Drama films

Streaming: the Queen at the cinema | Drama movies

Yesou don’t hold a single position of world stardom for 70 years without also becoming a cinematic figure. Whether wildly fictionalized or painstakingly rendered in biographical terms, the Queen has amassed a rare screen legacy for a living historical figure. For most of her life, she was treated in film as a literal icon, as close as any actor can get to the deadpan crowned symbol of various postage stamps. Portraying her as a real character, with inner life and conflict, would come later.

My first encounter with a dramatized Elizabeth II remains, for me, the most enduring: as the ward of serially incompetent police lieutenant Frank Drebin in The naked gun (Netflix). The target of an assassination attempt foiled only by a happy and hilarious accident, she’s not a very active presence in the film – mostly there to look royally in danger, and at one point throw a ball ceremonial baseball with an austere calm. But she’s compelling enough that, at around eight, I was convinced the monarch herself had agreed to this unworthy cameo.

As it stands, all credit goes to Jeannette Charles, a one-person actress who has turned her striking resemblance to Her Majesty into multiple assignments over three decades, in projects ranging from spoofing German movies about monkeys queen kong to the finest Hollywood gagfests, including National Lampoon’s European Vacation (Amazon Prime) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (Netflix). We thank her for her funny service, even if she never received trophies for her troubles.

I wonder if Jeannette Charles felt the slightest pang of resentment when Helen Mirren played the title role in Stephen Frears’ 2006 drama The Queen (Amazon Prime) and quickly wiped out every Best Actress award on offer, including an Oscar. It was the first film to treat Elizabeth II as a psychological case study: as scripted by Peter Morgan, Mirren’s portrayal of the Queen’s guilt, insecurity and resentment towards a hostile audience in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales has made many viewers reconsider their feelings about her feelings.

Freya Wilson, second right, as young Princess Elizabeth, with Ramona Marquez, left, as Princess Margaret in the King’s Speech. Photography: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

I always found the film, and Mirren’s deft performance, a little tight and hesitant – but it opened the doors to a new wave of humanizing dramatic portrayals of Elizabeth II and her family. Oscar’s charge The King’s Speech (Netflix) gave us a glimpse of Princess Elizabeth (played by Freya Wilson) in cherubic childhood, but she’s a more substantial teenage presence in the surprisingly charming charm. A royal evening (2015; BFI Player), which essentially drafts Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and their imagined VE-Day capers, on a wholesome model of teenage romance. The excellent Canadian actress Sarah Gadon gives Elizabeth a little soul and courage.

All of these movies paved the way for the colossus of Netflix TV The crown (creator and showrunner: Peter Morgan), with its changing evocation of the modern royal family through the decades. In terms of providing a steady job offer to almost every national treasure in the UK acting community for a time, it has effectively become the new Harry Potter franchise. It yielded Emmys for both Claire Foy’s and Olivia Colman’s skillful and emotionally shaky portrayals of the Queen; Imelda Staunton is next in line to that particular throne. Last year’s gloriously melodramatic Diana fantasy spencer (Amazon Prime) turned the tide by once again portraying Elizabeth II in a harsh and cold light, with Scottish actress Stella Gonet lending her horror villain height.

On the lighter side, the Queen continues to be a goofy sideshow in children’s films such as The Queen’s Corgi (Apple TV), where she is handsomely voiced by Julie Walters, and Roald Dahl’s peculiar adaptation of Steven Spielberg The BFG (Netflix), of which the comically benevolent monarch of Penelope Wilton is one of the most successful elements. You doubt the Queen herself is terribly deranged: after all, she sent off quite affably opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Danny Boyle’s playful London 2012 Opening ceremony of the Olympics (YouTube), although a substitute did the most physical. His cinematographic ambitions go no further.

HM from Stella Gonet to Spencer.
‘Horror-villain height’: HM by Stella Gonet in Spencer. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Also new in streaming and DVD

Reflection (BFI Player) Valentyn Vasyanovych’s bubbly and timely drama about a Ukrainian surgeon battling PTSD after being captured by Russian forces in the Donbass region was the most frankly powerful and formally rigorous film in the Venice competition l ‘last year. Riddled with surprisingly but suitably violent imagery, it was always going to struggle to find a distribution, so it’s heartening to see the BFI Player granting it an exclusive release on their platform. You’ll need to steel yourself to enter, but Vasyanovych’s artistry rewards the viewer’s courage.

Licorice Pizza (Universal) Finally, a Blu-ray release for one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year: Paul Thomas Anderson’s hairy, sun-warmed coming-of-age comedy set in the same mid-1970s from the San Fernando Valley that boogie nights – but with a softer attitude. As a teenager and a woman in her 20s trying to figure out a lot in life — including what their awkwardly tender relationship even is — Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman give this episodic ride a racing heartbeat.

lana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza.
lana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza. Photography: MGM

The Burning Sea (Elysian) Norwegian production company Fantefilm has established a neat lineup of eco-disaster films, starting with 2015’s gripping Hollywood-style The wave. This tale of a catastrophic oil spill in the North Sea is in the same vein, with ingenious special effects and a suitably hammered sense of peril – though the pallid human drama makes it feel like a lesser cousin to the excellent Deep water horizon.