19 political dramas about the British Royal Family
Think of British history, and you’ll probably think of the Royal Family. Everyone paints a different picture of members of the Royal Family in their minds. But, once a part of the Royal Family, all your actions are magnified and examined world over, with royalists and critics coming together to talk about their decisions.
There’s plenty of monarchical representation in the theatre world too, with dozens of political dramas inspired by the lives of the royals. From those who ruled centuries ago to current rulers and their inevitable successors, these dramas have had audiences on the edge of their seats.
Here’s 19 political dramas that have definitely got audiences talking on both sides of the pond.
Princess Diana, Lady Di, Dynasty Di. However you refer to her, everyone knows of Diana Spencer.
Her tumultuous public life has rocked the Royal Family in recent decades. Season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown focused on the relationship of Diana and Charles, portraying such a realistic outlook on their lives that calls were made for Netflix to state it was fiction. Now, a musical all about Princess Diana is coming to Broadway, and it’s set to rock the stage. The musical will also be filmed for Netflix, ahead of its Broadway opening.
Thrust into the spotlight, Princess Diana stands up for her family, her country, but most importantly, stays true to herself. Jeanna de Waal plays the title princess in this modern musical, coming to the Longacre Theatre.
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is definitely the star of the eponymously named musical, there’s no question about that. But, it’s not without a supporting act like King George III. Appearing at select moments, King George III is portrayed as the jealous baddie, desperate to cling onto world domination. By his final appearances, he’s stunned by decisions made by American politicians. Seeing John Adams as President? Good luck.
It’s not just the rulers represented on stage. It’s their partners too, who have previously been shunned to the side by textbooks. Now, thanks to SIX, Henry VIII’s wives sing their hearts out in a historical musical remix for the ages.
At first, they’re all competing to see who had it worse off. Being divorced is one thing? How about getting your head chopped off? By the end, though, the women join forces, realising their collective power is stronger than Henry VIII’s individual beliefs. The SIX queens really are one of a kind.
King Charles III
It’s hard to fathom a world where Queen Elizabeth II isn’t the reigning monarch. But, Mike Bartlett’s 2014 play did exactly that, with Prince Charles as the latest in a line of British rulers. With Prince Charles finally ascending to the throne, a new bill is discussed that sets out to regulate the role of media in British society. But, how would the royal family, and indeed the general public react?
In King Charles III, Prince Harry wishes to leave his royal life behind, instead becoming a commoner. Now, we’re not saying that Mike Bartlett is a mindreader, but is the fictional drama now becoming a reality?
The rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots will always go down as one of Britain’s greatest. Unpacking years of heartache into a five-act play, Robert Icke’s political drama Mary Stuart dramatised the ground breaking affairs between these powerful female monarchs, both in and outside prison walls.
Mary Stuart performances were pretty stellar too, with Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams deciding who would play which monarch by the flip of a coin. If only historical decisions could be made so easily.
Helen Mirren is an acting legend. So it only feels right that she could portray Queen Elizabeth II on stage, doing justice to her lifetime of service. In 2013, she played the Queen in Peter Morgan’s The Audience, which was inspired by weekly meetings with Prime Minister. Private conversations should remain just that, private. But, can the royal keep it quiet? The Queen can’t help but share in this drama. (Mirren couldn’t keep it calm either, telling a group of street drummers to stop playing mid-performance.)
The Diana Tapes
Creating a play based on recent events can prove challenging. Writers must ensure they’re sensitive to their subject material, while making it engaging at the same time. In 2018, James Clements’s The Diana Tapes did exactly that, telling the story of Princess Diana handing over tapes to publishers for an upcoming memoir. Was Diana Spencer respected, or at the mercy of her superiors? The Diana Tapes uncovers the truth.
The Madness of King George III
One of Britain’s leading playwrights, Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George III dramatised the monarch’s life while living with a mental illness. At the time, his lunacy as the “mad one” wasn’t diagnosed, but his weaknesses were manipulated quickly. So much so, his enemies use his lack of social and temporal awareness to get the throne for themselves. After a 1991 premiere, audiences saw The Madness of King George III once more in 2018, starring Mark Gatiss.
Plenty of award-winning dramas are inspired by novels. Take Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But, the Tudors took centre stage with the stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Set in the mid-15th century, Wolf Hall tells of Thomas Cromwell’s ascension to power, eventually serving as chief minister to King Henry VIII. Although Wolf Hall is fictionalised in parts, audiences took this Tudor takeover into their hearts, and the play won two Oliviers and a Tony Award.
There’s a whole genre of Shakespeare plays dedicated to the British monarchy. Rulers from 900 years ago are at William Shakespeare’s literary disposals, including King John and Richard II. Then, it’s a jump through the ages to meet kings like Henry IV in two parts, followed by Henry V and the three-part Henry VI. The lives of Richard II and Henry VIII are also told on stage, immortalised by the words of William Shakespeare forevermore.