Oscar: Actresses Playing Royalty–Cleopatra (1934), Cleopatra (1963)

If my reading of the Oscar race is correct, this year’s top acting awards, the Best Actress and Best Actor, will go to thespians who are playing royalty figures: Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ terrific satire “The Queen,” and Forest Whitaker in the political thriller “The Last King of Scotland,” in which he plays African tyrant Idi Amin (who thought of himself and behaved as a king).

It may be indicative of the diverse talents of Helen Mirren that, this season alone, she earned an Emmy for playing Queen Elizabeth in HBO’s “Elizabeth” (for which she also won a Golden Globe), and that in 1994, she was nominated for a Supporting Oscar for playing another Queen, in “The Madness of King George,” a film for which her colleague, the late stage actor Nigel Hawthorne, was also nominated (in the lead).

The Academy voters have always loved royalty figures in period dramas. What’s the allure Costumes Accents Good and bad, based on published literary sources or original scripts, these films have connoted prestige, from “Marie Antoinette” in 1934, to “Anastasia” in 1956, to “Anne of the Thousand Days” in 1969, to “The Madness of King George” in 1994, to “Elizabeth” and “Shakespeare in Love” both in 1998, to this year’s “The Queen.”

Here’s for your consideration a list of women who have been nominated for or won the Best Actress for playing a queen (O.K., princesses, too).

Cleopatra (1934): Claudette Colbert

Cecil B. DeMille’s firstand betterversion–of “Cleopatra” was nominated for the 1934 Best Picture, but not for Best Actress, perhaps because that film’s queen, Claudette Colbert, scored bigger that year in Frank Capra’s comedy “It Happened One Night,” for which she won the Best Actress for playing a runaway heiress (a different kind of queen).

Cleopatra (1963): Elizabeth Taylor

Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1963 version, a multiple-Oscar nominee that also didn’t get its Queen, Elizabeth Taylor, Academy recognition, is better known for the scandalous off screen romance of Taylor and Richard Burton; meanwhile Rex Harrison received his first Best Actor nomination as Julius Caesar.


The 1937 Oscar-nominated film features Charles Boyer as Napoleon and Greta Garbo as the Polish Princess Maria Walewska. Though a star vehicle for Garbo, then at her peak, it’s Boyer who was nominated for Best Actor, as well as Cedric Gibbons and William Horning’s Interior Decoration.


Australian Cate Blanchett received her first Best Actress nod for playing the title queen, turning in a bravura performance that put her on the forefront of leading actresses.

The Lion in Winter

Katharine Hepburn received her third Best Actress as Eleanor of Aquitaine, the estranged wife of King Henry II, in Anthony Harvey’s 1968 version of James Goldman stage play. Partner Peter O’Toole, playing the King, was nominated but didn’t win. “Lion in Winter” also won Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Goldman and Best Score for John Barry.

The Madness of King George

Helen Mirren and Nigel Hawthorne received Oscar nominations (she in the supporting and he in the lead) as Queen Charlotte and King George III of England. The film was also nominated for Alan Bennett’s adapted screenplay and won the Art Direction-Set Decoration Oscar for Ken Adam and Carolyn Scott.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Vanessa Redgrave received a 1971 Best Actress nomination for playing the ill-fated Queen Mary of Scotland, outmatched in the Tudor power game by Elizabeth I (played by Glenda Jackson, who was not nominated).

Mrs. Brown

Judi Dench received her first Best Actress nomination for playing Queen Victoria in this 1997 British drama.

Nicholas and Alexandra

Based on Robert K. Massie’s novel, this 1971 movie was nominated for Best Picture and many other awards, including Best Actress for Janet Suzman, as Alexandra, wife of Russian Czar Nicholas II (played by Michael Jayston).

The Queen

I have written about “The Queen” and its fabulous star Helen Mirren quite extensively ever since I saw the movie in August. Tune in on Sunday, Feb 25, when Mirren gets the Best Actress Oscar (her first!)

Shakespeare in Love

Judi Dench received her second nomination (this time in the supporting league) and first Oscar as Queen Elizabeth in this charming romantic comedy, which won the 1998 Best Picture and Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow, though she didn’t play a monarch.