Being Queen Victoria
7 August 2017 - 7 July 2018
Room 25: case display
reduced copy by W. Warman, after Thomas Sully
1838-1870, based on a work of 1838
Until 1968, plays thought to contain material that was morally ‘corrupt’ or offensive were routinely banned. Dramatic portrayals of Queen Victoria were considered to be particularly sensitive in the decades after her death, and while several of her children were still alive. However, in anticipation of the centenary of Victoria’s accession in 1937, the rules were relaxed to specify that portrayals of a monarch could be allowed if 100 years had passed since their accession, and providing the dramas were biographical and respectful. Almost immediately, Queen Victoria began to feature as a character on stage and screen.
Laurence Housman’s play Victoria Regina, received its commercial premier on 21 June 1937, the day after the anniversary of the queen’s accession. The resemblance of its star, Pamela Stanley, to the young Victoria can be compared here to an original watercolour of the queen made in 1838 and adapted from Thomas Sully’s state portrait.
In film, Anna Neagle portrayed the queen in Victoria the Great, released in autumn 1937. These early portrayals on stage and in film served to fuel the public’s appetite for royal drama and paved the way for numerous depictions of royal lives. Queen Victoria’s story continues to fascinate audiences in television dramas such as Victoria, in which she is portrayed by Jenna Coleman.
© National Portrait Gallery, London