British sovereignty and the theatre have a fascinating history. In 1737, British Parliament gave complete authority to control and censor any play presented in Britain to the Lord Chamberlain through the Licensing Act of 1737. The ruling acted as a way for the government to prevent the spreading of radical revolutionist ideas that might contradict or rebel against the government’s policies. The ‘O’Connor’s 43’ in 1917 was a set of rules for moral censorship and to protect existing social and political hierarchies in the cinema. In addition to censoring topics like prostitution, premarital and extramarital sex, and seduction, there also could be no reference or depictions of the Royal Family on stage or in film. The same rule applied to Queen Victoria, until the Lord Chamberlain agreed to lift the ban on the 100th anniversary of her accession. Because of this rule, Laurence Housman’s play Victoria Regina, written in 1934, wasn’t allowed to make its commercial British premiere until after June 20, 1937.
Since then, there have been dozens of cultural depictions of Queen Victoria across stage, film, and TV. Here’s a look at three of them:
Written in 1934, Laurence Houseman's drama first played at the Gate Theatre Studio in London in 1935 starring Pamela Stanley—because of the ban, the play was not allowed to play on a British commercial stage. It instead opened on December 26, 1935, on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre with two-time Tony winner Helen Hayes in the title role. Once the ban was lifted in Britain, the play premiered at the Lyric Theatre in London, with Stanley reprising her role.
Mrs. Brown is a 1997 film written by Jeremy Brock, starring Tony winner and seven-time Olivier Award winner Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, and two-time Olivier winner Antony Sher. The film follows Queen Victoria and her relationship with a Scottish servant after Prince Albert’s death in 1861. Dench was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Queen Victoria.
The Young Victoria
The Young Victoria is a 2009 film written by Tony nominee Julian Fellowes, starring Emily Blunt. Olivier winner and Tony nominee Mark Strong appears in the film as Sir John Conroy. The film focuses on Queen Victoria’s early reign and marriage to Prince Albert. During filming, Fellowes emphasized the importance of historical accuracy, dissuading the actors from ad-libbing. The film went on to win several awards for its costume design.
Interested in learning more about Queen Victoria? PBS’ new series, Victoria, will premiere January 15, 2017. The show is billed as follows, “In 1837, a diminutive, neglected teenager is crowned Queen Victoria, navigates the scandal, corruption, and political intrigues of the Court, and soon rises to become the most powerful woman in the world. Coming to MASTERPIECE in 2017, Victoria stars Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) as Queen Victoria in a highly anticipated series that follows the drama of the candid, spirited monarch who was perhaps the first woman to seem to have it all.”