12 Actors Who Have Played the Queen on Screen
The world said goodbye to the UK’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, when she died on Sept. 8. The world has since been mourning the late monarch, with flowers and tributes pouring in from the public, celebrities, and the royal family.
Over the course of Her Majesty’s 70 year reign, her life was inextricably entangled with television. Her coronation was the first to be televised, it was during her reign that the transition from radio to television was made for the annual Christmas broadcast, and she even allowed a BBC film crew into the palace for a documentary about the family (though the latter has not been re-aired since). In recent years, she has featured in a number of short sketches, including one with Daniel Craig as James Bond for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics ceremony, and most recently, an encounter with Paddington Bear in honor of her Platinum Jubilee.
While her real life has been on our screens over the course of our lifetimes, imagined versions of her life has also frequented film and television. Over the years, many actors have tried their hand at playing the queen, to varying degrees of success and respect. Read ahead to see who have made the attempt to capture a sense of her iconic status.
Claire Foy in "The Crown" (2016-2017)
In recent years, the most famous depiction of the royal family has been seen on Netflix’s “The Crown”. Debuting in 2016 as the then most expensive Netflix show to date, the series has been both awarded and reviled for its speculative portrayal of the life of the Windsors behind closed doors.
“The Crown” has consistently been praised for its miraculous casting, starting with Claire Foy playing the youngest iteration of the monarch. She won two Emmy Awards for the portrayal, with a further nomination before that.
Foy brought the expected stiff upper lip, but her youthful and tender portrayal of the queen allowed the public to view the monarch in a new light. From flirty scenes between her and Philip, to explorations of the sisterhood between her and Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), Foy’s warmer approach to Elizabeth displayed a side of the monarch we’re so rarely shown.
Princess Anne has previously said that she watched earlier episodes of the show and found them quite interesting, so we might even be able to class Foy’s performance as having the royal seal of approval.
Olivia Colman in "The Crown" (2019-2020)
Continuing with “The Crown”, we move onto the next actor to take on the mantle, Academy-Award winner, and all-round National Sweetheart, Olivia Colman. Colman portrays the queen in the next stage of her life, moving away from Foy’s approach to the character, to a slightly colder, more mature iteration.
Colman’s era on “The Crown” covered a time in the queen’s life in which her identity as a mother was just as crucial as her identity as a monarch. In particular, her relationship with Charles, and subsequently Diana, was a central theme in the fourth season of the show. The empathy shown to other characters in the monarchy meant that the queen herself is more easily criticised, but Colman strikes the balance in portraying Elizabeth as flawed without it seeming disrespectful.
Colman continued the critical acclaim attached to the role, taking home an Emmy for the most recent season of the series, after receiving a nomination the year before.
Imelda Staunton in "The Crown" (2022)
Whilst we are yet to see Imelda Staunton’s turn in “The Crown”, and are unlikely to until November, the veteran actor is the final one to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series. Staunton will depict the queen from the 1990s onwards, making her portrayal one of a monarch audiences will more easily recognize.
In a statement made upon her initial casting, Staunton said, “As an actor, it was a joy to see how both Claire Foy and Olivia Colman brought something special and unique to Peter Morgan’s scripts. I am genuinely honored to be joining such an exceptional creative team and to be taking ‘The Crown’ to its conclusion.”
Helen Mirren in "The Queen" (2006)
Before “The Crown” was even conceived, its showrunner Peter Morgan had already dabbled in bringing the life of Queen Elizabeth II to screen, in 2006’s “The Queen”. A hit amongst critics and audiences alike, Helen Mirren’s portrayal of the monarch garnered her international praise, as well as an Oscar for best actress.
Mirren plays the queen in the period following Diana’s death, as her and then Prime Minister Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen), navigate the family’s response in the media.
While there is no confirmation that the monarch ever saw the film, Mirren recently said that she has the sense that it was seen and appreciated. She also shared an anecdote in which Prince Harry referred to her as “Granny”.
On playing the role, Mirren said, “It was quite nerve-racking because I didn’t know – no one knew – how the public would receive it, let alone the establishment in Britain.”
Freya Wilson in "The King's Speech" (2010)
Another film about the royals that was met with critical acclaim, and a handful of Academy Awards, was 2010’s “The King’s Speech.” The film features Colin Firth starring as King George VI, the Queen’s father, and explores the monarch’s relationship with his speech therapist.
While the film doesn’t focus on Queen Elizabeth II, we naturally get to see her pop up in a few scenes as a child, unaware that she would take on the throne at the age of just 25 following her father’s death.
In what is likely the youngest portrayal of the queen, child actor Freya Wilson took on the role of Elizabeth.
Sarah Gadon in "A Royal Night Out" (2015)
While Foy might be most widely known as portraying the queen in her youth, she wasn’t the only one. Canadian actor Sarah Gadon took on the challenge of playing a young Elizabeth in romantic comedy, “A Royal Night Out.”
The film centers on the royal sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, during the VE Day celebrations in 1945, imagining a night for them beyond the fun organized by the palace.
The film isn’t rooted in any truth, but its lighthearted concept allowed for Gadon and Bel Powley (as Margaret), to provide a more relatable depiction of the teenage princesses, before the queen took on Head of State role.
Elizabeth Richards in "What A Girl Wants" (2003)
Featuring the queen in rom-coms seems an unusual choice, but it was known to happen on occasion. In 2003’s American teen rom-com “What A Girl Wants,” starring Amanda Bynes as an American high school student who comes to London to reconnect with her father (Colin Firth), she gets entangled with members of the royal family along the way . . . naturally.
Admittedly, the queen doesn’t have a huge part at all, but the film provided a cameo of Elizabeth Richards, an impersonator of the queen. This would be one of a number of occasions in which Richards stood in to play the monarch.
Stella Gonet in "Spencer" (2021)
“Spencer”, the 2021 film, offered a colder, harder look at the royal family, depicting an imagined weekend at Sandringham through the perspective of Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart).
Of course, the film’s priority is Diana, and Stewart’s performance of the late ‘People’s Princess’, gained her nominations from a number of awarding bodies, including the Academy. Playing the supporting roles as the rest of the family were smaller names with minimal screen time.
That being said, Stella Gonet’s depiction of the Queen is less of an imitation, and as such, may be easier for some to receive more truthfully. It’s not the kindest portrayal of the monarch, influenced by the perspective the narrative holds. However, it is still very much recognisable as Queen Elizabeth II, particularly in a scene in which she takes her corgis for a walk and has a heart-to-heart with Diana.
Jeanette Charles in "The Naked Gun" (1988) and More
Probably the actor to have played the queen the most times, Jeanette Charles is a name unlikely to be recognized by the general public. But for those with an interest in slapstick comedy, they would have seen her appear as the monarch in a number of films throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Charles’s uncanny likeness to the queen was initially a hindrance to her career, with the resemblance making it difficult to gain roles. However, in the early ’70s, after a portrait of her was displayed at the Royal Academy, she started to make a name for herself as a Queen Elizabeth II impersonator.
Some of her most iconic appearances include cult comedies such as “Queen Kong,” “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” and “The Naked Gun.” Most recently, in 2002, she played the monarch in the Austin Powers film, “Goldmember.”
Julie Walters in "The Queen's Corgi" (2019)
As well as live-action films, the queen has also been a character in a number of animated movies. Most prominently, she was a key character in the 2019 family film, “The Queen’s Corgi,” unsurprisingly centered around one of her beloved dogs.
Jack Whitehall is the lead of the film as Rex, the Queen’s supposedly favorite pet. However, the monarch herself is voiced by the iconic British actor Julie Walters, with Mari Devon providing the voice in the US version.
Decidedly different to the working class roles Walter is famous for (“Educating Rita,” “Billy Elliot”), the Birmingham-born actor took the opportunity to play the beloved monarch.
Jennifer Saunders in "Minions" (2015)
Another animation to feature the queen was 2015’s “Despicable Me” spinoff, “Minions.” The now iconic yellow creatures are roped into a plot to steal Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, and this plot becomes the central narrative of the film.
While a light-hearted storyline to feature the queen, it meant that another British comedy legend was able to step into the role and voice Her Majesty. In this instance, it was Jennifer Saunders of “French and Saunders” and “Absolutely Fabulous.”
Ironically, of all the films to feature the queen as a character, this was the highest-grossing!
Penelope Wilton in "The BFG" (2016)
Best known as Isobel Crawley on “Downton Abbey”, or Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) on “Doctor Who”, Penelope Wilton also took the chance to play the queen in a family film.
The film in question was Spielberg’s live-action rendering of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, “The BFG”. It’s a heart-warming and charming portrayal of the queen, as she interacts with Sophie and the BFG to try and put a stop to the child-eating giants rampage.
It’s not quite the real Elizabeth sharing a sandwich with Paddington Bear, but the sweetness of the concept allows for children to form an attachment to the monarch and see her as a hero working for their protection.