the thronedown

From Peter O’Toole to Helen Mirren: Learning the Royal Family Tree by the Actors Who Played Them

In portraying George VI in The King’s Speech, Colin Firth brings us one step closer to being able to fill out the Royal Family’s entire family tree with the famous elite, ermine-clad British actors who have played them. After all, what easier way to memorize the lineage than to mnemonically substitute the faces of Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, and Anthony Hopkins for Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Catherine, and King Richard I? So as a study aid for all of you Windsorphiles, Vulture has put together a family tree reaching all the way from the onscreen Plantagenets of 1183 (A Lion in Winter) to today’s Queen Mum (The Queen). A few notes: Owing to the startling number of BBC mini-series devoted to boring English kings, this family tree focuses — with the exception of The Tudors’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers — only on film portrayals. It also skips over sovereigns who never appeared in a movie, so William of Orange diehards should seek fanfic elsewhere. On to the royals!

Movie: The Lion in Winter (1968) Our tree starts with the line’s sixth royals (since William the Conqueror). O’Toole and Hepburn give birth to a passel of royal wannabes, though only two of their sons end up on the throne. The Plantagenets (as they were known) also make a strong bid for the title of Meanest Royals, what with O’Toole locking Hepburn in a castle (for sixteen years!) and the bratty kids all trying to kill each other. Hepburn tries to kill O’Toole a couple of times, too. Oh, and this all happens at Christmas.
Movie: Also The Lion in Winter Hopkins is the first son to succeed Peter O’Toole’s Henry II, though that happens after the film’s end. He died in battle fairly quickly (Richard the Lionheart: big on Crusades) and had no sons (Lion in Winter suggests he was gay), so the throne passed to his movie brother John I …
Movie: Still The Lion in Winter Nigel Terry wins the Ugliest Movie Royal prize, thanks to a runny nose and half-hunchback (more of those to come, thanks to genetics). John I also gained cartoon immortality when depicted as the evil “Prince John” from Robin Hood — the Disney animal version. Movies have generally been unkind to John.
Movie: Henry V (1989) Skipping over six generations (three Edwards, two Henrys, and another Richard), we arrive at Henry V, the only of Shakespeare’s Henrys to get the Branagh movie treatment. It should be noted that Laurence Olivier also played Henry V in 1944, but he played everyone — he’s his own family tree. Emma Thompson plays a French princess who eventually marries Branagh’s Henry — so we’ll count it, even if she’s not playing a Brit.
Movie: Richard III (1995) As successor to the warring Henry VI and Edward IV (though transported to the thirties for this version), McKellen (another hunchback!) challenges Henry II & Co. for Meanest Royal. He orders the murders of several relatives, including two young princes, and generally runs the country into the ground. Okay, so that’s a lot worse than the Lion in Winter family.
Movie: Also Richard III West just stands around to the side looking handsome, but his character does take the throne at the end of the movie. He also founds the all-important House of Tudor that will give rise to many of your favorite Movie Monarchs. 
Movies: The Tudors (1997) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) Our First Royal Double, with Meyers and Bana standing in for the same monarch. Meyers has more sex on The Tudors than all of the other Movie Royals on this tree combined. But while Eric Bana has less sex in The Other Boleyn Girl, he lands both Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, so: It’s a wash?
Movies: Elizabeth (1998) and Shakespeare in Love (1998) Royal Face-Off 2: Both not only played the same queen in the same year, but both were nominated for Oscars. Blanchett played the young, steely Elizabeth I and lost to Gwyneth Paltrow. Judi Dench played old, who-gives-a-shit Elizabeth I (for only eight minutes) and won. Advantage: Judi Dench.
Movie: To Kill a King Rupert Everett’s first royal gig is an unhappy one: He gets beheaded by the Cromwells.  But not to fear, because after eleven years of Republican rule …
Movie: Stage Beauty Rupert lives! And as his own son Charles II! Stage Beauty is a Shakespeare in Love for the post-Cromwell era, more or less, but it’s also the movie that united Billy Crudup and Claire Danes, to the dismay of Mary-Louise Parker. (John Malkovich also portrayed Charles II, in The Libertine.)
Movie: The Madness of King George (1994) After six generations of Stuarts and the unification of the British kingdom, we rejoin the lineage with Nigel Hawthorne as he unleashes his crazy upon the nation.  A special brand of anger is reserved for his sniveling son, who is played by … Rupert Everett.
Movie: The Madness of King George Yes, he’s back for the third time.
Movie: The Young Victoria (2009) Broadbent, perhaps familiar to you as Bridget Jones’s dad and/or Horace Slughorn, gives a spectacular drunken toast before clearing the throne for Emily Blunt’s Victoria. The Williams are pretty dull otherwise.
Movies: Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (1997) and The Young Victoria Royal Face-Off 3: Blunt was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as a pretty Victoria, but Dench was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as old, widowed Victoria. Advantage: Judi Dench.
Movie: The King’s Speech (2010) Skipping over Edward VII, we arrive at George V, the scary father figure in The King’s Speech. Colin Firth’s speech impediment (from which the movie takes its name and plot) can more or less be traced to his father’s (Gambon) harsh parenting, so we’ll give him honorable mention in the Meanest Royals race.  
Movie: The King’s Speech Guy Pearce very briefly assumes the royal mantle before ditching out to marry Wallis Simpson (soon to get a movie of her own, courtesy of Madonna). Edward VIII has also had several TV movies, if you’re into abdication.
Movie: The King’s Speech Firth takes over from Guy Pearce and (spoiler alert) finally learns how to speak, with the help of his speech therapist, Geoffrey Rush.  Then he wins a war and dies, in fairly rapid succession. Fun fact: Helena Bonham Carter (here as the Queen Mum) also played Anne Boleyn in a Henry VIII TV mini-series; Emily Blunt (Victoria) was cast as fifth wife Catherine Howard in the same show.
Movie: The Queen Helen Mirren returns, nine generations after playing Queen Charlotte, to win an Oscar (she was only nominated for Madness of King George).  Rupert Everett thankfully did not land the role of Prince Charles. 
From Peter O’Toole to Helen Mirren: Learning the Royal Family Tree by the Actors Who Played Them