She was the most opaque of celebrities, a silent film star somehow thriving in a TikTok world. If no one except her closest friends and family knew what Queen Elizabeth was really like, that’s exactly how she wanted it.
Her regal reserve, her impassive expressions, her resistance to personal revelation — all of it made the queen, who died Thursday at 96, an irresistible object of imaginative speculation. She was an outline of a woman that people could fill in however they fancied. And fill it in they did. Over the years, Elizabeth was a character in an endless stream of feature films, made-for-TV movies and television series — biopics, satires, dramas, comedies, you name it — as well as in the occasional documentary, play, musical and novel.
Her life was remarkable for being long, her reign remarkable for encompassing so much history. But no one was beheaded, no one was plotted against, no one was imprisoned in a tower. Dramas about her predecessors in the job — Elizabeth I, Henry V, Henry VIII, Richard II, to name a few — are full of grand plots and high stakes. Dramas about Elizabeth II were more inward-looking, all trying to address the tantalizing and unanswerable question about her: What sort of person was she?