An introduction to the royal family

James Oliver

The bunting is up, the TV cameras are primed and grumpy gits up and down the land are already moaning. Yes! It's time for another Royal Wedding!

These latest nuptials are slightly different though; the bride, you see, hails from The New World. While that poses no constitutional difficulties, there are some practical problems: like—does she know what she's getting into? Does she understand the history of the institution she's about to join?

Well, we thought we'd give her a hand. It just so happens that there are loads of films about the Royal Family (there's even more made for TV stuff—too much, alas, to consider here). Between them, they might give an idea of her future husband's family, and their ancestors...

Hello Ms. Markle! Hope all is well! Anyway, you settle yourself down and we'll have a look at what cinema has to say about the British monarchy.

 

ELIZABETH II

We'll start with a nice easy one, your future grandmother-in-law (namely and viz. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second). Now, she can be a wee bit intimidating; if you've seen The Queen (that's the one where she's played by Dame Helen Mirren), you might expect her to be a touch on the cold side.

However! There is another, more fun loving, side of Her Maj, one shown in A Royal Night Out. This film shows the then-Princess Elizabeth going out amongst the commoners to paint the town red on VE day. She's not quite as free-spirited as your betrothed, of course Ma'am—there's no naked billiards here—but enough to show that Christmases at Sandringham won't be too deadly.

 

George VI

You may already have noticed that there's one subject that the British film industry likes even more than your future in-laws, and that's the Second World War. So it is that the Queen's dad—who was on the throne for the duration—is well represented on screen, even though he was something of a dull old stick.

Most famously, he got an entire film to himself called The King's Speech, which shows how he tackled and tamed a chronic stammer just in time to rally his people and exhort them to give Adolf a jolly good kick in the pants. But he also shows up in Darkest Hour, appointing Winston Churchill to administer the aforementioned jolly good kick in the pants (which—spoiler alert—he did).

And in Hyde Park on the Hudson, he even makes it to your neck of the woods: it's about the time he popped over to America to meet President Roosevelt. The war hasn't started yet in this film but it does suggest that this was the beginning of the so-called “special relationship.” Incidentally, expect to see that phrase used in connection to your own union, many times. Many, many times.

 

Edward VIII

The black sheep of the family, and someone it's probably best not to mention in front of The Queen, although he was something of a trailblazer: your fiancé wasn't the first royal to marry an American divorcee, even if he doesn't have to give up the throne to do it.

Oddly enough, this grand royal love story hasn't been well-related on screen: he features in The King's Speech but it's not his story, even though he was considerably more colourful than his younger brother. The best we can probably manage there is W.E., which is by no means a straight telling of his story but will have to do. It was directed by Madonna, which may or may not be further incentive.

 

George V

Nothing to see here either, beyond a bit in The King's Speech. The Queen's granddad was King for 20-odd years and the only thing anyone remembers about him is that his doctor euthanised him in order that his death could be announced in time for the first edition of The Times.

 

Edward VII

A famously long serving Prince of Wales—your future father-in-law will know what that's like—and something of a playboy in his youth. Despite that, he's been overlooked by the “the movies” – he's made it into a film or two about his mum (see below) but as a king? Zilch.

 

Queen Victoria

Now we're talking! Once the longest serving monarch in British history, Queen Victoria is still one of the best-known monarchs. She's a regular in films too and has been since they were invented, sometime near the end of her reign.

You might know her best from a pair of films starring Dame Judi Dench: Mrs. Brown and Victoria and Abdul, which both focus on her relationships with male servants. In each, the gloomy old Queen is revived and encouraged to take a more active interest in her subjects—note that this always goes down well with said subjects. Earlier on, Dame Anna Neagle—a sort of 1930s version of Dame Judi Dench—took a couple of cracks at Our Vic: Victoria The Great and Sixty Glorious Years.

But it turns out there was more to Queen Victoria than being grumpy. Apparently, she was even young once, at least according to a film provocatively entitled The Young Victoria. Emily Blunt plays her with nary a hint of grumpiness—unsurprisingly since she's a-wooing her future consort Prince Albert.

 

William IV

Something of a forgotten king. Jim Broadbent played him in The Young Victoria (see above) and Toby Jones did the honours in Amazing Grace but we’re still waiting for a definitive screen treatment of William IV. And will probably be waiting a good deal longer yet.

 

George IV

As Prince Regent, George features in a great many films, including Beau Brummell (where he's played by Robert Morley) and The Elusive Pimpernel (where Jack Hawkins did his best foppery): as one if the great party boys of British history, one can hardly be surprised by this.

Once he actually makes it to the throne, though, movies lose interest: filmmakers like their kings to be as dull as humanly possible, it seems. (You might want to have a word with your soon-to-be brother in law about this, if he fancies being immortalised on screen.)

 

George III

We could spin this list on a good deal longer yet, way back to King Arthur and beyond if we need to but let's draw a line here, with a King you may already be familiar with. George III, you see, is remembered in the US as the king who lost the American colonies.

We tend not to talk about that so much over here—you may have found it's still something of a touchy subject for some people—and instead recall him as the king who lost his marbles, Midway into his reign, he went mad (as the parlance of the time had it), causing all manner of constitutional ructions.

Those are dramatised in The Madness of King George, which is a handsome, well-mounted film that might show the somewhat awkward shape of British government. Moreover, if you watch it as a double bill with The Queen, you might get an interesting lesson in hereditary. The queen here is played by none other than Helen Mirren! So you can pretend she's playing her own great-great-great-great-great grandmother!

Anyway, I'm sure we all hope the big day goes off well—congratulations and all that—and if you need any more advice, you just ask, yeah?