The Crown is one of Netflix’s most ambitious projects ever produced. It’s a six-season deep dive into the life and times of Elizabeth II, the currently ruling monarch of the UK. Starting from her marriage in 1948 and running through to 2000, it covers everything, from the marriages and triumphs to the disasters and divorces. But once fans have finished all the episodes of the latest season, dedicated to the 1980s and Princess Diana, where do viewers go from there? Luckily, there are plenty of other shows and movies about royalty like The Crown that are just as lush and gossipy as the Netflix series.
Monarchies first started about a millennia ago (give or take). But most films and TV series don’t go back quite that far; the popular time period to begin chronicling begins in the 1400s. That’s when Henry IV took the throne as the first King of England whose first language was English instead of French since the original conquests in 1066.
From there, TV shows and movies have covered nearly two dozen British and English monarchs, along with French and Russian royalty, a Scottish ruler or two, and a few Germanic and Spanish princes and princesses tossed in for good measure. Let’s run down some of the most exciting stories to anoint as your next marathon-watch:
1. ‘The King’
Netflix’s recent royal-centric film, The King, is loosely based on one of the more famous battles between England and France, the Battle Of Agincourt in 1415. Timothée Chalamet stars as Henry V of England and Robert Pattinson is his nemesis, Louis, The Dauphin of France, with Ben Mendelsohn as King Henry IV. It’s a sexy take on Shakespeare, making the point that history doesn’t have to feel so stodgy.
2. ‘The Hollow Crown’ & ‘The Hollow Crown: War Of The Roses’
For those who want the real thing, the BBC commissioned the full cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays, covering from the rise of Henry IV through the downfall of Richard III. It’s a who’s who cast of British talent, with Ben Whishaw as Richard II, Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, Tom Sturridge as Henry VI, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, and that’s just the top-line actors. All six films are streaming on Amazon Prime.
3. ‘The White Queen’ & ‘The White Princess’
Technically, these miniseries are each considered standalones. The BBC developed The White Queen, based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novels covering the Wars of the Roses and the rule of Henry VI, which aired in the U.S. on STARZ. When the BBC declined to renew a second season, STARZ picked up the story with The White Princess, covering the events directly following those in The White Queen and the rule of Henry VII. Both are available to stream via STARZ or STARZ on Hulu.
4. ‘The Spanish Princess’
After the success of The White Princess, STARZ commissioned a new series, The Spanish Princess, focusing on Catherine of Aragon. She was brought over the marry Henry VII’s son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, only to find herself falling in love with and eventually married to Henry VIII after Arthur died. Now in its second season, the series fills in the often-ignored gap between the end of The War of the Roses and the beginning of Henry VIII’s many divorces. It’s available to stream via STARZ or STARZ on Hulu.
5. ‘Wolf Hall’
If you’re missing Claire Foy as the Queen, of England this BBC miniseries adaptation of author Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is worth your time. A retelling of Henry VIII’s divorce, with Foy as Anne Boleyn, Damien Lewis as Henry, and Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, who helped make the divorce come about, this tragic story of the rise and fall of the second of Henry’s wives is a riveting six-part series. (Bonus cast includes a young Tom Holland in the role of Cromwell’s son and Game of Thrones star Jonathan Pryce as yet another religious figure.) The series is streaming on this side of the pond on PBS Passport.
6. ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’
For fans of The Crown‘s creator Peter Morgan, he’s also the writer behind 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Another Philippa Gregory adaptation, the film stars Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, and Scarlett Johansson as her sister Mary, both of whom fight for the attention of King Henry VIII, to tragic results. The film is currently streaming on Hulu.
7. ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’
Released at the end of 2018, Mary, Queen of Scots is the story of the last Queen of Scotland. Mary I was married to the French king, Francis II, but when he died, she returned to her country and took over, going to war against England’s Elizabeth I. She lost the battle but won the war when her son James VI became James I of England after Elizabeth died childless. The film, starring Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, is streaming on Hulu.
8. ‘Elizabeth I’
There are a good half-dozen Elizabeth I-centric projects out there, but this is the best of the lot because, as a TV series, it has more space to dive into the drama. Helen Mirren is the Queen, now aging over the latter half of her reign, with Jeremy Irons and Hugh Dancy as her competing would-be lovers, the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex, respectively. The full miniseries is streaming on HBO Max.
While the UK has been making TV shows and films about their monarchs for decades, it wasn’t until recently that the French channel Canal+ got in on the act with the hit series Versailles. Set during the reign of Louis XIV in the early 1600s, it chronicles the decision to move the French seat of power from the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris and build the Palace of Versailles. All three seasons are currently streaming on Netflix.
10. ‘The Favourite’
The Favourite is the Academy Award-winning film featuring Olivia Colman’s turn as a queen before she took over the role of Elizabeth II in The Crown. Here she plays Queen Anne, the daughter of James II, who became joint monarch with her cousin, William III. Though her life was pretty hard, the film is a black comedy focused on two cousins, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), vying to be Court favorite. The movie is available on Amazon.
11. ‘The Great’
In addition to The Crown, the other excellent TV series about royals that came out in 2020 is Hulu’s hilarious take on the Russian royal family, The Great. Set during Peter III’s rule as his wife, Catherine, eyed the throne, The Great is a blend of historical fiction, brutally funny honesty about royal women, and some of the best acting this year. Elle Fanning plays Catherine and Nicholas Hoult is her useless Czar husband in this 10-episode series. Season 2 has been greenlit for next year.
12. ‘Catherine The Great’
On the other end of the spectrum from Hulu’s comedy, there’s the very serious miniseries from HBO, Catherine The Great. Starring Helen Mirren as the titular empress and Jason Clarke as her lover Grigory Potemkin, this four-part series focuses on the final years of her life, starting two years into her reign in 1764 through her death in 1796. The miniseries is currently streaming on HBO Max.
ITV’s follow-up to Downton Abbey, which launched the same year as The Crown, Victoria attempts to blend the two with real-life upstairs-downstairs royals and soap opera drama, as Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes bring fire to the love story of Victoria and Albert. Over three seasons, Victoria struggles to balance being a wife and mother with running the ever-expanding British empire as monarchs around her fall. All episodes are streaming on PBS Passport.
14. ‘Mrs. Brown’
Victoria covers the early years of Victoria’s love affair with Albert; Mrs. Brown is about her life’s second love, her servant, John Brown. Starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly as the older set of lovers, the film was created as a BBC/PBS joint. But Miramax swooped in and took it to the big screen, after which it was nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs. Mrs. Brown is on Amazon. The unofficial sequel, Victoria & Abdul, is on HBO Max.
15. ‘The Last Czars’
Netflix’s The Last Czars covers the other enormously famous part of the Russian royal family, Nicholas II, the last emperor before the Great War ended the monarchy. This six-part series begins in the 1890s as Nicholas takes the throne and traces his family’s downfall through the Revolution in 1918.
16. ‘Downton Abbey’
Downton Abbey is not focused on the central royal family, but the story of the Earl of Grantham and his family struggling in the wake of the Great War is one of the biggest hits of the 2010s. There are episodes with the full-on royalty stuff, including the Christmas special when Cousin Rose does her debutante season, and the movie, in which the King and Queen visit Downton for a night. All six seasons and the movie are streaming on Peacock.
17. ‘The Royal House of Windsor’
For those looking for more on the real-life Windsor Family, the best documentary miniseries is Netflix’s The Royal House of Windsor. The six-parter begins in the time of Downton Abbey and the Great War, and covers 100 years through the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, focusing on how the royal family managed to keep the monarchy going even as the world modernized around them.
18. ‘The King’s Speech’
The Oscar-winning The King’s Speech is another opportunity to see Helena Bonham-Carter as a Windsor family member. In this case, she’s playing the role occupied in The Crown by Marion Bailey, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, wife of George VI and mother of the future Queen Elizabeth. The film is set in the period just before The Crown begins, as Edward’s abdication thrusts the Duke of York into the spotlight, forcing him to get comfortable with public speaking while having a lifelong stutter.
19. ‘The Queen’
Before Peter Morgan pitched The Crown to Netflix, he became famous for another project he wrote focused on Queen Elizabeth and Diana. The 2006 film, The Queen, stars Helen Mirren as the current reigning monarch who is confronted by the constitutional crisis when Diana’s death sends a grieving public to call for the monarchy’s end. It’s a must-watch for The Crown fans who are looking for a preview of Seasons 5 and 6.
20. ‘The Princess Diaries’
For those looking for a non-period piece featuring the monarchy, the best bet is The Princess Diaries, the Anne Hathaway/Julie Andrews fantasy of a modern teen who wakes up one day to discover she accidentally inherited an entire small European kingdom. Both it and the sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, are streaming on Disney+.
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