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Playing a British Monarch Is a Step on the Road to Oscar Glory – Again

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote of Britain’s care-burdened monarchs. Try telling that to the Academy.

Once again, playing British royalty has proved to be a tried-and-true route to Oscar glory, with Olivia Colman as the latest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an occupant of the British throne. Colman plays the 18th-century Queen Anne, the last of the ruling Stuarts, in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite.” The film has lived up to its name throughout the awards season and now has 10 Oscar nods to its credit, tying Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.”

If Colman takes home the statuette on Feb. 24, she would become the third actor in the last dozen years alone to win an Oscar for playing a British king or queen. Colin Firth was named best actor for his portrayal of George VI in “The King’s Speech,” which also won best picture and best director for Tom Hooper in 2011 after scooping 12 nominations. Helen Mirren triumphed in the best actress category for her performance as Elizabeth II in “The Queen” in 2007, after having missed out in 1995 in the supporting actress category for her role as Charlotte, the queen consort, in “The Madness of King George.” The man who played her husband in that film, Nigel Hawthorne as George III, was nominated for best actor.

Judi Dench is British acting royalty and boasts an enviable on-screen royal résumé. Her Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown” landed her a best actress nod in 1998, which she did not win, but her eight-minute turn as Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love” was impressive enough to earn her the best supporting actress Oscar a year later.

Cate Blanchett was nominated twice for best actress for playing the same character, Elizabeth I – once in 1999 for “Elizabeth” and again in 2008 for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” both directed by Shekhar Kapur. She failed to take the prize home on both occasions. Another actress-monarch who landed a nomination but not the award is Vanessa Redgrave, in 1972, who played Mary, Queen of Scots, in the film of the same name.

Oscar’s royal lineage stretches back generations further. Charles Laughton’s best actor win in 1934 for his starring role in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” marked the first time a non-Hollywood picture won an Academy Award. The Tudor king with the marriage habit has been up for awards three times in all. Besides Laughton, Richard Burton was nominated as best actor in 1970 for playing Henry, and Genevieve Bujold for playing ill-fated Anne Boleyn, in “Anne of a 1000 Days,” but both of them walked away empty-handed. (The film did win best costume design, a category in which films about British royalty are well-represented.) Robert Shaw also lost out as Henry VIII in 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons.”

Whether the pileup of Oscar noms and wins reflects Hollywood’s – and America’s – love affair with the royals or is simply a reflection of the sheer number of films made about Britain’s storied monarchs is open to debate. But the regal track record is not in dispute.

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