Even before seeing The King's Speech, I've always had a lot of respect for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - my Daddy's a great fan of hers (she was Scottish, like him).
As most people have the image of her as a dear old lady, it's easy to forget that in her day she was quite a looker, capturing the Prince's heart at 19. She initially refused his proposals because she worried about her personal freedom (that line in the film is taken from a real quote), but relented and married him in 1923.
She was also a leading trendsetter, at a time when fashion was led by the nobility, not pop singers and footballers' wives.
Though she carried herself with aristocratic poise ("self-consciously regal", as Eleanor Roosevelt put it), Elizabeth had a great sense of humour, something which I thought came over quite well in the film. While on a state visit to Fiji she brought great amusement when shaking hands with a long line of official guests, as a stray dog walked in on the ceremony and she shook its paw as well.
Also portrayed so well in the film by Helena Bonham Carter, Elizabeth had remarkable strength of character. During the London Blitz, Elizabeth ignored the Cabinet's advice to leave the city or send her two daughters to Canada. She said, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave."
She visited troops, hospitals, factories, and parts of Britain that were targeted by the German Luftwaffe, in particular the East End, near London's docks. Her visits initially provoked hostility, in part because she dressed in expensive clothing which served to alienate her from those suffering wartime austerity. She explained that if the public came to see her they would wear their best clothes, so she should reciprocate in kind. When Buckingham Palace itself took several hits at the height of the Blitz, Elizabeth is said to have remarked to a policeman that she was glad they'd been bombed, as she could now look the East End in the face.
Queen Elizabeth, King George and Winston Churchill inspect bomb damage at Buckingham Palace. Because of her effect on British morale, Adolf Hitler is said to have called her "the most dangerous woman in Europe".
Most photos via Miss Mertens on flickr.