While reading about the imminent return of posh royal soap opera The Crown, something suddenly occurred to me: when Matt Smith accepted the role of Prince Philip, he may have become the first screen actor ever to have played people who have had it off with both Queen Elizabeths. Now, at this point you might reasonably object that (a) Elizabeth I was widely to believed to have died a virgin, and that (b) Smith has never played anyone who has even slightly plausibly had sex with Elizabeth I. But you’d be wrong.
Because Smith played BBC TV’s Doctor Who, who – when he was played by David Tennant – was heavily implied to have got lucky with Good Queen Bess (“…so much for the Virgin Queen, you bad, bad boy!”) He even ended up marrying her in the show’s 50th anniversary episode, though things clearly didn’t work out, as an older version of Elizabeth wanted him executed (in a prior episode – time-travel, eh – we’ve all been there right lads?). Tennant regenerated into Smith, therefore Smith has played someone who’s bedded Elizabeths I and II. But can anyone beat that?
Trawling IMDB cast lists, I found 15 actresses who have have played wives or lovers of two different monarchs – The Crown’s own Eileen Atkins (Mary of Teck, wife of George V) has done it, having also played Eleanor of Aquitaine (Henry II’s missus) in the terrible Russell Crowe movie Robin Hood.
Natalie Dormer, before she was Margaery Tyrell, wife of different claimants to the throne of Westeros in Game of Thrones, played both Anne Boleyn (The Tudors), and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother (2011’s W.E.). Helena Bonham Carter also played both of those roles – in a 2003 TV movie, Henry VIII, and The King’s Speech, respectively.
Other notables include Zoë Wanamaker, who married Richards I & III as Berengaria of Navarre and Anne Neville; Glenn Close, who played another Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alexandra of Denmark (wife of Edward VII), and Joely Richardson, whose been Catherine Parr (Henry VIII) and Wallis Simpson (Edward VIII).
But the joint record holders are Claire Bloom and Jeanette Sterke, with three kings a piece. Sterke played Richard II’s wife Anne of Bohemia in 1955 TV movie Richard of Bordeaux, and then in the BBC anthology series BBC Sunday-Night Theatre became both Anne Boleyn and Maria Fitzherbert, who was briefly the wife of George IV before the marriage was declared to be invalid.
Claire Bloom’s “royal career” has spanned over five decades – she played Anne Neville in the 1955 film of Richard III, Catherine of Aragon in the 1979 TV movie Katharine of Aragon and most recently Mary of Teck in the King’s Speech. (While we’re counting, she also played two actual monarchs – Anne and Victoria, plus Doctor Who’s mum. Beat that!).
Male preference in succession means there have been fewer opportunities for men to play the husbands and lovers of our monarchs – truly, political correctness has gone mad – so no man has played the lover of more than two of our monarchs. So, does Smith hold the male record?
Well, maybe. The only other actor who may have been able to claim to have (at least notionally) bedded two Queens on screen was the late Robert Hardy, who in two different BBC dramas played Prince Albert and Robert Dudley – Dudley was a favourite of Elizabeth I and has often been supposed to be her lover, even if there’s no evidence that the relationship was ever consummated.
Dudley was also played by Robin Bailey, who thus has a plausible claim on two monarchs, having earlier played Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland and rumoured lover of Richard II – making him the only screen actor to have played potential lovers of both a King AND a Queen.
But Smith is, as far as I can tell, the only person to have the “double Elizabeth”. For now: the next series of The Crown will see the part of Prince Philip recast as time marches as on. And if Olivia Coleman, the show’s next Queen Elizabeth II, had her way, her choice for Prince Philip would immediately match Smith’s record – because she wants David Tennant. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey indeed. Peter Capaldi, Jodie Whittaker: you may have new career goals.