Two former on-screen Anne Boleyns are set to once again "compete," as they play the same Queen of England in movies to be released next year.
Helena Bonham-Carter, who played Anne Boleyn in the 2003 British television drama Henry VIII, and Natalie Dormer, who played Anne (above) across 21 episodes of the Showtime series, The Tudors, will both be playing the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth, who passed away at the age of 101 in 2002.
Like Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the daughter of a native aristocrat who eventually came to wear the consort's crown through an unlikely series of events. She was married to the Duke of York, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary, in 1923, and she commenced her official duties with a highly successful tour of Northern Ireland in the following year. She became the mother of Princess Elizabeth (our current Queen) in 1926 and the late Princess Margaret in 1930. When her husband's brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 in order to marry a divorced social climber, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth unexpectedly became Queen, now that her husband was the reigning Sovereign, King George VI. The Royal couple's role in maintaining British morale during the dark days when the Empire fought the Second World War on its own was so instrumental that Hitler called her "the most dangerous woman in Europe." After the entry of the United States into the war, the King and Queen continued to remain in the capital until the end of the conflict, even when the very real risk of failure on D-Day would have meant the collapse of the United Kingdom in the face of retaliatory German invasions. Her devotion to the Poppy Appeal and her sombre sadness on Remembrance Day is something that I always remember from watching the ceremony on television as a child with my late grandmother, who lost her brother on active service in 1942. She always spoke of the Queen Mother with the greatest affection and respect possible. My grandmother was an unemotional woman, in the sense that she didn't express everything that popped into her head like many people today. In fact, maybe it's better to describe her as dignified, rather than un-emotional. In any case, the silence with which she watched the 11th November ceremonies at the Cenotaph and the quiet face of the Queen Mother on the balcony, always spoke louder than words to me. How to describe a silence, much less the emotions of a silence, is something I've never quite mastered, however.
Following the death of her beloved husband from lung cancer in 1952, the Queen was henceforth styled "the Queen Mother," by which name she was most commonly known by both the British public and the wider world. She continued to enjoy a warm relationship with both of her daughters for the rest of her life, as this (I think rather sweet) clip from when she attended the races with her daughter, the Queen, in the 1990s, shows.
Natalie Dormer will be appearing as the late Queen Mother in the movie W.E., the story of the Abdication Crisis of 1936, told from the point of view of Wallis Simpson. W.E. is being directed by the pop star, Madonna in her directorial debut and despite the fact that Madonna was allegedly intent on portraying the late Queen Mother as a predominantly negative figure in W.E., since the drama is sympathetic to Mrs. Simpson, Natalie Dormer seems to have other ideas entirely, saying: -
“[England] tends to remember the Queen Mother as a rather wrinkly 97 year-old, but I am playing her when she was quite an enchanting, engaging twenty and thirtysomething.”
Meanwhile, Helena Bonham-Carter has just finished filming The King's Speech, chronicling the story of her King George VI's speech impediment and his attempts to overcome it, along with the help of an Australian speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush) and, of course, Queen Elizabeth. The King's Speech which is said to be both sympathetic and stylish, in the tradition of The Young Victoria, is set for release in January, 2011. Helena will be acting opposite the wonderful Colin Firth in the role of King George, with Michael Gambon as King George V, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill and Guy Pearce as Edward VIII. Firth and Bonham-Carter can be seen in a pre-released still from the movie, below.
I wasn't especially looking forward to W.E., but now that Natalie Dormer has signed on, I am more excited about it. However, I have no such reservations about The King's Speech, which I think is going to be absolutely terrific, not least because of the physical similarities between Helena Bonham-Carter and her character, but also because anything which comes in the elegant, sophisticated, under-stated tradition of The Young Victoria, can only be a good thing.
Either way, it's going to be fantastic to once again see two incredible actresses playing an incredible character.