The Best Depictions of Queen Elizabeth II On Screen

Claire Foy, Imelda Staunton, and Olivia Colman As Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown
Claire Foy, Imelda Staunton, and Olivia Colman As Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown (Netflix)

The end of the Second Elizabethan era is worlds away from when it began in 1952. Back then, the average person did not have a television, had barely seen the royal family except in newsreels, and most of their entertainment was through radio. Queen Elizabeth II didn't just rule over the dawn of the information age but was the monarch who witnessed multiple evolutions in how the average person consumed entertainment. It also made her the subject of numerous depictions on screen, both focusing on the historical events that included her and the ones that didn't,

Some of the most famous depictions of the woman born Elizabeth Alexandria Mary are the ones written by Peter Morgan, who seemed to be on a one-person mission to become the historical scribe to define the woman who ruled the Elizabethan era before it ended. Helen Mirren, Claire Foy, and Olivia Colman will probably go down in history as the most memorable versions of the Queen. But they aren't the only ones who have played HRH Elizabeth R. Here's a rundown of some of the most memorable Elizabeths and who played them.

 

The King's Speech: Freya Wilson

The King's Speech isn't about Elizabeth, but her father, King George VI, played by Oscar-winner Colin Firth, as he settles into the royal role. However, Elizabeth was 10 when Edward abdicated and immediately became the Heir Apparent. Freya Wilson is the rare child actress to play the future Queen, making this one of the more striking versions.

The King's Speech is streaming on HBO Max.

The Carol Burnett Show: Carol Burnett

When Queen Elizabeth II took office, the lèse-majesté laws were still on the books in the U.K. (Parliament finally abolished them in 2010). However, the last person prosecuted under them was in the early 1700s. Still, parodying the Queen on Television was Not Done until Carol Burnett did it. Her sketches on The Carol Burnett Show featuring herself as the Queen became the royal standard for parody depictions until well into this century.

The Carol Burnett Show is streaming on PBS Passport.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad!: Jeannette Charles

The most famous parody depictions came in the first of the favorite 1980 comedies, The Naked Gun. Like Carol Burnett, making fun of the Queen on film was not illegal in the United States, but it was Not Done. Jeannette Charles' version of The Queen is well remembered at the time, but it says a lot about how Hollywood viewed the Queen and that she's one of the very few who did it.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad! is streaming on Paramount+.

 

The Queen and The Audience: Helen Mirren

Peter Morganbroke the dam on depicting the Queen as a character in her own life story with The Queen, a depiction of the days following Diana's passing, would go on to inspire a live-theater sequel, The Audience, and inspire him to pitch Netflix a little six season idea called The Crown. But none of that would have happened had it not been for Helen Mirren, who played Elizabeth in the film and then reprised it in the stage show.

The Queen is streaming on HBO Max. The Audience is available via National Theater Live.

The Queen Series: Emilia Fox, Samantha Bond, Susan Jameson, Barbara Flynn, and Diana Quick

The Crown may be the best-known TV series about the late monarch, but it was not the first. That honor goes to 2009's The Queen, Channel 4's five-part series depicting different stages of the Queen's life thus far. Like The Crown, it cast different actresses to play Elizabeth at different ages, with Emilia Fox playing Elizabeth in her first years on the throne, Samantha Bond circa 1970, Susan Jameson circa the mid-1980s, Barbara Flynn in the 1990s, and Diana Quick in 2009's present-day.

The Queen is available to stream as an Amazon rental

Walking the Dogs: Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson also took on the challenge of playing her majesty in 2012's period piece Walking the Dogs. The Playhouse Presents film dramatized the 1982 incident where Michael Fagan (played by Russell Tovey) broke into Buckingham Palace and waited in the Queen's bedroom to chat with her about Thatcher's current policies. 

Playhouse Presents' first season, including Walking The Dogs, is available to stream as an Apple TV rental.

 

A Royal Night Out: Sarah Gadon

One of the few romantic comedies to center around Elizabeth and Margaret, A Royal Night Out is a fictionalized period piece of the two young Princesses (Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley) is set on the evening of V.E. Day after the Allies declared an end to the War and peace across Europe in 1945. The two girls get a night out from the confines of Buckingham Palace and find a little love along the way.

A Royal Night Out is streaming on Prime Video.

Saturday Night Live: Kate McKinnon

Saturday Night Live has attempted to parody the Queen several times over its 40+ year run, most of the time settling to have her played by a man and calling that good enough. But Kate McKinnon's version was the first successful (and memorable) SNL royal parody and the first to be worth watching on TV since Carol Burnett. 

All episodes of Saturday Night Live are streaming on Peacock.

Spencer: Stella Gonet

The slightly bizarre Princess Diana fantasy Spencer was one of the major Oscar contenders for 2021. Though Kristen Stewart's portrayal of the late princess was the focus, Stella Gonet's absurdist take on Christmas dinner host Queen Elizabeth was one worthy of a Eugene Ionesco play. Neither parody nor earnest portrayal, it's one worth boggling at simply because it hasn't been done before.

Spencer is streaming on Hulu.

 

The Crown: Verity Russell, Claire Foy, Olivia Colman & Imelda Staunton

Then, there's The Crown. Claire Foy and Olivia Colman have taken home Emmys and Golden Globes for their portrayal of the Queen in her 20s and 30s and then in her 40s and 50s. But don't forget Verity Russell, who plays Princess Elizabeth as a young child in Season 1 and then returns to play her as a teen in Season 3. Imelda Staunton's version of her majesty, covering her 60s and 70s, is expected to do just as well as the series winds up its six seasons covering most of the Queen's reign.  

The Crown Seasons 1-4 are streaming on Netflix. Season 5 is due in November, and Season 6 will follow in 2023.

Bonus: Queen Elizabeth II as Herself

But the perfect person to play Queen Elizabeth II is Queen Elizabeth herself. She hasn't done it much, only in her Jubliee years of 2012 and 2022. But that makes the moments she does play herself (with James Bond and Paddington Bear, respectively) that much more memorable. 

Both shorts where Queen Elizabeth stars as herself are available on YouTube.