'King's Speech' may take throne, but Hollywood rarely crowns British monarchy at Oscars
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - It may seem as though Academy Awards voters would be a bunch of fawning monarchists, considering how often the ceremony has been a love fest for all things English. But British kings and queens generally wind up losers at the Oscars.
If "The King's Speech," a saga about Queen Elizabeth II's dad, makes good on its status as best-picture favourite on Sunday, it would become the first film with a British monarch as its central figure to win the top prize in the 83-year history of the Oscars.
Two films with a British king or queen as a supporting player — 1966's "A Man for All Seasons" and 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" — did win best picture. Yet past contenders with a monarch in a lead role have always lost: 1933's "The Private Life of Henry VIII," 1946's "Henry V," 1964's "Becket," 1968's "The Lion in Winter," 1969's "Anne of the Thousand Days," 1998's "Elizabeth" (which lost to "Shakespeare in Love") and 2006's "The Queen."
Actors as British monarchs have fared a bit better, with lead-acting wins by Charles Laughton in the title role of "The Private Life of Henry VIII"; Katharine Hepburn as Henry II's captive queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in "The Lion in Winter"; and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II in "The Queen." Judi Dench won a supporting Oscar as Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love."
Best-actor front-runner Colin Firth as the current queen's father, George VI, is expected to join the winner's list Sunday, though Helena Bonham Carter as his wife, the future Queen Mother Elizabeth, is a longshot for supporting actress.
Losers far outnumber winners: 13 of the 17 actors nominated for playing a British king or queen have lost (there would be one more loser if we throw in Vanessa Redgrave as best actress in 1971's "Mary, Queen of Scots," whose title character schemed but failed to take the English crown from Elizabeth I).
Two actors lost twice for playing the same monarch — Peter O'Toole as Henry II in "Becket" and "The Lion in Winter" and Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I in "Elizabeth" and its 2007 sequel, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."
Laurence Olivier lost twice for playing two different kings in Shakespeare adaptations, 1946's "Henry V" and 1956's "Richard III." Kenneth Branagh also lost for his 1989 version of "Henry V."
Henry VIII has gone one-for-three at the Oscars. After Laughton's win, two other actors lost for playing the same role — Robert Shaw as supporting actor in "A Man for All Seasons" and Richard Burton as best actor for "Anne of the Thousand Days" (the latter film also was a best-actress loser for Genevieve Bujold in the title role, as one of Henry VIII's queens, Anne Boleyn).
Before their wins, both Dench and Mirren lost at the Oscars for other roles as British queens. Mirren lost the supporting-actress race as Queen Charlotte in 1994's "The Madness of King George," for which Nigel Hawthorne also lost for best actor in the title role. Dench lost for best actress as Queen Victoria in 1997's "Mrs. Brown."