Why Imelda Staunton Is the Best Queen Elizabeth

Exploring the totality of a historical icon’s life is not an easy task for simply one project. Many of the best biopics in film history are the ones that simply take one moment from someone’s life and expand it in detail. However, Peter Morgan took on an ambitious task with The Crown; he chose to explore the life of the longest-reigning monarch in British history from her coronation to present day. Now that Queen Elizabeth II has sadly passed away, The Crown will explore the events up until her death. Instead of using makeup or prosthetics, The Crown has replaced its cast every two seasons to show the passing of time.

While significant time jumps on shows like House of the Dragon are distracting because the audience has not had time to invest in the new cast members, The Crown is able to show its primary characters in very distinct periods of their lives. Claire Foy’s version of Queen Elizabeth is one who is a novelty because she is a woman, and she must live up to the high expectations that the electorate has for a ruler after the popularity of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris). Olivia Colman’s version of Elizabeth shows an older woman, who is now struggling to be both a mother, a modernizer, a traditionalist, and a patriot.

The Crown has proved to be a hugely successful TV series by streaming service Netflix who have finally added a disclaimer about ‘historical accuracy’ to the Season 5 trailer, citing ‘inspired by real events’ to cover any potential backlash regarding the sensitivity and coverage,” Mark Boardman, entertainment expert and founder of MarkMeets, told Newsweek.

While we’ve only had one season with Imelda Staunton as Elizabeth so far, she has already proven to be the definitive version of the character. Foy and Colman had to base their performances on archive footage, but Staunton faced the challenge of playing the version of the Queen that a majority of the audience was familiar with from the last several decades of news coverage. Her reserved, quietly contemplative performance is the most nuanced depiction thus far. While the other Elizabeths dealt with the challenge of their nation’s sins, Staunton’s Elizabeth has to face the consequences of her own actions.

An Awareness of Legacy

Since Season 5 takes place in the 1990s, Elizabeth is already well aware of her legacy. She knows that everything about her reign is unprecedented, and she is keen to remind her allies of this fact. Season 5 is relatively light on humor compared to the previous seasons, but there’s a particularly humorous moment at the beginning of the season where Elizabeth meets with her new Prime Minister, John Major (Jonny Lee Miller). She seems to take pride in reminding him of all the Prime Ministers she has served alongside, and the idiosyncrasies of each.

However, this interaction becomes somewhat hostile when Major brings up the idea of not allowing the public to fund the Royal yacht. Elizabeth takes this as a personal insult to her family; this ship has been by her side for decades, and she has always taken it for granted. Staunton shows the incredulity Elizabeth feels when she realizes that she is now the one who is antiquated. Yes, this is a luxury item, but it’s also something that has sentimental value. This is a major theme in the season. Elizabeth shows a similar heartbreak when Windsor Palace catches on fire. If you ignore the historical significance of this for a moment, you have to consider that this is also a family’s home.

How Imelda Staunton Compares to Claire Foy and Olivia Colman in ‘The Crown’

“Claire Foy was truly exceptional, with a stand-out performance in the first two seasons but had to depart due to the nature of the hit Netflix series,” entertainment expert and founder of MarkMeets, Mark Boardman, told Newsweek.

“However, Imelda Staunton’s portrayal of the queen following Olivia Colman’s two seasons playing a more dull character is a much welcome addition to the popular drama where the award winning 66 year-old actress is truly exceptional, with Imelda being the obvious choice for me, following Colman’s departure.”

“The role is so convincing from Imelda Staunton,” he continued, “who I previously could only ever envisage as famously portraying Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series, but the actress has once again miraculously re-invented herself, and showed off her RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] skills, oozing confidence with both scripted lines and convincing facial expressions being delivered, as expected, mirroring the late Queen Elizabeth II.”

Words Of Significance

Elizabeth’s recognition of her own legacy means that her words carry even more value, and Staunton shows why she is so reserved. Given the reputation she has created for herself, Elizabeth realizes that dexterously choosing moments to express herself will maintain their importance. It’s a major moment when she declares that 1992 is an “Annus Horribilis” because of the fire and the breakups within her family. When she expresses her sadness before a public stage, it’s the rare instance where one of the most powerful people in the world can grieve before an audience.

The moments of openness that Staunton gives are very moving. Despite their quarrels in the past, Elizabeth sincerely thanks Major for his service to the country when he is replaced by Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel). While comparing him to Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) is impactful in its own right, it’s also critical because it’s one of the rare times that Elizabeth is so openly compassionate. There’s a similar moment towards the end of the season where the Queen has a brief moment of peace with Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). No longer able to hide behind excuses, Elizabeth gives a touching apology to Diana for her behavior.

Regrets and Redemption

A few flashbacks to a younger Elizabeth and Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) indicate that Elizabeth still has to live with her past mistakes. Although she had now found peace with Margaret (Lesley Manville) in their older years, her sister is still bitter about not being able to marry Peter Townsend (Timothy Dalton). Margaret calls out Elizabeth when she allows her daughter, Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison), to remarry. Regardless of her mistakes before a national stage, Elizabeth’s deepest regrets will always be the harm she caused to her own family.

Staunton’s Elizabeth also has to face a controversy that she has never had to question before. With Diana’s surge in popularity and the growing resentment towards Prince Charles (Dominic West), the public begins to turn on the very notion of the monarchy. While this is an indication of where the country wants to go in the future, it is also a condemnation of Elizabeth as a ruler. Elizabeth feels that her very legacy is in question; has everyone determined that she has failed as a ruler, a mother, and a Queen? Are they so infuriated by her actions that they want to set aside one of the country’s most signature traditions?

It’s unclear how much of recent events will be covered in the sixth and final season of The Crown. Even if the last season (which is currently filming) doesn’t include the events that occurred in the last year, it will be impossible to watch it without remembering the tragic passing of Elizabeth. Staunton delivers a nuanced, respectful portrayal that casts Elizabeth in an empathetic, but not completely sympathetic light. It only seems natural that she would follow in her predecessors footsteps and take home the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. It’s not just the natural progression of the role, but the best depiction thus far.

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