7 Must-See Documentaries That Celebrate the Life of Queen Elizabeth II

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II is a monumental event for the United Kingdom and the world at large. Born in 1926, she was a cultural touchstone through decades of change and uncertainty and a steadying force at the center of her own family's dramas. She reigned for a record-breaking seven decades and celebrated the first ever Platinum Jubilee for a British monarch in June of 2022. 

Her reign lasted so long that four out of five U.K. residents have never known another sovereign, and there have been few rulers in history who are as globally known and beloved. She has, after all, been one of the foremost figures in British public life for nearly a century, from her designation as heir presumptive when her uncle King Edward VII abdicated the through to her death on September 8. And while these are but a few of the films and specials that document her remarkable life, they offer a sensitive and in-depth look at the woman behind the crown.

 

A Queen is Crowned (1953)

Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, A Queen is Crowned is essentially a technicolor film version of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. Released that same year, this documentary was a huge deal and a revered piece of royal media. (It's a literal piece of history, so I get it!)  

It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, was the first-ever winner of the Golden Globe for Best Documentary Film, and was reportedly one of the highest-grossing films at the British box office that year.

A Queen is Crowned available to stream on BritBox.

 

The Royal House of Windsor (2017)

Six-part docuseries The Royal House of Windsor aims to tell the story of the last 100 years of the monarchy, digging into both the personal and political struggles of the House of Windsor throughout their time in power.

More of an exploration of how the family has managed a century of shifting public opinion and occasional scandal than Elizabeth herself, the series is still an intriguing exploration of how the Windsors have survived four generations of crises.

The Royal House of Windsor is available to stream on Netflix

 

Queen of the World (2018)

A rare documentary about Queen Elizabeth II that also digs into the enormous political influence of the crown, Queen of the World explores the late monarch's influential role on the world stage.

The film highlights her stoic and consistent presence as the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations. It showcases her passing of the baton to the younger members of the Royal Family ​​as they continue to build international relationships on behalf of the crown.

Queen of the World is available to stream on HBO Max.

 

The Queen in Her Own Words (2020) 

The Queen in Her Own Words is a film that offers a unique perspective on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II: Her own. 

Comprised of the queen's speeches and interviews across her reign (or across 68 years of it, since it's technically two years out of date), the documentary spans her first public address at the age of fourteen in the middle of World War II to more recent appearances on the 75th anniversary of D-Day and during the coronavirus lockdown. 

The Queen In Her Own Words is available to stream on PBS Passport.

 

The Queen at War (2020)

The Queen at War is a uniquely hyper-focused documentary that explores how the then Princess Elizabeth's experiences during World War II mirrored those of the public and helped shape her into the ruler she would later become.

The Queen at War is available to stream on PBS Passport.

 

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts (2022)

Released just ahead of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts by the late Oscar-winning director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, The Duke) offers an excellent overview of Elizabeth II's many historic achievements. Comprised entirely of archival footage, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts boasts a more immediate and personal feel than many documentaries of its ilk. 

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts is streaming on both Paramount+ and Showtime.

 

Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen (2022)

The crown jewel (pardon the pun) of the BBC's Platinum Jubilee programming earlier this year, Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen is the most recent documentary available about the queen's remarkable life. A mix of home movies and never-before-seen archival footage, this documentary does its best to offer a complete, well-rounded look at her life—as a monarch, a daughter, a wife, and a mother.

Featuring footage captured by everyone from Prince Philip and Princess Margaret to her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, you'll catch glimpses of a family trip to Southern Africa, Elizabeth's engagement at Balmoral, and the young princess romping with her younger sister.

Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen is available via BBC Select on multiple platforms.