Updated: Jun 21
I’m going to look at ‘Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens’. Though not strictly speaking a history book, it does cover the screen history of several world-famous Queens, and that tells us a lot in how they are perceived, so in a way, a Queen’s imdb credits are very much relevant to her posthumous glory, or infamy in some cases.
I’ve used this book a lot when writing my dissertation back in 2014, entitled ‘Historical Accuracy in ‘Elizabeth (1998)’. Well, this and many other books. There are volumes on Tudors and Stuarts on screen, some on Tudors exclusively, but this book is dedicated strictly to the Queens, and therefore was one of its kind. I got thinking about this topic again after attending Elena Woodacre’s talk during BBC History Weekend last November.
So, the ‘Royal Portraits’ covers seven queens, most of them Queens Regnant: Christina of Sweden, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Marie Antoinette. Each chapter covers one queen’s celluloid adventures, with full analysis of history and fiction interwoven and making one whole cinematic narrative. It is really a curious thing to imagine these chapters as post-scriptum paragraphs to the biographies of the historical people #biopic. It also makes one wonder how the cinema and television mediums keep some historical figures in spotlight for decades, and others are kept out of it, despite having similar merit and life trajectories when alive. Let's talk about the latter ones for a bit, even though they don't appear in this book. Especially because of that. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Castile, Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror - just a few names of our Queens who lived the most extraordinary lives. Their stories should be told in a most resplendent cinematic way possible, so this book can get a sequel telling us all about them. Queens Regnant, Queens Consort - medieval, Early Modern or Modern - there is so much drama when it comes to monarchy.
Kudos to Queen Anne, who recently gained her deserved place in popular history, because of a major motion picture (that was only loosely based on facts, but still).
This is such a fertile ground for pondering. Of course, cinema and television are but two mediums (I would argue even that it’s one, since the consumption method becomes the same, once the theatre screenings are over), yet they are the most powerful.
Back to the book. Its only downside is that it only covers films and TV series up until 2009, which is when it was published, so ‘Young Victoria’ (2009), ‘The Tudors’ (2007-2011), ‘Wolf Hall’ (2015) and literally half of Celluloid Catherines the Great are missing, but hey ho, that’s what sequels are for :)
History Extra podcast episode with historical consultants Hannah Greig and Greg Jenner
An article 'Historical Film as Real History' by Robert A. Rosenstone
Historic Royal Palaces podcast episode with historian Lisa Hilton, author of the book 'Medieval Queens'