God Save the Queens (and Kings): 7 Actors Who've Portrayed Multiple Monarchs

10:15 AM 12/27/2019

by Jordan Wilson

From the golden age of cinema to modern streaming, some performers have played more than one ruling monarch, or the same one many years apart.

From left: Olivia Colman in 'The Crown, Judi Dench in 'Shakespeare in Love' and Helen Mirren in 'The Queen'
From left: Olivia Colman in 'The Crown, Judi Dench in 'Shakespeare in Love' and Helen Mirren in 'The Queen'
Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix; Miramax/Photofest

The third season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed series The Crown debuted Nov. 17 with a new slate of actors portraying the leading royals of the British monarchy.

Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman stepped in for Claire Foy to portray Queen Elizabeth II over the course of the season’s 14-year timespan, but it wasn’t Colman’s first time playing an English queen. Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter’s takeover of Vanessa Kirby’s role as Princess Margaret isn’t even the first time this decade that Carter has portrayed a member of the royal family.

Several actors have played real-life queens and kings, from Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria to Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots, but a few of them have played more than one member of the ruling class.

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at performers who have taken up the crown on more than one occasion.

  • Cate Blanchett

    Cate Blanchett in 'Elizabeth' (left) and 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
    Cate Blanchett in 'Elizabeth' (left) and 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
    Gramercy/Photofest; Universal Studios/Photofest

    Elizabeth I is one of the most-portrayed queens in cinema, her first screen portrayal performed by Victorian actress Sarah Bernhardt in the 1912 silent film The Loves of Queen Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett took on the role in 1998’s Elizabeth, which detailed the Virgin Queen’s ascension to the throne, the repeated attempts of her council to marry her off and her romance with one of her Lords. Blanchett was nominated for the best actress in a leading role Oscar, but lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow in another historical British drama, Shakespeare in Love. Director Shekhar Kapur continued the story in 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, once again casting Blanchett as Elizabeth, this time as the mature monarch whose rule is threatened by an assassination plot. Kapur has announced another sequel titled Elizabeth: The Dark Age, though no casting announcements have been made.

  • Olivia Colman

    Olivia Colman in 'The Favourite' (left) and 'The Crown'
    Olivia Colman in 'The Favourite' (left) and 'The Crown'
    Fox Searchlight Pictures/Photofest; Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix

    Depictions of Queen Anne, who reigned in the early 18th century, are few and far between compared to other monarchs. Olivia Colman’s performance as Anne in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2018 dark comedy The Favourite earned her a best actress win at the Oscars, cementing Anne in the eyes of the audience as the sickly, frivolous Queen who would rather race ducks and play with her rabbits than rule a country at war. Colman’s performance as Elizabeth II in season three of The Crown has yet to generate any award nominations, though the show itself has won a Golden Globe for best television series, and former Elizabeth II actress Claire Foy won for best performance by an actress in a television series. Season four of The Crown will debut in 2020, with Colman playing Elizabeth in the wake of her 1977 Silver Jubilee.

  • Helena Bonham Carter

    Helena Bonham Carter in 'The King's Speech' (left) and 'The Crown'
    Helena Bonham Carter in 'The King's Speech' (left) and 'The Crown'
    The Weinstein Company; Des Willie/Netflix

    Helena Bonham Carter was scarcely 20 years old when she first played a queen in Lady Jane, the 1986 romantic drama about Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for only nine days following the death of King Henry VIII in 1547. Though Carter became widely known to American audiences after playing Marla Singer in David Fincher’s Fight Club, she didn’t play a queen again until 2010’s The King’s Speech, when she portrayed Queen Elizabeth — the "Queen Mother" —  opposite Colin Firth’s King George VI as the couple struggle with his speech impediment and the looming second World War. Carter is currently playing the Queen Mother’s daughter, Princess Margaret, in season three of The Crown. This season finds Margaret dealing with increasing worldwide fame as well as the slow collapse of her marriage to aristocrat Antony Armstrong-Jones. Carter will continue her portrayal of the rebellious princess in season four, which will premiere on Netflix in 2020.

  • Bette Davis

    Bette Davis in 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' (left) and 'The Virgin Queen'
    Bette Davis in 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' (left) and 'The Virgin Queen'
    Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest; Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/Photofest

    It isn’t just the modern-day actors who have played a queen more than once. Golden Age Hollywood star Bette Davis first played Elizabeth I in 1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, featuring Errol Flynn as Robert Devereux, the titular Earl of Essex, with whom Queen Elizabeth had a tempestuous relationship. Davis took up the mantle as Elizabeth again in 1955 for The Virgin Queen, this time playing up the conflicted attraction the Queen has with noted explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, as played by British leading man Richard Todd. Though her film career continued well into the 1980s, Davis didn’t play another queen for the rest of her life; she died in 1989 at the age of 81.  

  • Judi Dench

    Judi Dench in 'Mrs. Brown' (left) and 'Victoria and Abdul'
    Judi Dench in 'Mrs. Brown' (left) and 'Victoria and Abdul'
    Miramax Films/Photofest; Peter Mountain/Focus Features

    This seminal British actress has been in her fair share of historical dramas, but she is also the only performer on this list to have played the same queen in two distinctly separate films. Dench first played Queen Victoria in 1997’s Mrs. Brown opposite Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. A year later, she won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, gracing the screen for only eight minutes. In 2017, she put on Victoria’s crown again in Victoria and Abdul, playing the monarch late in her life as she strikes up a friendship with young Indian clerk Abdul Karim. She isn’t slated for any future royal roles, but did return to Elizabethan England to portray William Shakespeare’s wife Anne in 2018’s All Is True

  • Helen Mirren

    Helen Mirren in 'The Madness of King George' (left), 'The Queen' and 'Catherine the Great'
    Helen Mirren in 'The Madness of King George' (left), 'The Queen' and 'Catherine the Great'
    Samuel Goldwyn Company/Photofest; Miramax/Photofest; Hal Shinnie/HBO

    If ever there was an actor meant to play a queen, it must be Dame Helen Mirren. First in 1994’s The Madness of King George, Mirren played Queen Charlotte, the wife of George, who attempted to prevent the King’s political enemies from overthrowing him. In the two-part 2005 HBO miniseries Elizabeth I, she played the titular monarch during the later years of her life, and only one year later would her Oscar-winning performance in The Queen be shown on screens worldwide. HBO saw fit to cast her as another queen, Catherine the Great, in a miniseries of the same name on the cable network this year. Mirren has even portrayed fictional queens, voicing the title character in the 1995 animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen.

  • Peter O'Toole

    Peter O'Toole
    Peter O'Toole
    Associated Press

    Hot off the success of Lawrence of Arabia, which made British actor Peter O’Toole a household name, he starred as King Henry II in the 1964 historical epic Becket opposite legendary actor Richard Burton. Though Burton played the lead in that film, O’Toole reprised his role as Henry II again in 1968 for Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter, which earned an Oscar nomination for himself and wins for his co-star leading lady Katharine Hepburn, as well as best original score and best writing based on material from another medium Oscars for composer John Barry and screenwriter James Goldman. O’Toole also played a fictional king in the 2007 fantasy action-adventure Stardust, though his last historically royal role was as Pope Paul III in the Showtime series The Tudors. He died in 2013 at the age of 81.