Frock Flicks Guide to Lesser British Queens & Empresses on Film: the 20th Century


I admit it, I am totally a (historical) royals geek. Of course, I understand that royalty are just people, some of whom aren’t very interesting or nice. But especially when I was younger, I read numerous “Queens of England” books and biographies of various queens. I always think about doing social media theme days with images of different queens, then get disappointed when I realize that there aren’t enough movies/TV series to make it worthwhile. So instead, I’m compiling a bunch of the lesser known/depicted queens into a series of three posts, focusing on the medieval era, then the Renaissance through the 19th century, and finally the 20th century.

BEFORE YOU FREAK OUT, I am consciously skipping these people who are worthy of (or already have) their own posts:

I’m mostly working with Wikipedia data here, so if you know of a movie or TV series that has included any of English/British queens, please feel free to add it in the comments! If they’re not listed here, it’s because I can’t find any onscreen portrayals. Also, I don’t wanna hear any bitching about the term “lesser.” I mean “less frequently depicted.” Breathe.

Here’s my post about medieval English queens and about Renaissance through 19th century English/British queens. Onwards!

Alexandra of Denmark (1901-10)

Daughter of Christian IX of Denmark, she married the future Edward VII. She was incredibly fashionable and a real style setter. She wasn’t given any political powers, so was mostly focused on her children and charitable works.

Portrait photograph of the Princess of Wales (1844-1925), later Queen Alexandra, c. 1880, Royal Collection

Portrait photograph of the Princess of Wales (1844-1925), later Queen Alexandra, c. 1880, Royal Collection

1975 Edward the Seventh

Helen Ryan in Edward the Seventh (1975). I really want to watch this, despite crappy videography, because they got Alexandra SPOT ON.

1975 Edward the Seventh

DAMN they got her hair right!

1975 Edward the Seventh

Coronation! Amazing jewelry!

She was played by Ann Firbank in Lillie (1978), but I can’t find any pics.

1980 The Elephant Man

Helen Ryan again in The Elephant Man (1980).

1980 The Elephant Man

Beautiful evening wear.

1997 Mrs Brown

Sara Stewart in Mrs Brown (1997).

1999 All the Kings Men

Maggie Smith in All the King’s Men (1999). You kind of can’t go wrong with Maggie.

She was played by Julia Blake in Passion (1999), but I can’t find any photos.

2003 The Lost Prince

Bibi Andersson in The Lost Prince (2003). I liked this portrayal a lot, especially the wardrobe, although they missed the fact that Alexandra was mostly deaf by this point in her life.

Mary of Teck (1910-36)

Born and raised in England, although her father was the Duke of Teck; her mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, granddaughter of George III. She was married to the future George V, and was mostly notable for supporting her husband through World War I, ill health, and major political changes.

Mary of Teck, queen of the United Kingdom, 1911, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary of Teck, queen of the United Kingdom, 1911, via Wikimedia Commons.

1974 Crown Matrimonial

Greer Garson in Crown Matrimonial (1974). Queen Mary’s hair is On Fleek.

She was played by Rebecca Slater in Edward the Seventh (1975), but I can’t find any pics.

1978 Edward & Mrs. Simpson

Peggy Ashcroft in Edward & Mrs. Simpson (1978).

Phyllis Calvert played her in The Woman He Loved (1988), but I can’t find any pics.

2002 Bertie and Elizabeth

Eileen Atkins in Bertie and Elizabeth (2002). I had to include this tiny pic for the great side-eye.

2002 Bertie and Elizabeth

Love the hair!

2003 The Lost Prince

Really fabulous Edwardian costumes in this!

Played by Margaret Tyzack in, but no photos, in Wallis & Edward (2005).

2010 The King's Speech

Claire Bloom in The King’s Speech (2010). Their costumes/hair for Queen Mary were a major highlight of this film for me.

W.E. (2011)

Judy Parfitt in W.E. (2011). Not a terribly successful movie, but the costumes are To Die For.

Valerie Dane has an uncredited part as Mary in Downton Abbey (2010-15) — maybe in the court presentation scene?

2016 The Crown

Eileen Atkins in The Crown (2016- ). Sticking with the classic hair, I love it!

Queen Elizabeth (1936-52)

Daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis (later the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in Scotland), she married the future George VI (who took over as king after his elder brother, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson). She was a major inspirational figure during World War II, and the matriarch of the British royal family until her death at age 101.

2002 Bertie and Elizabeth

Played by Juliet Aubrey in Bertie and Elizabeth (2002).

2006 The Queen

Sylvia Syms in The Queen (2006).

2006 The Queen

Ah, the dumpyness of 1950s/60s royals!

2010 The King’s Speech

Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech (2010). It was nice to see Elizabeth with some actual personality in this film!

2010 The King's Speech

Just Perfect, from the hat to the fur.

W.E. (2011)

Natalie Dormer in W.E. (2011). A rare young and semi-glamourous portrayal of Elizabeth!

2012 Hyde Park on Hudson

Olivia Colman in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012).

2012 Hyde Park on Hudson

Another great hat/fur combo!

Marion Bailey will play her in the next season of The Crown (2016- ).

Who’s your favorite on-screen 20th century British queen/empress?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

15 Responses

  1. Sarah

    You missed one for Elizabeth (36-52) – Emily Watson played her in A Royal Night Out

  2. J Lou

    Cool! Olivia Colman is playing her own mother! She’s Elizabeth the Queen Mum in Hyde Park on the Hudson, and she will be her daughter Elizabeth II in the next two seasons of The Crown. (And then she was also her own second cousin about eight times removed, from playing Queen Anne in The Favorite. (She has a face for portraying Stuarts/Hanoverians/Windsors!)

  3. M.E. Lawrence

    Alexandra always seemed a sweet, funny woman, someone who would make a good friend. I remember a story about her visiting soldiers in hospital and telling one young man not to worry about his wounded leg, that she had had a recent accident, and (something to the effect of), “Just look at me now!’ Whereupon she casually kicked said leg up and rested it on a table.

    Also, what did anyone think of Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary in “The Crown”? She was my favorite: that scene where she curtsies to her granddaughter for the first time, with a long stare of Crone Wisdom.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      (I mean, she had had a recent, somewhat similar accident to her own leg; she did not kick the soldier’s leg.)

    • JessB

      I loved that moment in The Crown too! It was amazing! And so sad too. Really lovely.
      Eileen Atkins is amazing, I also loved her in Upstairs, Downstairs

  4. Andrew.

    Another entry (through a glass darkly) for Queen Mary is Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the Duchess of York in Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Her outfits and appearance struck me as a direct reference to Queen Mary. (Along with several other parallel portrayals.)

  5. Susan Pola Staples

    I love them all, but I have a soft spot for HBC in the King’s Speech.
    Also Olivia Coleman should play Queen Victoria and possibly Queen Mary I. Then she’ll have played with a few exceptions the ‘major’ 19-20th century queens and a Renaissance one.

  6. Saraquill

    One of my favorite Youtubers, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, did a video on Queen Alexandra for Disability History Month under the title “The deaf princess who became a style icon.” It warmed my heart.

  7. crypticmirror

    Smart Aleck answer: Jane Seymour’s turn as Wallis Simpson in “The Woman He Loved”; she was the uncrowned queen of England.

  8. 992234177

    In Hyde Park on Hudson I thought they got the King and Queens characters the wrong way round.

  9. Shona

    Hitler called Elizabeth the most dangerous woman in Europe due to her capacity for inspiring the populace. She refused to leave Buckingham Palace during the blitz as her subjects couldn’t leave and she trained with a gun every day so if there was an invasion, she could do her part. Loved her!

  10. Joseph

    Helen Ryan really loved playing Alexandra she played her yet again in 1994 sherlock Holmes “The Mazarin Stone” and Joanna David played Alexandra in “Jennie Lady Randolph Churchill” There was also an Alexandra in “Fall of Eagles” 1974 ep 09 Glenn Close played her in 1982’s TV version of “The Elephant Man” Deborah Grant played young Alexandra (with some beautiful costumes) in “Edward The Seventh” (1975) also and Pamela Abbott played her in “Muder by Decree” (1979)

  11. CarolS

    Victoria Hamilton plays the Queen Mum in Season 1 and 2 of The Crown. I think she’s great in it. Gives the character an iron will.

  12. Roxana

    Alexandra was beautiful and charming but also extremely selfish and infinitely difficult to live with and serve due to her stuvvorn unpunctuality and indifference to practical reality including living within her generous means. She was also sinfularls din and probably lowered the Royal Family’s IQ by several points in the next generation. Her eldest son Eddy was distinctly sub-normal and her daughter’s almost frightening cases of arrested development. George V was the the most normal of the lot. Not too bright, but sound enough.