From Olivia Colman in "The Favourite," to 2018's "Mary, Queen of Scots" and Netflix's "The Crown," queens are having a moment. Why do we love them?by Kate Williams / March 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Queens are definitely having a moment. Olivia Colman won our hearts with her emotional acceptance speech for the Best Actress Oscar she won for The Favourite. After reflecting on the “extraordinary women” in her category, including Glenn Close, she added that she secretly hoped her children were up watching her, because “this is not going to happen again.” She reminisced about her days as a cleaner. Quite a journey, then—and it is surely no coincidence that it was a queen who took her on it.
The monarch Colman played, Queen Anne, is not one of our best known. Few could list her achievements and she is generally associated with charming furniture or the tragic fact that she became pregnant at least 17 times but none of her children survived until adulthood. But a film about her has become a blockbuster. We are surrounded by cinematic queens. Claire Foy has swept us away as Elizabeth II in the first two series of Netflix’s The Crown, and it will be Colman replacing her on series three, which covers the turbulent 1970s. Mary, Queen of Scots is also having a day in the sun, with a major Hollywood film starring Saoirse Ronan released late last year.
One presumes television and film executives are madly researching any queen they can find. What about Mary II, Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, Princess Charlotte, the queen who never was or Mary of Guise, who battled to keep the country for her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots after her husband’s death? Matt Smith may have got paid more to play Prince Philip than Foy did for being his on-screen wife despite her being the one with the leading role in The Crown. Now it is all about the women.
That show, created by writer Peter Morgan, explores the division between the public self and the private female person. As her grandmother Queen Mary tells Elizabeth, when she becomes queen, her old self is no more.
I think this is the key to the allure of monarchs—individuals with that status always retain it, even in their most private moments. But a woman’s traditional role of wife, mother and support in private makes the division of identities even…