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Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens

by Elizabeth A. Ford and Deborah C. Mitchell

Availablecloth$50.00x 978-0-8131-2543-5
338 pages  Pubdate: 06/26/2009  6 x 9 x .875  19

Few lives provide as much history or drama as those of monarchs. Filmmakers from the silent era to onward have displayed a deep fascination with the lives of royalty and with queens in particular. Still, the question remains: what do these films really tell us about the women beneath the crowns?

Drawing on films from the 1930s to those of today, Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens investigates the ways in which these films reproduce history and represent women. Though hardly progressive in nature, many early films offered an acceptable, nonthreatening way to present strong female characters in an economic and social landscape run almost exclusively by men. Authors Elizabeth Ford and Deborah Mitchell track the evolution of queens on film, noting how depictions of prominent women have changed over the past several decades and calling attention to the ways in which films both reflect and dictate the social norms of their eras.

By comparing historical records of monarchs such as Queen Christina of Sweden, Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, and Elizabeth I with their onscreen personas, and examining the biographical details of the actresses who portrayed these women, Ford and Mitchell present a fascinating inquiry into issues of historical accuracy and gender politics in film.

Elizabeth Ford, professor emeritus of English at Westminster College, is coauthor, along with Deborah Mitchell, of The Makeover in Movies: Before and After in Hollywood Films, 1941–2002.

Deborah Mitchell, associate professor of English at Westminster College, is author of Diane Keaton: Artist and Icon.

Royal Portraits in Hollywood investigates cinema history's perennial fascination with the figure of the female monarch from early sound cinema to the present. The book is contemporaneous with critical work that seeks to understand the cinematic attributes of fame, celebrity, and stardom. -- Marcia Landy, author of Stardom, Italian Style: Screen Performance and Personality in Italian Cinema

Elizabeth Ford and Deborah Mitchell's book studies the first major female biographical films and evaluates them as biography. They emphasize the importance of the women and how their lives are dissected for the audience. -- Eileen Karsten, author of From Real Life to Reel Life

Royal Portraits in Hollywood is an impressive achievement--ambitious, complex, and multi-layered. Ford and Mitchell explore the actresses playing these royal women, as well as the Hollywood studio system with each era, not to speak of of the various TV series and made-for-television movies dealing with the same subjects. And they do all this (and more) in an accessible and readable writing style. This book is a juicy read. -- Louis Giannetti, author of Understanding Movies

The text reads well both a as a cursory but well supported historical study of the queens and as a discussion about acting, character interpretation, and cinematic techniques in telling their stories. . . . All in all, a rewarding read for anyone interested in royalty or film. -- Craig Smith, Santa Fe New Mexican

A worthwhile resource on a subgenre treated here for the first time. -- Choice

Royal Portraits in Hollywood is a well-researched and highly readable study of the biopic’s relations to history making. It converges with current critical work that engages with the need to reevaluate how film represents the world of the past through a newer, visual, if different, mode of history making. -- Biography

[Royal Portraits in Hollywood] investigates the ways in which films about the lives of queens reproduce history and represent women. Ford and Mitchell follow the evolution of queens on film from the 1930s to the present. -- New Castle News

Combining biographical sketches and excerpts from letters and journals, Ford and Mitchell show how filmmaking and our society’s perceptions of gender have changed. . . .by examining the lives of these women, the authors reveal not only society’s perceptions about female power but also how these perceptions continue to evolve. --