The many faces of Victoria: Queen Vic still reigns on the silver screen
PUBLISHED: 10:40 04 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:40 04 May 2019
Queen Victoria has cast a long shadow over the histiry of Britain and it is not surprising she has been portrayed on screen more than any other monarch but who makes the best Queen Vic? We take a look at films featuring Anna Neagle, Judi Dench, Emily Blunt, even Peter Sellers
Queen Victoria is one of the cornerstones of modern British history. Her attitudes to family, to social values and what makes Britain British still dominate much of our world. Her shadow continues to loom large over this island nation 118 years after her death.
Being such a dominant figure in our recent history, it's not hard to understand that Queen Victoria has been portrayed many times on film. A quick scan of the internet movie database reveals that she been portrayed on screen more than 40 times with both Dame Anna Neagle and Dame Judi Dench playing her twice, as did Fay Compton and on one occasion she was played by Peter Sellers in a film opposite Spike Milligan.
One of the reasons she has featured so many times on film is that she tends to also appear in films that are not bio-pics about her but deal with the Victorian era. She has had an important supporting role in three films about her prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, three films about Florence Nightingale, two films about Sherlock Holmes and one about David Livingstone. Most of these were made during the silent era.
Unsurprisingly, as she supplied much of their nobility and royalty, the Germans love Queen Victoria and twice made a romantic comedy called Victoria in Dover. The first was made in 1936 and then again in 1954. These were fictionalised accounts of her romance with Prince Albert.
Her first fictionalised appearance on screen came shortly after her death. In 1912 she was depicted in the silent short The Victoria Cross about the founding of the famous medal for valour. The following year she was portrayed by comedy actress Louie Henri in the first bio-pic Sixty Years A Queen.
But, what have been Queen Vic's most memorable on screen appearances over the years?
Victoria the Great (1937) dir: Herbert Wilcox; starring: Anna Neagle, Anton Walbrook, Walter Rilla
The first of a two part biography featuring the Queen of 1930s cinema Anna Neagle and directed by her husband. This 1937 prestige picture was commissioned by the short-lived King Edward VIII, following the Broadway success of Laurence Housman's play Victoria Regina.
The play had previously been banned in 1935 by Lord Chamberlain as it was forbidden for the royal family to be shown on the British stage. The King decided to overrule his minister.
Victoria the Great focuses on the early years of Victoria's reign and her marriage to Prince Albert. It ends with the film ostentatiously switching from black and white to colour as the Queen resumes her public duties following her period of seclusion after Albert's death in 1861.
Showbiz bible praised the film for putting Victoria the person rather than Victoria the Queen as its prime focus allowing audiences to see why she had been 'the most popular ruler England ever had.'
Sixty Glorious Years (1938) dir: Herbert Wilcox; starring: Anna Neagle, Anton Walbrook, C. Aubrey Smith
Proving that back-to-back sequels are nothing new, Sixty Glorious Years picks up where the previous film left off. Again this was a film full of pomp and circumstance with costumes being copied from the genuine articles housed in the British Museum.
This film continued the story of Victoria's relationship with Prince Albert (Anton Walbrook) but this time looked at the political and military upheavals that characterized her time as Queen.
Acting great C. Aubrey Smith played The Duke of Wellington while Felix Aylmer returned as Lord Palmerston, Malcolm Keen was Gladstone and Derrick De Marney was Disraeli. Joyce Bland popped up as Florence Nightingale. In 1951 Anna Neagle would be playing Florence Nightingale in The Lady With A Lamp and Helena Pickard would play Victoria.
Victoria Regina (1964) starring: Patricia Routledge, Max Adrian, Joachim Hansen
Laurence Housman's 1934 play turns up again and this time is adapted into a four-part Granada Television series starring a young Patricia Routledge as Queen Victoria. Joachim Hansen is Prince Albert while Max Adrian, who would later find fame with Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii, plays her Prime Minister Disraeli.
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A big series at the time, it seems, unlike The Forsythe Saga a Victorian family drama of a similar vintage, to have been lost to the mists of time.
Mrs Brown (1997) dir: John Madden; starring: Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Geoffrey Palmer, Antony Sher
After an extended period away from the screen (or rather guest-starring in other people's movies) Queen Victoria returned to put her name once again above the title. Judi Dench took on the challenging role in a production that was every bit as prestigious as Anna Neagle's Victoria The Great but telling a very different story.
This wasn't a story of pomp and pageantry. This was a movie about love and loss. It was story told away from the spotlight. Set in the Highlands of Scotland, it was about Victoria and Albert but it was a film in which Albert didn't appear as he has been dead for many years.
The Queen, who is still grieving is introduced to her Scottish servant, John Brown, played by Billy Connolly and slowly a special relationship begins to develop. The film, funded by the BBC, was originally was going to be screened on television but was so good that they opted to release it in cinemas to great acclaim. Judi Dench was nominated for both the BAFTA and Oscar for what turned out to be one of the defining performances of her career.
Victoria & Albert (2001) starring: Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth, James Callis
This all-star TV movie first aired in 2001 and was a co-production between the BBC and American cable network A&E.
This was regarded as the superior Downton Abbey of its day and as the title suggests, its focus was on the passionate love affair between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their subsequent marriage. The all-star cast featured Nigel Hawthorne, Peter Ustinov, Penelope Wilton, David Suchet, Jonathan Pryce and Diana Rigg as the great and the good.
The relationship between the young Victoria and the elderly Lord Melbourne (Nigel Hawthorne) was particularly moving. A review of the time described Peter Ustinov as “disgracefully good fun as William IV” while Victoria Hamilton gave “a nicely intense performance” as the Queen.
The Young Victoria (2009) dir: Jean-Marc Vallée starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
This trod much the same path as TV's Victoria and Albert but with a much slicker touch and much steamier. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes wrote the script fresh off his success on Gosford Park and tried to make the film as historically accurate as possible.
The Young Victoria looks bring to life the early years of Queen Victoria's reign and show how she battled to keep her passionate marriage to Prince Albert and her duties as Queen separate. Alongside Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend as the lusty Royal couple, the movie's cast also includes Miranda Richardson, Mark Strong and Jim Broadbent.
Victoria (2016) starring: Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes, Adrian Schiller, Jordan Waller
Writer and creator Daisy Goodwin has managed to turn a university dissertation into an award-winning TV sensation. By absorbing Queen Victoria's diaries she has turned a much trodden path into something fresh and exciting. Beginning with Queen Victoria's accession to the throne at the age of just 18, the series looks to explore the range and scope of her reign, starting with her loving friendship with Lord Melbourne and her marriage to Prince Albert.
It will be interesting to see where the series goes once Victoria enters middle and old age.
Victoria & Abdul (2017) dir: Stephen Frears starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith
Twenty years after her Oscar-nominated performance as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, Dame Judi Dench returns to the role in this unofficial sequel by Mrs Henderson Presents director Stephen Frears, based on the book by Shrabani Basu.
Victoria & Abdul tells the forgotten story of the real-life relationship between Victoria and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim, played by Bollywood star Ali Fazal. Not many films have tackled the subject of Queen Victoria being Empress of India and between them Judi Dench and Stephen Frears tackle a sensitive subject and reveal Victoria's genuine affection for India and for its people. On paper it may appear quite similar to Mrs Brown but its quite different in tone and approach.