The Re-Centering of the Monarch in the Royal Biopic: The Queen and The King's Speech

Giselle Bastin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Royal biopics, since their earliest appearance in the 1930s, about the life and loves of monarchs such as King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria, give credence to the observation that biopics are ideological tools deeply embedded in conversations about British identity. Stephen Frears’s The Queen (2006) and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech(2010) continue a long tradition of the royal biopic’s cooption into narratives about British identity and further the idea that British filmmakers “have proved adept at adapting the past to meet their own cultural and ideological concerns” (Chapman 6). These royal biopics stand as exemplars of how “Like poets, film directors and scriptwriters . . . sometimes try to be unacknowledged legislators of an age” (Nairn 2006). Here we shall see how they reflect and implicitly endorse efforts carried out by the House of Windsor to reassert the centrality of the figure of the Sovereign—of Shakespeare’s “deputy elected by the Lord”—in narratives about British royal identity. In their depictions of crowned monarchs caught in the cross-glare of public and constitutional crises involving the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the abdication of King Edward VIII(known to his family and in parts of this discussion as “David”) and his relationship with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, these films stand in stark contrast to television biopics of the 1970s through to the 1990s that tended to relegate the figure of the monarch to a walk-on role in narratives that focused on Diana’s and David’s pursuit of self-gratification. Frears’s and Hooper’s films bring King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II out of the shadows of Diana and David and firmly reposition the monarch at the center of the royal narrative and in so doing contribute to discourses that serve to emphasize the primacy of the consecrated sovereign in the post-Diana (and David) age.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRule, Britannia
Subtitle of host publicationThe Biopic and British National Identity
EditorsHomer B. Pettey, R. Barton Palmer
Place of PublicationNew York, U.S.A.
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781438471136
ISBN (Print)9781438471112, 9781438471129
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • monarchs
  • King
  • Queen
  • speeches
  • royal biopics
  • British identity
  • British filmmakers


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