MCM: King George VI


It’s been 86 years since the United Kingdom crowned a king, so let’s take a moment to look back on George VI and his portrayals in movies and TV. Born Albert Frederick Arthur George and called “Bertie,” he was the second son of then-Prince George, Duke of York, and a great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. He succeeded to the throne after his elder brother Edward VIII abdicated, less than a year into his reign, so he could marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Bertie himself was happily married to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and their eldest daughter was Queen Elizabeth II, mother of Charles, whose coronation is on May 6.

1937 - Coronation of George VI & Elizabeth

1937 – Coronation of George VI & Elizabeth

George VI’s place onscreen tends to be at two main points: his brother’s abdication crisis in 1936 and World War II, the later often with Winston Churchill. More recently, he’s popped up in relation to stories about a young Elizabeth (he died in 1952).

1945 - George VI & family. Photo by Associated Press.

1945 – George VI & family. Photo by Associated Press.

This king has only gotten a couple flicks that focus on his own story, which admittedly isn’t the most dramatic, but is interesting because of the national and world crises George VI endured and the legacy he passed on. He also just seemed like a nice, rather unassuming person, trying to do his best for others, an attitude that definitely carried on to his daughter.

1948 - George VI. Photo from the Royal Collection.

1948 – George VI. Photo from the Royal Collection.

There are a bunch of smaller appearances of King George VI on TV that I just can’t find images for, so they aren’t included. Here’s the highlights that I did discover.



Andrew Ray in Crown Matrimonial (1974)

Andrew Ray in Crown Matrimonial (1974)

This pic is actually from the 1972-4 production of this play about Edward VIII’s abdication at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I’m not sure if the TV version was just a film of this play because it has the same actors. Andrew Ray reprised the role in the TV miniseries, Edward & Mrs. Simpson (1978), but I can’t find any images of him.



James Wilby in Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

James Wilby, Bertie and Elizabeth (2002). Photo via Shutterstock.

Photo via Shutterstock.

James Wilby, Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

I enjoyed this TV movie that showed their charming romance (she refused his proposal at first) & their early life as king & queen. A solid portrait of them both.



Mick Rose in Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)

Mick Rose in Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)

Tom Selleck plays Eisenhower in this well-regarded TV movie.



Iain Glen in Into the Storm (2009)

2009 Into the Storm

About Churchill’s WWII prime ministerial business, with Glen in a sharp suit!



Colin Firth in The King’s Speech (2010)

Everybody knows this one if they know only one version of George VI onscreen!

2010 The King's Speech

Colin Firth looks nothing like the king, but he gives a stellar performance, as always, including…

Colin Firth - bugger



Laurence Fox in W.E. (2011)

Laurence Fox in W.E. (2011)

A small role in that weird Madonna-run flick about Edward & Wallis & some modern folks.



Samuel West in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Samuel West - Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

With Olivia Colman as the queen when they visit the Roosevelts in the U.S.



Rupert Everett in A Royal Night Out (2015)

2015 A Royal Night Out

This is the king as dad-to-teenage-girls, & he’s adorable!

Rupert Everett might just look the most like George VI, they have a similar face shape, tho’ of course, Everett is much handsomer. Emily Watson plays the queen.

2015 A Royal Night Out



Jared Harris in The Crown (2016)

Jared Harris in The Crown (2016)

In the first season, George VI is still alive while Elizabeth marries & plays housewife. There’s also some insightful flashbacks to when she’s a little girl “learning” how to be the monarch from her father at his desk.

Jared Harris in The Crown (2016)

And there’s a poignant Christmas scene that will leave you crying.



John Sackville in Royal Wives at War (2016)

Royal Wives at War (2016)

I usually don’t include docu-dramas, & this one is mostly about the wives.

Royal Wives at War (2016)

But this was a neat behind-the-scenes shot of John Sackville.



James Purefoy in Churchill (2017)

2017 Churchill

Another WWII story, right before D-Day.



Jonathan Cullen in SS-GB (2017)

Jonathan Cullen in SS-GB (2017)

The RadioTimes says King George VI is at the “centre of a plot to free him from hospital and fly him off to America” & yeah, that’s him in the last episode of this is an alternate reality version of WWII.



Ben Mendelsohn in Darkest Hour (2017)

Ben Mendelsohn in Darkest Hour (2017)

Another good square-jawed portrayal of the king.

Ben Mendelsohn in Darkest Hour (2017)

Important enough to rate a promo poster!



Which onscreen version of George VI have you noticed?

17 Responses

  1. Kat

    I think the only notable thing about W.E. was the fact that Madonna cast both Natalie Dormer (post-Tudors, but pre-Game of Thrones) and Oscar Isaac (pre-Drive/Inside Llewyn Davis/Ex Machina/Star Wars) right before they gained large international recognition. That and her decision to have a character argue that Wallace and Edward’s meeting with Hitler was Edward “doing anything to protect his country.” And also depicting Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother as a raging harpy who outright calls Wallace a Nazi sympathizer and controls and manipulates Bertie/King George – which was a choice.

    • Roxana

      It was Edward who was the Nazi sympathizer. Wallis simply followed his lead.

      • Kat

        I think history has definitely done Wallis dirty but W.E. went too far in course correcting to portray Wallis and Edward as merely simple besotted in love types, while (mum) Elizabeth is practically Machiavellian in taking advantage of Edward’s abdication to elevate her own status in life.

      • Coco

        Supposing that was true, you know the old saying that if you have one Nazi and twelve people agree to have dinner with him, you have thirteen Nazis?

  2. Roxana

    The notion George VI was controlled by his womenfolk and/or the palace bureaucracy goes back to the Duke of Windsor who wanted some excuse for why his once submissive brother had suddenly grown a spine.
    George VI was not a very bright man but he had a strong sense of duty and a good deal of common sense. He knew very well that Windsor had to be firmly put in his place and kept there. Windsor in the meantime wanted to keep the benefits of being king while giving up the responsibility.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Agreed. Iain Glen made a good G6. And I confess that for whatever reason, I find the actual G6 kind of cute. Sad that he smoked himself to death amidst unimaginable stress.

  3. Liza Jane

    I saw Crown Matrimonial in London in 73. I enjoyed is very much and remember a family discussion about the looming abdication and Elizabeth saying plaintively “I don’t WANT to be Royal.”

  4. Saraquill

    Colin Firth’s George VI, for sure. His bedtime story to little Elizabeth and Margaret was my favorite part of the movie.

  5. Diane

    Ben Mendelson’s portrayal fascinated me by how they told so much through the little things, like the props and the servants (or the lack thereof!). The lighting in that last, nighttime scene is genius. It reminds me of his Jutland Navy service, which so few other film portraits do.

  6. Rhonda

    I wonder if that pinky ring he is wearing in the 1st and 4th picture is the same one that Charles always wears.

    • Boxermom

      I just read an article saying that Charles’ ring bears the crest of the Prince of Wales and that he’s worn it since the 1970’s. :)

  7. Sean

    Of course Colin Firth is delightful as the king (also Jared Harris), but IMO Ben Mendelsohn is the closest in looks! He should do a program about George VI with Olivia Colman as the Queen Mum.

  8. Bel

    I thought Jared Harris was great, though he might not be the closest visual match of all these actors. Has the site done a deep dive on his period roles yet? He was so interesting and memorable in Mad Men and The Terror, though I’m not sure how much else he’s done that’s strictly period (some historical Shakespeare on stage, I’m fairly sure).

  9. Lily Lotus Rose

    I’ve seen four these portrayals and I noticed them all. Each actor brought his own to the role.

  10. ED

    I’m not going to lie, it’s a little amusing to note that His Late Majesty seems to have consistently (though not uniformly) benefitted from a Hollywood Upgrade from ‘King Dad’ to ‘King Daddy’ in terms
    of casting.

    Also, we can only hope that Mr Rupert Everett gets a chance to make a clean sweep of British ‘Kings Charles’ and play His Majesty King Charles III at some point.


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