of six Oscars (including Best Director and Best Picture).

Ivan the Terrible (1944/1958) – Directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein and released as two films 14 years apart, these movies attempted to tell the life story of Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, aka Ivan the Terrible. The first film presented the man as a national hero fighting against the schemes of the treacherous boyars. Joseph Stalin loved the movie, as he himself was a particular admirer of the former ruler. The second film, Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars’ Plot was banned by the government for showing too many parallels between Ivan and Stalin, as well as having the formerly heroic Ivan committing many murders for the “greater good” of the people. The second film wouldn’t see the light of day until 10 years after Eisenstein’s death. He had planned for a third film, but died before it could be completed. While a few scenes do exist, much of it was seized and destroyed by the government. Something tells me you wouldn’t want your film getting the “thumbs down” rating from Stalin, a man responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

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