Five queens in film and TV
Not every queen wears a crown. Hell, not every queen is regal or good, qualities most commonly associated with leaders and members of the ruling classes. To be a queen doesn’t mean perfecting a curtsy and wry smile, bestowing benevolence or inspiring subjects. It doesn’t even require a king. Queenliness can be epitomised by steadfastness, self-belief, sacrifice and honour. The contrary could also prove true; ruthlessness, ferocity and self-interest might define a successful monarch.
So while we could’ve highlighted Helen Mirren’s exceptional take on Queen Elizabeth II or Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-nominated turn as Elizabeth Tudor, we’re more interested in illuminating some of the unexpected queens in film and TV. Some of them are run-down, merciless and acid-drooling, but we (as loyal subjects) still reckon they’re worthy of the throne.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Can an inanimate object be a queen? When it overcomes the trials and tribulations of traversing the backward outback and simultaneously helps transform the Australian cinematic landscape, we think yes. Ostensibly, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is about two drag queens and a transgender woman traveling from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform at the Lasseter’s Hotel Casino Resort, but as the success of the film proves, it was so much more. Striking the perfect balance between comedy and pathos, Priscilla Queen of the Desert was a worldwide hit that contributed to introducing LGBTQI+ themes to a mainstream audience, offering “a more intimate and dignified representation of this outcast crowd”.
As Luke Buckmaster writes in the Guardian:
“Priscilla’s popularity (it took around $15m at the local box office and was a hit overseas) exposed audiences to a kind of masculinity they, like many bemused Joes and Janes depicted in the film, may never have experienced before.”
As with the human characters in the film, Priscilla suffers along the way, breaking down and being defaced with red graffiti reading “AIDS FUCKERS GO HOME”, but she prevails, gliding gracefully through the red dust in one of Australian cinema’s most iconic shots.
When you’re capable of outwitting and outplaying all of the apparently high-powered men around you, you’re a queen in our books. Reality TV boss Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) on Stan’s UnREAL is one of the best, uber-feminist antiheroines to grace the small screen in years. Sporting matching tattoos with her protégé Rachel (Shiri Appleby), reading ‘money, dick, power’, Quinn isn’t interested in taking a backseat. Instead she’s steering her life and all those who work for her.
Though ruthless and manipulative — pushing reality TV stars to suicide and said protégé to mental breakdown — she rules the Everlasting court with a velvet lined, iron glove, squashing most of the male characters beneath it.
“The number of female characters on television who wield power like Quinn does can be counted on one hand, and most of them are on Game of Thrones. And while dragons are all well and good, it’s hard to apply the successes of Daenerys Targaryen to everyday life. Quinn, on the other hand, has accomplishments that live in the realm of actual possibility,” writes Kelsea Stahler for Bustle.
Not only that, but her one-liners are legendary, rivaling the most inspirational speeches of queens from history.
A 21st century Lady Macbeth (or Cersei?) who matches her presidential husband’s intellect, cunning and power, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is one of the strongest female characters on television. Sure, she’s not particularly likeable, but a higher purpose often requires a hardened heart and devotion to ideals. Just because those ideals are power for the sake of power doesn’t mean Claire’s not a boss.
From dressing down the Russian president on live TV and scheming her way through the halls of power, to directly confronting terrorists and taking lovers as she see fit, nothing can constrain Claire’s ambitions and single-minded pursuit of her own agenda — not even even the President, who she deliciously threatens in season four, “I can be a part of your campaign or I can end it.”
That’s got to be admired.
Check out these 9 Feminist Moments from House of Cards.
You think you’ve got an unruly brood, spare a thought for the Alien Queen and her xenomorph off-spring. As mother of one of the most terrifying monsters to ever appear on celluloid, the Alien Queen from James Cameron’s Aliens is also on the receiving end of one of the most memorable lines in movies. Though she’s undoubtedly the antagonist of the film, you could argue the Alien Queen is merely motivated by maternal instincts when it comes to her showdown with Ripley. After all, the heroine has spent the entire movie killing her kids.
A brilliant and obsessive investigator, steely, exacting and completely comfortable in the field, office and the bedroom; Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is the woman hunting a serial killer in The Fall. Called in from England to rainy Belfast to investigate the murder of Alice Monroe, Gibson quickly achieves what no one else in the unit has been able — linking the murder to other killings and establishing a serial pattern.
But it’s not just Gibson’s investigative nous that makes her compelling and regal, it’s the entirety of her attitude, as a person and not just as a woman. Though the show is interested in gender politics, the typical TV tropes viewers are fed about women in power are avoided. As Amy Sullivan writes in The Atlantic:
“Nobody resents Gibson’s appearance on the scene or questions her authority. Her gender is a non-issue; subordinates hop to when she enters a room and they follow her commands without question. Gibson doesn’t try to submerge her femininity and stomp around barking out orders. In Anderson’s restrained yet compelling performance, Gibson is cool, calm, and always chic…”
She’s also unapologetically herself, whether she’s casually taking lovers, mentoring female colleagues, or interacting with the media, her bosses and the serial killer at the heart of the series. She spontaneously imparts wisdom and illuminates issues others haven’t even considered, not forcefully, but with a cool, monarch-like detachment that allows her points to be clearly made.
Who are some of your favourite queens in film and TV?