Art and politics live in constant synergy. It has always been like that. Few, however, political figures have established themselves as ubiquitous in film, television, theater, music and literature in the way that Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday (8), did.
Elected politicians, after all, come and go. Cultural products can even capture, directly or indirectly, the impact of their trajectories on the lives of the characters they focus on, but these are usually ephemeral portraits, from a specific place and time.
With the longest-lived monarch in history, it was different. She spent 70 years on the British throne, during which she was portrayed, parodied, celebrated, criticized and problematized in the most diverse areas of culture.
In part, this is due to the inherent charm of the crown on her head, in a world that has reduced most monarchies to inexpressiveness, but not Britain. But this is also due to the captivating force of someone who fulfilled official commitments up to two days before he died.
That vigor was perhaps most captured by the “007” franchise – which is curious, since no one has ever played it in the secret agent movies. Her reign, however, always hovered over James Bond’s dangerous and sometimes farcical missions.
All 25 official films in the saga were released during her reign, and one of them even alludes to her in the title, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, from 1969. Many like to measure the monarch’s longevity by the number of prime ministers. who accompanied her, but an equally interesting scale is that of Bond interpreters – there were six actors that the queen probably saw asking for a dry martini on screen.
Perhaps because of the somewhat white-faced portrayal that “007” makes of the British monarchy and society, the royal family’s relationship with the franchise has always been one of closeness. Elizabeth was at several movie premieres, and at the 2012 Olympics, she made it to the opening parachute jump – she was a stuntman, of course, but that followed an edge of her as an actress, in a video with Daniel Craig.
That’s not to say the camera lenses were completely kind, though. Just look at one of the great phenomena of streaming today, the series “The Crown”. Not that the queen is portrayed as a villain, but the episodes reveal a flawed human figure through a gaze that is hardly intended for symbols as unattainable as the monarchy.
In the first two seasons, Claire Foy played an insecure and sometimes arrogant queen. In the third and fourth, Olivia Colman embodied the coldness and indifference of a mother concerned more with what her children looked like than what they really felt.
Starting in November, Imelda Staunton takes on the character, and must navigate turbulent times that have undermined the popularity of royalty, such as the death of Princess Diana.
This was even the object of study by Stephen Frears in the feature “The Queen”, the best and most complex portrait that Elizabeth II has ever won on screen. The plot was a curious exercise of what would have happened in the monarch’s private rooms and offices after the accident that killed the princess of the people, and painted her a bit like a shrew.
Helen Mirren won an Oscar for the monarch role, which she reprized in the play “The Audience”, which in turn won her a Tony.
In “Spencer”, another feature interested in Diana’s overwhelming passage through the royal family, Stella Gonet played an equally austere and humor-averse queen, but allowed herself a look of delicacy and, in a way, even sisterhood for the princess played by Kristen Stewart.
Amusing were the jovial portraits that “The King’s Speech” and “A Royal Night” weaved, the first showing the monarch as a child and the second, as a teenager, imagining what an alleged escape from Buckingham Palace to celebrate the victory in Second World War.
Without even knowing it, Elizabeth 2nd still made her laugh with “The Simpsons”, “Saturday Night Live” and “Austin Powers in The Golden Member Man”. She conquered the little ones in the animations “Cars 2” and “Corgi: Top Dog”. And she made drama royalty go to de facto royalty, with Mirren and also Emma Thompson, in an episode of “Playhouse Presents.”
There are a multitude of movies and series that, directly or not, crossed the life of Elizabeth II. She ends her reign not only as a political figure but also as an undisputed symbol of 20th and 21st century pop culture.
The monarch was like a beautifully written character, as fascinating and timeless as any of those who made Hollywood history.