Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
On the eighth of September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at her Scottish residence of Balmoral Castle at the age of 96. Her reign of seventy years, the second longest of any monarch in history after Louis XIV, makes her the longest tenured monarch in British history and leaves the country without a figurehead that many people will have known all their lives. Despite occasional republican sentiment, her time as Queen saw her became one of the most politically experienced figures on the world stage as she oversaw meetings with countless Prime Ministers, Presidents, Popes and other heads of state. She has overseen many changes during her reign including the decolonization of Africa, Britain's entry-to and exit-from the European Union and a fluctuation in numbers of countries engaged in the Commonwealth. Such a presence has obviously had an impact on popular culture as well - indeed, it would be surprising if such a figure had not been depicted over such a long time. Despite never giving a press interview or declaring any political opinion, her public image was generally seen as very warm and positive. In the days since her passing, many have commented on her sense of humour which was seen during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games when she, accompanied by Daniel Craig as James Bond, apparently parachuted into the stadium.
The Queen has been depicted multiple times by many different people, both on the big screen and on television. From biopic dramas like The Crown to appearing as a bus driver on an episode of Peppa Pig (don't judge me, I have a young niece and nephew!), Elizabeth II has been as near constant a presence in the media as she has been on our stamps and currency. Today, I'll be looking back at her cinematic appearances which cover a surprising variety of genres from comedies and drama to action films and even Bollywood. Not all of these appearances were flattering or in successful films but they illustrate the breadth of influence she had during her life on filmmakers right around the world.
Number 20: 'Mad Mission 3' (1984)
The first actress to portray Queen Elizabeth II in feature films was actually a French actress called Huguette Funfrock. First playing the monarch back in 1975 in the obscure French parody Bons Baisers de Hong Kong (also known as From Hong Kong With Love), the actress quickly developed a knack for the role thanks to having something of a resemblance to the Queen. That first appearance, where she plays a kidnapped Queen who is relying on the talents of French music and comic troupe Les Charlots to save her, was the first of four occasions she would portray the Queen with Mad Mission 3 being her final big screen showing. Given that the film is also known as Aces Go Places 3 - Our Man From Bond Street, it won't surprise you to know that this is another James Bond spoof but this one was produced in Hong Kong. Thankfully, she is merely there to give the series' hero King Kong (no, not that one - played by martial artist Sam Hui) his mission to retrieve one of the missing Crown Jewels. With unlikely appearances from Bond regular Richard Kiel (Jaws) and Mission: Impossible's Peter Graves, the film is an energetic action comedy but one saddled with a rather wilted sense of humour.
Number 19: 'National Lampoon's European Vacation' (1985)
Like the wonderfully named Ms. Funfrock, Jeannette Charles was another actress who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Queen - in fact, the likeness was such that she struggled to get acting roles for any other part. Charles first played the Queen on TV way back in 1974 and would appear numerous times on TV afterwards. It wasn't until 1985's sequel to National Lampoon's Vacation before she made her big screen debut in the role, appearing in a dream that Griswold matriarch Ellen (played by Beverly D'Angelo) has alongside the then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana - both also played by lookalikes. Charles eventually retired from performing back in 2014, having almost exclusively played the monarch throughout her entire career and in productions from Germany, the US, Israel, Spain and the UK. Surprisingly, Charles never realised the resemblance until after a portrait she had commissioned of herself was displayed at the Royal Academy by the artist in 1972. It was only after the truth was revealed that she received offers to portray the Queen although she was very strict about what she would do in the role.
Number 18: 'The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad!' (1988)
By far the biggest part in Jeannette Charles' career, her appearance in the first of The Naked Gun series cemented her position as the highest profile Queen Elizabeth impersonator. Instead of a quick cameo, the character of Queen Elizabeth II is integral to the film's narrative as bumbling cop Frank Drebin (played to perfection by Leslie Nielsen) is tasked with keeping Her Majesty safe during a visit to Los Angeles. Sadly, Charles doesn't have any lines but pops up in several scenes including a chaotic banquet held in her honour and throwing a mean first pitch at a baseball game where she is targeted by a murderous assassin in the unlikely shape of legendary fielder Reggie Jackson. If you've never seen the film then you are missing out as it's one of the all-time great comedies from the same team that produced Airplane!, possibly the greatest spoof movie of all time. A quick spoiler for this article - this isn't the last time we'll hear from Ms Charles on this list...
Number 17: 'Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy' (1996)
For the uninitiated, The Kids In The Hall were a Canadian troupe of comedians and writers whose TV show ended after five seasons, with this movie acting as a kind of epitaph. Written by the group who were in the early stages of splitting up at the time (member Dave Foley had already left but was contractually obliged to appear in the film), the film has a Monty Python-esque feel to it as all the principal characters are played by the five performers. It is this unusual set of circumstances that led to one of the troupe, Scott Thompson, to portray Queen Elizabeth II in drag at one point in the film - not that this was the first time that this had happened on screen. Thompson had already portrayed the Queen on their TV show while the likes of Mike Myers (of Austin Powers fame) and Fred Arminsen also played the Queen on Saturday Night Live. In fact, the first recorded portrayal of Queen Elizabeth on film was actually a drag performance in 1971. As for Brain Candy, the film tanked horribly at the box office thanks to negative critical reaction and the group went their separate ways for four years in the aftermath.
Number 16: 'The Duke' (1999)
And speaking of films that nobody saw, The Duke is another Canadian comedy that features a brief appearance from yet another lookalike - Carolyn Sadowska. Starring the likes of James Doohan (in his final screen appearance), John Neville and future voice-actor extraordinaire Courtnee Draper, the film tells the tale of a duke who, in an attempt to thwart a scheming nephew, leaves everything in his will (including his title and estate) to a dog, a Black & Tan Coonhound like the one shown above called Hubert. I'm sure that the film features lots of comedic japes but as I can find very little information about it, you'll have to take my word on that. Sadowska, for her part, is another actress who has made a career from impersonating the late monarch - she also turned up in the straight-to-video Space Buddies (coincidentally also featuring dogs as central characters) and Bollywood rom-com Sardarji, a film perhaps most famous for shamelessly ripping off the poster design for the 2011 reboot of The Muppets.
Number 15: 'Her Majesty' (2001)
Another obscure entry now as this period drama from New Zealand enjoyed a prolonged and successful run on the film festival circuit but sadly, not a wide theatrical release. Her Majesty tells the story of a young girl in the 1950s (played by Sally Andrews) who is obsessed with Elizabeth II and frequently writes letters expressing the desire to one day meet the Queen. As news breaks that the monarch will be visiting their sleepy middle-of-nowhere town as part of her forthcoming tour, tensions between the white locals and the native Maori population threaten to derail her dream. With limited promotion, the film didn't make a dent despite a number of reputable film crew members (producer Walter Coblenz, production designer Kim Sinclair, editor Virginia Katz and co-star Vicky Haughton, the film features a brief appearance of the Queen herself, played by Rachel Wallace - her only appearance as the character. If you are somehow able to catch the film, it's worth a look if critical reception is anything to go by but I suspect that a copy of this film might be rarer than duck's teeth.
Number 14: 'Austin Powers In Goldmember' (2002)
The painfully unfunny third entry in the Austin Powers franchise and the one that undoubtedly killed it, Goldmember is a lazy and muddled blend of reheated jokes from the first two (and much better) films, even lazier stereotypes and more Mike Myers characters than is required. Despite a young Beyoncé nailing the part of a Blaxploitation heroine named Foxxy Cleopatra, there is nothing else to see here... apart from the final big screen appearance of our old friend Jeannette Charles, once again playing the Queen forty years after first discovering his likeness. No wonder Charles hung up her fake tiara after this as nobody emerged from this steaming wreckage with any credibility including Myers whose career hasn't been the same since, Michael Caine, the late Verne Troyer... the whole thing is an offensive and unwelcome wart on what had previously been a successful series. Plans have been in place for a fourth film since this film's release but as of 2022, no word yet on any potential release.
Number 13: 'Ali G Indahouse' (2002)
Sacha Baron Cohen's first comedic alias was Ali G, a satirical 'voice of da yoof' character from the mean streets of Staines near London. After debuting on TV in 1998, Ali G was finally sprung onto the big screen in his only feature film outing to date and it's notable for lacking much of the mockumentary style Cohen uses in later films like Borat and Brüno. Ali G Indahouse sees the titular wannabe gangster elected as an MP, assisted by a scheming Deputy Prime Minister intent on seizing the top job for himself. The Queen makes a brief appearance in the film, played by Jeannette Vane in her only big screen appearance to date. Vane would later appear as herself (credited as 'Queen lookalike') in an episode of Channel 4 News broadcast on 30th July, 2014 - Channel 4 being the UK TV channel that gave Cohen his first big break all those years ago.
Number 12: 'What A Girl Wants' (2003)
Loosely based on William Douglas Home's play The Reluctant Debutante, this syrupy teen rom-com starring a fresh-faced Amanda Bynes didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was released. Another spin on the Yanks-in-the-UK comedy, Bynes plays a high school graduate in the US who runs away to London to discover her father, a politician in the House of Commons who is unaware of her existence. With plenty of support from the likes of Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Pryce and the veteran Sylvia Sims (who would go on to play the Queen Mother, incidentally), the film isn't short on talent but a lame script and uninspired humour prevent the film from standing out from the crowd. It does the big screen debut of yet another Queen lookalike in the shape of Elizabeth Richard. Richard first played her Majesty in 1996 on TV and has since carved out a niche for herself reprising as the monarch every time. Which means we'll also see her again on this list later on...
Number 11: 'Johnny English' (2003)
Rowan Atkinson's bumbling spy debuted on the big screen in 2003 in a tale that saw him team up with Interpol agent Natalie Imbruglia and long-suffering sidekick Ben Miller to hunt down the missing Crown Jewels - something that seems to happen quite a lot, it seems. It soon emerges that they have been stolen by the villainous Frenchman John Malkovich (who looks a little bored in the film) as part of a fiendish plot to see him replace Queen Elizabeth on the throne. Although the part of Queen isn't a big one in the film, she is nonetheless played by popular actress Prunella Scales who enjoyed a long and successful career on stage and screen. Scales is uncredited in the film but she does have the distinction of also playing the Queen's great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in a couple of TV movies as well as on stage. Queen Elizabeth also appears in the sequel, Johnny English Reborn, although the part this time is played by Pik-Sen Lim who had been playing an assassin disguised as an elderly cleaner who has one final shot at killing English.
Number 10: 'Churchill: The Hollywood Years' (2004)
Churchill: The Hollywood Years is a fairly daft parody film, portraying an Americanised version of events covering Winston's efforts during the war. In the film, Christian Slater plays Churchill as a cigar-chomping man-of-action, single-handedly blowing away Nazis on the front line as well as engaged in trying to woo the young Princess Elizabeth, played by Scream queen Neve Campbell. The film also mocks the habit of rewriting history for the purposes of cinema (the real Elizabeth would only have been 14 at the outbreak of the Second World War) but unfortunately, the film is a bit of a dud. With countless cameos from the great and good of British comedy (Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Harry Enfield, Rik Mayall, Steve Pemberton, Sally Phillips, Miranda Richardson et al), the film should have been a winner but instead, it just feels a little too on-the-nose for many critics who called the film "a hit-and-miss affair" and "wildly uneven". It's perhaps worth noting that this may be the first time the then-Princess Elizabeth was portrayed on screen but in the grand scheme of things, that's hardly worth watching the film for.
Number 9: 'The Queen' (2006
The most obvious entry on this list, Helen Mirren's startling performance in Stephen Frear's biopic won her a tonne of awards including a Screen Actor's Guild award, a BAFTA and an Academy Award among many others. Although based on real events, the film itself is a fictional drama (much like The Crown) and sees the personal and professional struggles of Elizabeth II in the aftermath of the sudden and tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997. Such was the level of adoration for Mirren in the role in The Queen that she set a record for the most number of Best Actress awards won with a single performance with a staggering forty (Cate Blanchett would win 41 awards after her appearance in 2013's Blue Jasmine). Unsurprisingly, she has reprised the role again in a theatrical setting in Peter Morgan's play The Audience. Coincidentally, she also played Queen Elizabeth I the year before in a TV mini-series which makes her the only actor to date to have portrayed both Elizabethan queens. It might also explain why her role in the Fast & Furious series is nicknamed Queenie.
Number 8: 'Dhoom 2' (2006)
From one acclaimed portrayal of Her Majesty, we now come to possibly the worst. Dhoom 2 is a high-octane, Bollywood action film that was insanely popular at the time as it became the highest earning Hindi film of all time (a record later surpassed by its sequel Dhoom 3). It also wowed critics with its blend of action sequences, music, script and the performances of the cast although I feel I have to reserve some judgement on lead actor Hrithik Roshan. Playing professional thief and master of disguise Mr A, Roshan conducts a daring heist on a train carrying Her Majesty and her bejewelled crown through the Namibian desert and... well, I'll let the video above tell its own story. Suffice to say, this is one of the more shocking examples of whiteface I have seen since alleged comedy White Chicks but that video is possibly the most entertaining five minutes I've spent on YouTube in some time! Also, as a sidenote, I'm pretty sure that a) the crown jewels are held in considerably better security than they are in the movies and b) British secret service agents can shoot much better than that, even hampered by incredibly stylish-but-impractical sunglasses.
Number 7: '2012' (2009)
Elizabeth Richard returned to the role of Queen Elizabeth II for a quick cameo in this epic disaster movie, in every sense of the word. Richard appears as the Queen who, together with her precious corgis, boards a mighty ark along with other dignitaries and VIPs as the world struggles to escape a torrent of cataclysms brought about by the year 2012. Roland Emmerich's CG-heavy disaster flick is unashamedly popcorn in nature, inspired by the apparent foretold apocalypse in the ancient Mayan calendar which predicted the end of the world in the titular year. Utter nonsense, of course, but it's a mind-numbing excuse to see John Cusack escape from earthquakes, floods, eruptions and countless other scenes of vast devastation. As for Ms Richard, this was the last time (to date) that she has appeared for the Queen so it's safe to presume that she has either retired or the Queen didn't survive the destruction in the film.
Number 6: 'The King's Speech' (2010)
Just because The King's Speech is set in the mid-1920s, this doesn't stop a young Elizabeth from making an appearance. The film actually deals with the story of her father, the future king George VI (Colin Firth), who begins dealing with an unconventional speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush in superb form) in order to overcome a severe speech impediment. In an early scene, however, George VI is comforted by his wife the Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter) in front of their two children, with the young princess Elizabeth played by Freya Wilson and Ramona Marquez playing her sister, Princess Margaret. Almost certainly, this remains the youngest age that the role of Elizabeth has appeared on screen so far and while it is only a brief appearance, it's a fun one that popped the audience. I know because it did when I saw it at the cinema.
Number 5: 'A Royal Night Out' (2015)
Five years later, we had another look at the early life of Elizabeth II - albeit, a largely fictional one. This light-hearted period drama is set at the end of the Second World War and depicts a teenaged Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, wearing green in the above image) and Margaret (Bel Powley, in blue) attempting to sneak out of Buckingham Palace in order to join the VE Day celebrations. They soon escape the attention of their chaperones but end up going their separate ways, leading both of them to experience a life they would otherwise never have. There isn't much more to say about this film - it didn't win over too many critics but it's a fluffy and inconsequential way of passing the time. And unlike a number of films on this list, it too is based on a true story except that the young princesses went out in a group of 16 to mingle with revellers and returned promptly at the stated 1am curfew. Parents, huh?
Number 4: 'Minions' (2015)
With a bunch of characters as ubiquitous as these banana-obsessed looneys, it was only a matter of time before they showed up on a list like this. 2015's spin-off-cum-prequel to Despicable Me, Minions is an origin tale of evil mastermind Gru's hoard of incomprehensible followers led by Kevin, Stuart and Bob as they fall in with aspiring super criminal Scarlet Overkill. As if the case for a lot of these films, she plans on stealing the Crown Jewels which I can testify is not that easy to do. Believe me, I've seen them in their massive vault at the Tower of London - there's no way anyone other than Charles III is getting their hands on them any time soon. Anyway, through their usual chaotic bumbling, Bob accidentally gets himself crowned King of England and forces Elizabeth out of Buckingham Palace to an apparently enthusiastic British crowd. And the actress providing the vocals for the Queen is none other than Jennifer Saunders, who most audiences will recognise as the voice of the Fairy Godmother in the Shrek series or as the writer & star of Absolutely Fabulous.
Number 3: 'The BFG' (2016)
Look, it's acting royalty in the shape of the delightful Penelope Wilton! She plays Queen Elizabeth in Steven Spielberg's big-screen adaptation of the popular Roald Dahl novel The BFG where she gets mixed up in a far-fetched plot involving an orphaned young girl and a big, friendly giant (voiced by Mark Rylance). While technically proficient, the film lacks some of the warmth and charm of an animated TV version from 1989 where the Queen was voiced by Angela Thorne in her only voice performance to date. Despite Spielberg's efforts, it's the earlier version I'd advise you all to watch if you can - it has the unique distinction of being the only movie adaptation of Dahl's work that the author actually approved of during his lifetime and when you consider that includes the otherwise beloved Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory with an electrifying Gene Wilder in the title role, that's quite a claim to fame.
Number 2: 'The Queen's Corgi' (2019)
The late monarch was a massive fan of dogs, specifically Pembroke Welsh Corgis. This animated comedy takes this long-standing tradition and spins a tale about one of Her Majesty's favourite dogs getting into all sorts of mischief during a visit from President Trump. Initially released in Europe, the film finally saw a limited theatrical run in 2020 here in the UK but nobody was that impressed with it. Critics slammed the movie, calling it "deeply unpleasant" and "in no way suitable for children" as the film dragged itself to a meagre $31.5 million box office total. If you are somehow still inclined to watch the film then prepare yourself for Dame Julie Walters voicing the Queen (although a version for the US was dubbed by the now retired voice actor Mari Devon for some reason). But there are no shortage of animated films for children featuring talking animals and The Queen's Corgi does little to justify its place in a very large pantheon.
Number 1: 'Spencer' (2021)
Pablo Larraín's psychological drama about the late Diana, Princess Of Wales won many plaudits when it was released - mostly for the performance of Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Set in the early Nineties when her marriage to the then-Prince Charles was unravelling, the film sees events come to a head over Christmas as the Queen's estate in Sandringham, Norfolk (around 70 miles away from where I'm writing this very article). The role of Queen Elizabeth is played by Stella Gonet, a veteran star of stage and screen in arguably her biggest film role to date. Stewart's performance earned the star an Academy Award nomination, the only one for Spencer, although she ultimately lost to Jessica Chastain in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. She also earned praise from those who knew the Princess including some of her former staff who claimed that Stewart had perfected Diana's mannerisms and voice. The film also drew comparisons with Larraín's earlier film Jackie which saw Natalie Portman also earn Academy recognition in her role as Jackie Kennedy during her time in the White House and after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.
Whether as a powerful family matriarch, a quick comedic cameo or as the unwitting victim of yet another thief trying to steal the Crown Jewels, Queen Elizabeth II's place in cinematic history might not yet be substantive but will almost certainly grow in the years ahead. As we all look back and reflect on her time as Queen and the countless changes witnessed in that time, it's tempting to look ahead as well - not just for what will happen under the reign of the new King Charles III but how the life of his mother will be seen by historians and filmmakers. Throughout her life, she remained an enigmatic presence to many but curiously, also one we felt we knew. Whether it was through her love of horse racing, her mischievous sense of humour or her incredible commitment to duty and serving her country, she was a popular and much loved presence around the world and her passing leaves an enormous gap in British life that is difficult to imagine being filled any time soon. God rest, your Majesty and long live the king.
© 2022 Benjamin Cox