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"The Queen" coming to Channel 4!


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The wider view: How five leading actresses have risen to the challenge of playing the Queen in a revealing new television docu-drama of her life



By Laura Collins

Last updated at 1:22 AM on 11th October 2009



Her image is everywhere – on the coins in our pockets and the post that drops on to the doormat in the morning.


She is the head of the nation, head of her family and, viewed each day in profile, she remains a two-dimensional Monarch to the vast majority of her subjects.


After 57 years on the throne, few could claim to know or understand Elizabeth Windsor – what makes her laugh, what makes her cross, what makes her tick.







Early crisis: The young Queen Elizabeth, right, played by Emilia Fox, left and centre, was just 25 when news reached her in Kenya that her father, George VI, had died. Preparations for her Coronation had barely started when Princess Margaret sparked a crisis by announcing she intended to marry Peter Townsend, 16 years her senior and, alas, a divorced commoner with two sons by his first marriage. Producer Marion Milne chose Fox because of her 'grace, fragility, youth, breeding and bearing'


Now, a ground-breaking television drama-documentary is set to reveal the woman behind the role that has defined her for all her adult life.


Next month, Channel 4 will broadcast The Queen, its most ambitious Royal series to date. In five hour-long episodes, it will examine Queen Elizabeth II’s Monarchy and show the key moments in a reign laced with great drama, both personal and political.


Five of the country’s leading actresses – Emilia Fox, Samantha Bond, Susan Jameson, Barbara Flynn and Diana Quick – will play the Queen from age 29 to 79.


Drawing on interviews with her closest aides and confidantes, millions of words of documented history, hundreds of hours of archive footage and the insight of political and Royal experts, The Queen chronicles her life from 1955 to 2005.


According to Hamish Mykura, Channel 4’s head of documentaries: ‘It tells the story from the Fifties until now, effectively through her eyes.’


Mykura admits that The Queen is a ‘bold’ project. Any attempt to demystify the Monarch is bound to be controversial, yet when approached with the idea two years ago, he commissioned it without hesitation.







Drama in The Mall: By the early Seventies, Britain was on its knees. The Queen, played by Samantha Bond, had a frosty relationship with Prime Minister Edward Heath, disapproving of his handling of the economic crisis. In 1974, Ian Ball tried to kidnap Princess Anne, shooting her chauffeur, a police officer and a passer-by in The Mall. Bond has 'confidence, warmth, humour and political savvy, displayed through her distress at Anne's attempted kidnap, says Milne


It seemed to him to be the natural successor to the Oscar-winning film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, which depicted only a fraction of the Queen’s reign and focused on the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.


The Queen, the series, promises to apply a similar treatment to a much greater span of her reign.


The series interweaves social and political history with scenes from the Royal household, dramatising exchanges and moments in the Queen’s life which have, until now, remained secret.


Costing £6million, the series was filmed at some of the grandest houses in the country, including Stourhead House and Neston Park in Wiltshire, Longleat and Orchardleigh in Somerset, and Knebworth in Hertfordshire.


Emilia Fox will play the Queen in the opening film, which focuses on her role in persuading Princess Margaret to call off her marriage to Group Captain Peter Townsend.








Iron ladies: In the Eighties, the Queen, portrayed by Susan Jameson, is said to have been deeply concerned by the social implications of Margaret Thatcher's policies at home and on South Africa. It was, by constitutional necessity, a hidden conflict. Milne said Jameson epitomised the Queen's 'ability to convey a quiet determination, which proves steely in the face of Mrs Thatcher'


Margaret did so in 1955, two years after the relationship had exploded into public view and threatened to taint Elizabeth’s Coronation year.


In the gardens at Windsor, strolling with corgis at her heels, the Queen is shown as a young woman torn between a desire for her sister’s happiness and her overriding sense of duty.


Samantha Bond takes on the role in the second film, depicting the Queen during the early Seventies, the most troubled and troubling days of her reign.


In recent years there has been much talk of the Monarchy in crisis, but according to the programme-makers, its greatest threat came three decades earlier.


Bond, who was a child during the era she portrays, says: ‘The Royal Family had just let cameras into their lives for the first time. They had thought that the nation would see how normal they were but, of course, half of the country thought, “How odd,” and, “Don’t they all sound funny?”


‘The Royal Family’s popularity was at an all-time low – 48 per cent of the country wanted to do away with the Monarchy altogether. On the day of Princess Anne’s wedding, Edward Heath declared a state of emergency.’


Bond recalls: ‘The miners were striking and many workers were on a three-day week. I remember getting up in the mornings to get ready for school by candlelight – I thought it was rather romantic at the time. But seeing it now and in the context of the Queen’s life, it’s quite incredible.







A year to forget: The Queen, played by Barbara Flynn, called 1992 her 'annus horribilis'. Milne said Flynn personified the Queen's 'strength, capability, resilience, tirelessness and a deeply held sense of tradition, which makes the moment when she finally cracks all the more poignant and surprising'


‘She was very unhappy with the way Heath was handling the crisis in the country, and that comes through in the coolness between them. At that time, she had effectively asked for a pay rise and the Government demanded to see what she was spending her money on.’


Mischievously, Bond reveals: ‘There’s a marvellous scene where the Queen in great indignation asks, “How would they [politicians] feel if someone went through their expenses?” Well, we all know the answer to that now.’


The Queen’s relationship with her various Prime Ministers provides a constant theme for the series.


From those she favoured and liked, such as Harold Wilson, to those with whom her dealings were fractious to say the least.


In the third episode, Susan Jameson takes on the role of a Queen in conflict with Margaret Thatcher, who opposed Commonwealth sanctions against South Africa.


Barbara Flynn in the fourth episode plays a beleaguered Monarch battling through her ‘annus horribilis’.


In 1992, the Duke and Duchess of York split, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips divorced, Charles and Diana’s separation was announced in Parliament and the Queen’s beloved Windsor Castle was ravaged by fire, destroying much of the place she has always regarded as home. Perhaps here, more than ever, the care-worn mother and wife behind the regal facade is revealed.


The series ends with Charles’s marriage to Camilla. Diana Quick shows a Queen struggling to accept a union that confirmed the splintered reality of the modern Royal Family and which her own mother vehemently opposed.


According to broadcaster and Prince Charles’s biographer Jonathan Dimbleby, who took part in the making of the series: ‘The Queen has ridden the social tiger of the most dramatic changes that it’s almost impossible to imagine in peacetime.’


For series producer Marion Milne, placing each era of the Queen’s reign in realistic context was key to the success of the documentary. ‘We needed to set our portrait of the Queen against a backdrop

of a Britain that has changed so much throughout her reign that it is unrecognisable from 50 years ago,’ she says.


‘Our hair and make-up department had to create new wigs for each actress to reflect the Queen’s changing hairstyles.


‘Our costume designer worked from photo and film archive to develop a different look for the Queen across the years – from the chic, narrow waists in the Fifties through riding clothes, wellingtons, headscarves, cocktail dresses and sensible suits. Replicas of outfits worn by the Queen for Camilla’s wedding and Camilla’s wedding dress were specially made for the final episode.’







Blair despair: Diana Quick concludes the series in 2005 as the Queen was exasperated by another Prime Minister - Tony Blair. In particular, she was concerned the British Army was overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq. Milne said Quick expressed the Queen's 'charisma, dignity and depth of character'


And though each actress filmed her episode in barely a week, the editing process was, Milne says, lengthy.


‘It incorporated drama, interviews, specially shot vistas and half a century of archive footage to show the changing face of Britain over the decades.


‘All the time we were looking for details that had been forgotten. The Queen is arguably the most famous person in the world, but only through the most exhaustive research could we get to the truth.


‘The result is a series that opens the doors into a private Royal world from as authentic a perspective as possible.’


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1219576/The-wider-view-How-leading-actresses-risen-challenge-playing-Queen-revealing-new-television-docu-drama-life.html#ixzz0TcAFQyQh

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