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English monarchs and the Oscar

Does a path to Oscar gold runs through Buckingham Palace?

November 25, 2010|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times

Does the surest path to Oscar gold run through Buckingham Palace?

With Colin Firth's portrayal of Britain's King George VI in "The King's Speech" already generating strong Academy Awards chatter, Hollywood's longstanding love affair with English monarchs seems to be burning as strong as ever.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first swooned for the royals when Charles Laughton won one of the earliest best actor Oscars for 1933's "The Private Life of Henry VIII," in which he played the king known for his gargantuan appetites for food, women and power.

Since then, Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Cate Blanchett, Peter O'Toole, Robert Shaw, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold and Nigel Hawthorne have received Oscar nominations for their royal performances; Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Katharine Hepburn have taken home Academy Awards for their portrayals of queens. Royal-themed films have scooped up awards in many other categories.

Film historian Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies and author of "80 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards," says these performances often resonate with academy voters because royals live "on a huge panoramic plateau and their particularly dramatic stories give a lot of meat to chew on in a performance."
Here's a look at some of the crown jewels among the English royalty performances:

Judi Dench

Received her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Queen Victoria in 1997's "Mrs. Brown." She didn't take home the gold then, but came back the next season and won the supporting actress Oscar as Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare in Love" (which also garnered six other Academy Awards). Dench's win was all the more remarkable considering she had only eight minutes of screen time.

Helen Mirren

Won the best actress Oscar for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006's "The Queen." Was nominated for best supporting actress as Queen Charlotte in 1994's "The Madness of King George." Mirren also won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for her royal performance in HBO's 2005 miniseries "Elizabeth I."

Peter O'Toole

Though he has never won an Oscar, two of his eight Academy Award nominations were for playing King Henry II. The first came for 1964's "Becket," which revolves around the carousing monarch and the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). The second was for 1968's "The Lion in Winter," in which he played an older Henry who keeps his wife locked in a tower as his three troubled sons vie for the throne.

Katharine Hepburn

Earned her third best actress Oscar for her acerbic turn opposite O'Toole as Eleanor of Aquitaine, French-born queen of England in "The Lion in Winter." Hepburn tied in the category with Barbra Streisand for "Funny Girl."

Cate Blanchett

Like O'Toole, Blanchett was twice nominated for an Oscar for playing the same royal — in her case, Queen Elizabeth I. The first was a best actress nomination for 1998's "Elizabeth" (the same season that Dench won for as supporting actress for playing the same monarch). She got another best actress nom for 2007's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

susan.king@latimes.com

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