Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens
In the history of cinema, many film genres have gained and lost popularity with the changing times, but one has maintained its supreme reign—the royal biopic. In Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens, authors Elizabeth A. Ford and Deborah C. Mitchell follow the lives of historical queens as depicted on film from the 1930s to the present. Women as diverse as Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, Mary Stuart, and Marie Antoinette have been represented on the silver screen, dominating the masculine world of politics while maintaining their femininity. During the golden age of American film, these roles gave Hollywood a means of portraying powerful women without threatening the patriarchal social order. Depictions of the lives of queens have progressed from idealized and romanticized portraits to the more personal, complex portrayals of modern Hollywood. By walking the line between fact and fiction, these royal portraits of queens reveal just as much our society as they do about the historical periods they represent. Audiences are drawn to the theaters year after year because the lives of queens promise good drama and attract some of the most talented actresses. The success of Hollywood’s leading ladies in playing queens further solidifies the link between Hollywood royalty and authentic royalty. Actresses such as Bette Davis, Judy Dench, Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Taylor, and Greta Garbo have done more than influence the way we imagine historical queens—they also have changed how we perceive women in powerful positions today. Royal Portraits in Hollywood analyzes seventy-five years of films about queens as well as the lives of the actresses who starred in them. Combining biographical sketches and excerpts from letters and journals, Ford and Mitchell show how filmmaking and our society’s perceptions of gender have changed. The authors compare Hollywood’s on-screen portrayals to the historical records, often drawing connections to the actresses’ careers and personal lives. This comprehensive analysis provides a more complete picture of the lives that take place behind the thrones—both real and fictional. The spectacle of a woman dressed in the full regalia of power remains a compelling image in our society. Hollywood actresses and the queens they portray are women who wield power, and by examining the lives of these women, the authors reveal not only society’s perceptions about female power but also how those perceptions continue to evolve.
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