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.
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).
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.
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)
James Wilby in Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)
Mick Rose in Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)
Iain Glen in Into the Storm (2009)
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech (2010)
Laurence Fox in W.E. (2011)
Samuel West in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
Rupert Everett in A Royal Night Out (2015)
Jared Harris in The Crown (2016)
John Sackville in Royal Wives at War (2016)
James Purefoy in Churchill (2017)
Jonathan Cullen in SS-GB (2017)
Ben Mendelsohn in Darkest Hour (2017)
Which onscreen version of George VI have you noticed?
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.
It was Edward who was the Nazi sympathizer. Wallis simply followed his lead.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
Colin Firth’s George VI, for sure. His bedtime story to little Elizabeth and Margaret was my favorite part of the movie.
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.
I wonder if that pinky ring he is wearing in the 1st and 4th picture is the same one that Charles always wears.
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. :)
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.
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).
I’ve seen four these portrayals and I noticed them all. Each actor brought his own to the role.
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
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.
Man, vintage James Wilby. scrummy.
That photo of Rupert Everett with the corgis is fabulous!