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Five leading British actresses play the Queen at pivotal times in her life, as this ground-breaking series examines Britain's social history through key events in her reign

About the Show

Five leading British actresses play the Queen at pivotal times in her life, as this ground-breaking series examines Britain's social history through key events in her reign

Series 1 Summary

Five leading British actresses play the Queen at pivotal times in her reign in this ground-breaking series, mixing dramatised scenes behind palace doors with news archive and testimony from royal insiders.

Emilia Fox portrays the Queen in 1955, as Princess Margaret's affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend exploded into public view at the time of the Coronation.

Samantha Bond stars as the Queen in the early 70s, when Britain came as close to being a republic as it ever has in modern times with civil unrest, IRA threats and a kidnap attempt on Princess Anne.

For 1986, Susan Jameson takes on the hidden conflict between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher, who set herself in opposition to Crown and Commonwealth over sanctions against South Africa, while 1992 focuses on the Queen's annus horribilis with Barbara Flynn.

Diana Quick concludes the series in the title role for 2005, as the Queen eventually accepted Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.

  • Emilia Fox as the Queen in 1952

    Episode 1 - The Queen

    When, after the sudden death of her father, the Queen (played by Emilia Fox) was catapulted on to the throne in 1952, she had no inkling that the greatest scandal she was about to face would come from within her own household.

    Her sister Princess Margaret had fallen in love with a divorced royal servant, Group Captain Peter Townsend, equerry to her late father, King George VI.

    This first episode in the series tells the story of how, under the Queen's nose, the affair developed, exploding into public view at the time of the coronation. When Princess Margaret brushed fluff from her lover's lapel, it was a gesture so intimate it was clear to all who witnessed it that the two were closely involved.

    There were many voices opposed within the palace. Alan 'Tommy' Lascelles, the Queen's private secretary, said Townsend's behaviour was a 'disgrace to his office.' Townsend was banished and exiled abroad to the embassy in Brussels.

    But outside the palace, things were changing. The new Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, who replaced Winston Churchill in 1955, was himself divorced. A draft announcement was drawn up confirming the marriage would take place. Margaret would even keep her royal privileges should she marry Townsend.

    The programme features a previously unseen hand-written letter sent by Princess Margaret to Prime Minister Anthony Eden on 15 August 1955, which shows that Margaret genuinely believed the decision to marry Townsend would be hers alone: 'At the end of October... I very much hope to be in a position to tell you and the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers what I intend to do.'

    Would the Queen look backwards - toward the pre-war world when a royal marriage to a divorcee had resulted in the scandal of the abdication - or forward to the modern world by supporting her sister, and allowing her to follow her heart?

  • Samantha Bond as the Queen in the early 1970s

    Episode 2 - The Queen

    Samantha Bond takes on the role of the Queen in this second epiosde.

    Britain came as close to becoming a republic in the early 1970s as it has ever done in modern times. The polls recorded the highest figures ever for those who were opposed to the monarchy. For the first time, the royal family was under pressure to be accountable to the people, in terms of how they lived their lives and spent their money.

    The country was beset with industrial action, rising unemployment, inflation and - on 14 November 1973, the day of Princess Anne's marriage to Captain Mark Philips - a state of emergency was declared. There was even talk of putting troops on to the streets to calm the situation: the first time this would have happened since the General Strike, nearly half a century earlier.

    This episode examines how the Queen, two decades into her reign, faced her greatest challenges yet, and was at her most vulnerable. Governments came and went, and the Queen had to make friends of her enemies across the political divide.

    Meanwhile there was an ongoing terrorist threat from the IRA carrying out murderous bomb attacks on the British mainland; the civil list was running out; the Queen was desperately short of money, and there was a dangerous kidnap attempt on Princess Anne, which resulted in two people being shot.

    Examining a little-known period of the Queen's reign, this film reveals just how much danger she and her family were in and how - ultimately - the Queen, with her quiet diplomacy, triumphed.

  • Susan Jameson as the Queen in the 1980s

    Episode 3 - The Queen

    This episode lifts the lid on the hidden conflict between the Queen (played by Susan Jameson) and her first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (played by Lesley Manville).

    The Queen and Mrs Thatcher were the two most powerful women in Britain and their strained relationship reached boiling point on 20 July 1986, when the Sunday Times published an explosive cover story.

    The article revealed what was claimed to be the Queen's opinion of Mrs Thatcher, and it made for uncomfortable reading in Downing Street. The Queen was portrayed as being fundamentally opposed to Mrs Thatcher's policies, and as being concerned about the 'uncaring and divisive' nature of the Thatcher regime.

    What had brought things to a head was the issue of sanctions against South Africa. The Queen felt extremely protective about her beloved Commonwealth, who were lobbying for Britain to stand up to apartheid. Mrs Thatcher's refusal to countenance sanctions meant that many countries were threatening to boycott the Commonwealth Games, which were to take place the following month in Edinburgh.

    The clock was ticking and the Games were threatening to become a public relations disaster, damaging Britain's standing at home and abroad.

  • Barbara Flynn as the Queen in 1992

    Episode 4 - The Queen

    Barbara Flynn takes on the role of the Queen as her Annus Horribilis of 1992 turns the spotlight on her role as Head of the Royal Family and reveals how she coped with a catalogue of scandals involving her family, which until then had been perceived as a model for the nation.

    It was - the Queen admitted after the fire in Windsor Castle - the most difficult year for her and her family since she came to the throne. A year in which, every month, the newspapers seized upon yet another disaster that had beset the House of Windsor. It signalled a pivotal moment when the age of deference seemed finally to have disappeared. In the tabloid press it was now open season on the royals.

    This episode examines how the Queen dealt with this most difficult year, and how by the end even she had to admit that enough was enough.

    It focuses in particular on what came to be seen by many within the palace as 'the enemy within,' the Queen's daughter in law, Princess Diana (played by Emily Hamilton). As a result of her involvement with Andrew Morton's book, Diana shattered the public image of the royal family.

    Royal insiders reveal how the palace plotted to ditch Diana, in the same way they had ditched Sarah Ferguson, and how, whether she liked it or not, the Queen had to become embroiled in the 'War of the Wales'.

  • Diana Quick as the Queen

    Episode 5 - The Queen

    The final film shows the Queen (played by Diana Quick) confronting one last personal and constitutional challenge: Prince Charles' desire to marry Camilla Parker Bowles.

    First, the Queen had to endure watching Diana tell 200 million viewers around the world in her 1995 Panorama interview that there were 'three of us in the marriage.' It was not surprising that the subject of Camilla was, according to one former courtier, 'off limits' in the 90s.

    Yet ten years later, the Queen welcomed Camilla Parker Bowles into her family with at least half-open arms. How did this happen? Why did the Queen go against all her most ingrained prejudices and heartfelt beliefs? How did she finally leave behind preconceptions that went back to the abdication crisis of 1936, in order to accept her son's middle-aged mistress as her new daughter-in-law?

    Not least as public opinion had been telling her that the very popularity and survival of the monarchy was at stake. At first the Queen would not even hear Camilla's name mentioned in her presence. And yet, somehow, she came round to the idea.

    This programme examines how the Queen - the ultimate survivor and pragmatist - ushered in the last chapters of her reign by eventually bowing to the inevitable, accepting Camilla, and going some way towards repairing her relationship with Prince Charles.

    As the Queen's former press secretary Ron Allison puts it: 'You could look at the 50 years between 1955 when Princess Margaret did not marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, and 2005 when the Prince of Wales did marry Camilla Parker Bowles. And that is just about as remarkable a change as you could imagine.'

The Queen synopsis

Five leading British actresses play the Queen at pivotal times in her life, as this ground-breaking series examines Britain's social history through key events in her reign

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