Queen Elizabeth II wasn't born to be a Queen—it happened because her uncle, King Edward VII, abdicated the throne. Funny enough, it's her rule that ended up being the longest in British history.
For 70 years, Elizabeth II sat the throne and remained one of the most renowned people in the world, right up to her death this year. She was an enduring icon who lived through more eras than most.
Because of the longevity of her reign and the grace with which she lived life, Queen Elizabeth II became the subject of multiple portrayals over the decades, both on television and in cinema.
But only a few of them have done the late Queen justice. Here are the best actresses who have portrayed Queen Elizabeth II and what they brought to the role that stood out.
4. Olivia Colman (The Crown)
Olivia Colman wasn't the first to represent the Queen on Netflix's The Crown—that recognition goes to Claire Foy, whom we'll get to down below—but Colman stepped up in ways that surprised us.
The Academy Award-winning actress had already played Queen Anne to widespread acclaim in The Favourite (2018), successfully showing audiences the impact of the monarchy on British history.
But playing Queen Elizabeth II is a different kettle of fish to playing Queen Anne, and few apart from Colman could've done it this well.
Olivia Colman imbued grace to the once-youthful Queen of the earlier seasons. Her dignity shone through during an era of change for the Royal family as they embraced new challenges and cultural norms.
The premise of the show shifted with Colman's arrival, away from its focus on Elizabeth's own trials to the struggles of her children. The introduction of Princess Diana—and her interactions with Queen Elizabeth II—was of particular interest to viewers.
In the end, Olivia Colman captured the essence of a woman pressured from all angles. She had to deal with Margaret Thatcher (whom the Queen reportedly disliked) along with the public scope put upon her and her family by the specter of Charles's marriage to Diana Spencer.
3. Claire Foy (The Crown)
When the first season of The Crown hit Netflix, fans didn't quite know what to expect from creator Peter Morgan.
This new series about the history of Queen Elizabeth II's reign wasn't wholly accurate—much of it was dramatized for the sake of a compelling narrative—but one thing sat at the heart and core of it all: the life and trials of a very real woman.
Claire Foy gave life to the young Queen, a person who undertook the difficulties of becoming the leader of Great Britain during an era dominated by white men.
Foy not only handled the challenge of the Queen's unique speech pattern without falling into parody, but breathed soul into a person whom we'd mostly only seen in pictures and TV clips.
Most impressively, Claire Foy infused the Queen with a sense of edge that few would have been able to portray so realistically.
By the time Claire Foy's tenure ended after two seasons, fans were hooked on The Crown as it promised us even more in-depth looks at the Queen who lived behind palace doors.
2. Imelda Staunton (The Crown)
Following Olivia Colman's run on The Crown, a new name was announced to take over as the show jumped forward in time again to set up the very final season.
Imelda Staunton was that name, and fans were pleased. With decades of acting history under her belt, viewers expected nothing short of magnificence when it came to her portrayal of the Queen.
And now that the final season of The Crown has been released, we can see that she far surpassed whatever expectations we had for her.
Imelda Staunton gave her all as the older monarch during the early 1990s—a time when the Queen faced calls for a modernized monarchy, a time filled with public fallouts and Royal divorces, a time when the Queen struggled to keep her family together.
As Queen Elizabeth II, Staunton found herself portraying the version of the Queen most recognizable to modern viewers who weren't around for her ascension to the throne.
Staunton's Queen had an internal mettle that epitomized how the former monarch conducted herself, demanding more from those who followed her but without kicking up a fuss.
In the end, Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton all portrayed a woman who carried significant weight on her shoulders throughout her life, but of them all, Staunton did it best.
1. Helen Mirren (The Queen)
If all the other performances we've mentioned as the Queen were good, then here we reach the apex. It remains the ultimate portrayal of the late Queen, one that's resonated with viewers for years.
Dame Helen Mirren took the Queen and gave her the brain we all knew exisetd behind those eyes. She understood the weight of the role to which Elizabeth had committed her life, as well as the promises of the position she'd taken on as a 25-year-old woman.
Set during the events immediately after the death of Princess Diana, The Queen (2006) showed us a Queen who—for the first and only time in her life—misunderstood the will of her people.
As she hears the public outcry and the people's negative views of her, on top of the grief she already feels for the loss of the Princess, we see her overcome by pain, anger, and sadness.
But Queen Elizabeth II held strong and calm in the face of this most challenging moment of her reign, a moment laid bare by Helen Mirren's incredible performance that might never be matched again.