Being governed by monarchs is a thing of the past for most. Yet apparently, we still love telling royal stories. And 2019 was a particularly bountiful year for regal representation. So without further ado, here is your very own royal procession of the year’s screen kings and queens.
The year’s royal obsession was launched by Olivia Colman — winning an Oscar for her riotous performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. Her eccentric and insecure Queen Anne shocked all by ousting heir presumptive Glenn Close to claim the major prize. Colman’s coronation speech at the Dolby Theatre — which included the phrases “Ooh, it’s genuinely quite stressful,” and “Lady Gaga… hahhh!” — became one of the ceremony’s few good memories. We were lucky to get our fill of Colman quirks last year; with The Crown’s third season lacking the sparkle of its previous, Claire Foy-led seasons, we are unlikely to see Colman accept many awards for playing the comparatively tamer Queen Elizabeth II of the 1960s and 70s. With Imelda Staunton already announced to take over in season 5, Colman’s reign already feels like it is over.
Netflix is doubly on the back foot with its royal content, then, with The King (a King Henry V biopic starring His Royal Highness of Stan Twitter, Timothée Chalamet) also failing to impress. The titular monarch was shamefully upstaged by Robert Pattinson’s extravagant performance as the Dauphin of France — a humiliation no truly worthy ruler would ever endure. Perhaps there’s a lesson here: funding The King is a mighty price to pay to satiate Chalamet fans’ thirst.
The monarchs of 2019 were not restricted to the non-fictional realm, either. Indeed, no reflection on this topic would be acceptable without mentioning Game of Thrones, whose ruling class of characters are much to blame for the show’s shambolic conclusion. Daenerys kinda forgot about the Iron Fleet, Jon Snow forgot how to speak beyond the words “You are my Queen,” and Cersei forgot there was more to life than elephants. Even the Night King was swept away like snow on a doormat.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker showed a similar level of incompetence in writing with its reversion to obsessing over Rey’s lineage. “Palpatine! Palpatine! Palpatine!” I mentally exclaimed — in the style of Tiffany “New York” Pollard, of course — during the revelation, a plot development that goes to show that you are only special if your grandpa was a despotic Sith and your mom was Jodie Comer. At the very least they should have had some family resemblance (to prove this was remotely planned). Alas, Disney would have sold far fewer toys (seemingly the primary objective of modern franchise blockbusters) had Rey shared her grandpa’s skincare routine.
Meanwhile, in Disney’s other major IP, Thor handed the leadership of his people to Valkyrie — a quasi-conclusion that, this time, didn’t disappoint. And as the new King of Asgard, Tessa Thompson has said her character’s first goal will be to search for her Queen. It will be nice to see the MCU going beyond the shameful morsel of LGBTQ+ representation that Avengers: Endgame offered us in the future.
Perhaps our favorite monarchs were those of the less literal variety, and even those of a competing cinematic universe. In Joker, Todd Phillips brought us the origin story of The
King of Comedy Clown Prince of Crime. After winning the coveted Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, there was no stopping Joker’s train to success: grossing an astounding $1.07 billion at the global box office, and so roughly earning one Oscar nomination for each of its $100 million.
Inciting far less division was Amazing Grace, which documents the live recording of The Queen of Soul’s 1972 album of the same name. Aretha Franklin gives an affecting and spiritual performance over the two-day shoot at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Franklin’s reign shall be further extended with the upcoming biopic, Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson and directed by Liesl Tommy.
In a similar vein, Queen B directed the documentation of her headline performances at Coachella 2018 for Netflix. Her iconic sets were lauded for their empowering and varied displays of African American culture. Less kingly, however, was her (or anybody else’s) voice acting in The Lion King — but I think its $1.66 billion global haul proves that it doesn’t need (nor deserve) all too much attention here.
One of the most expansionist monarchs of 2019 was drag queen RuPaul, who welcomed queens into the Main Stage royal court from both the US and the UK. RuPaul won’t rest until the entire world is under his dominion; US and UK seasons are again planned to air this year, as well as rumored Canadian, Australian, and celebrity iterations, too.
Of all these kings and queens, who ruled supreme? The answer is easy: Regina King. Like Colman, she easily swept through last year’s awards season as a front-runner for her film work — eventually winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk.
But King does divert from Colman when the actresses’ respective TV work is also factored in. HBO’s Watchmen — in which King’s character, Angela Abar (known by night as Sister Night), is the core — proved to be an enthralling, novel and political puzzle-box. Despite its recent arrival, Watchmen was one of the decade’s stand-out series. And if anyone deserves an eternal reign, it’s Regina King.