Game of Thrones: Rebel Queens

TV and Film

HBO’s adaption of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire has been met with enormous critical acclaim, scooping up numerous awards and winning an intensely dedicated fan base. Fans of the show love the complex story lines, impressive character and world building and of course the rampant sex and violence.

Another reason to love the show is the wealth of strong and interesting roles for women. From the monstrous queen regent Cersei to wilding warrior maiden Ygritte, Game of Thrones showcases a diverse range of women navigating a feudal landscape.

Martin has made no secret about the fact that many of the plots and key figures were inspired by real historical events – particularly the Roman Empire and medieval Europe. The show has been compared to the English wars of the roses, the Hundred Years’ war and the crusades – but how do the women on the series compare to real rebel women?


Note: These comparisons are based on the characters as presented in the TV series Game of Thrones and may differ from the book series A Song of Ice and Fire.

First up – the Queens of Game of Thrones:

Cersei Lannister-Baratheon vs. Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville

One of the simplest and most prevalent comparisons, Cersei Lannister typifies the circumstances of many medieval queens. Used as a political pawn, her marriage to Robert Baratheon before the beginning of the series formed an alliance which effectively ended a civil war. When her husband dies, she devotes herself tirelessly to ensuring that her sons maintain the monarchy – and that she remains the power behind the iron throne.

Margaret of Anjou – Passionate, proud, strong willed

Royal 15 E VI  f. 2v  Presentation scene

Margaret of Anjou (source)

Margaret of Anjou was a key player in the wars of the roses and figurehead for the Lancastrian faction. French born, she was married to King Henry VI of England and often ruled in his place due to his mental illness. Contemporaries described her as ‘passionate and proud and strong-willed’ – which was fortunate, because her husband was not.

It is also worth mentioning that Margaret of Anjou’s son, Edward of Lancaster, was described as being particularly cruel and bloodthirsty, talking of ‘nothing but cutting off heads and making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle…’ – when he was only thirteen years old…

Elizabeth Woodville – The White Queen

Elizabeth Woodville was a famous beauty who married king Edward IV when he was fresh from his victory over the Lancastrian faction. The Woodville family became hugely influential within the royal court thanks to a number of tactical marriages and Elizabeth had a total of ten children with Edward – impressive, considering that he (like Baratheon) was not well known for his fidelity.


Elizabeth Woodville (source)

When Edward IV died, Elizabeth’s son was a child, but she did not have anywhere near as much power as Cersei. Her two eldest boys by Edward IV (known as the princes in the tower) were reportedly murdered by their Uncle to prevent them ever succeeding to the throne, and the wars of the Roses raged on.

Elizabeth did contribute to ending the feud – she and Margaret Beaufort conspired to have their children (Elizabeth York and Henry Tudor, respectively) marry, effectively uniting the two houses for good.

Daenerys Targaryen vs. Cleopatra, Zenobia and Mavia

Fan favourite Daenerys’ plotline is one of the most fantastical on the show. Living in exile (initially with her elder brother) she is the last in the line of previously reigning monarchs. The Targaryen family have a history of intermarriage and madness, but Dany seems to have escaped the family curse and (after her brother is executed) really comes into her own.

She makes a few politically shrewd alliances with some very influential men who only serve to increase her own power. Along the way to reclaim the iron throne Daenerys conquers various city states, gathering support.

Cleopatra – The Last Pharaoh


Lilli Langtree as Cleopatra (source)

Cleopatra VII is one of the most obvious influences when it comes to Daenarys – particularly when comparing their family backgrounds. The Ptolemies of ancient Egypt were notorious for ‘keeping it in the family’ and intermarrying to protect the throne. This tactic was as frequently disastrous for them as it was for the Taraegryens.

Like Dany, Cleopatra also lived in exile in the desert for some time, until she was placed back on the throne by Julius Caesar (here there is some parallel with Jorah Mormont). Cleopatra had more autonomy than Daenerys earlier in her life and had not only both of her brothers killed, but her sister too. Not content to rule Egypt alone, Cleopatra attempted to expand her political reach by connecting herself with two prominent Romans – first Julius Caesar, then Marc Antony.

Fans can only hope that Daenarys does not meet the same tragic end as Cleopatra – but of course the queen of the Nile didn’t have dragons.

Zenobia – Enemy of Rome

Zenobia, like Daenarys, began her political life as a client queen, considered harmless by


Queen Zenobia’s last look upon Palmyra by Herbert Schmalz (source)

the Roman Empire. When she began to exhibit more aggressive traits, expanding her borders and moving in on Egypt, Rome was distracted by its own internal problems (much like the civil war in Westeros) and did not act until it was almost too late.

Zenobia ruled Egypt for four years before Rome gathered the strength to take it back, and the warrior queen was taken back to Italy in chains – what happened to her next is unknown, so there is still some hope for Daenerys.

Mavia – The Warrior Queen

Another desert dwelling rebel queen was Mavia, a skilled warrior who ruled over a confederation of Arab tribes who were particularly skilled at combat on horseback (not unlike the Dothraki). Mavia also managed to capture Egypt from the Romans – and achieved what Zenobia and Cleopatra could not.

This queen’s forces were so powerful and defeated the Roman army so many times that in the end the emperor was forced to sign a treaty in her favour.

Margaery Tyrell-Baratheon vs. Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn

Margaery’s plotline also exemplifies the trajectory of many medieval queens. First betrothed to Renly Baratheon, she is shown as being politically astute when she must quickly reassess her allegiances after his death. Margery swiftly switches sides, using her family’s wealth as leverage.

Her second choice, Joffrey, also dies within hours of their wedding ceremony. Not to be deterred, Margaery simply remarries Joffrey’s younger, milder mannered brother, Tommen. Clever, cunning and a good match for mother-in-law from hell Cersei, Margaery


Catherine of Aragon (source)

is regularly shown using her beauty and sexuality to get what she wants.

Catherine of Aragon – The Spanish Princess

Catherine of Aragon also had a rocky start to married life. The Spanish princess travelled to England to marry heir to the throne Arthur. After a brief honeymoon period, the teenage prince suddenly died. In an attempt to protect the alliance their marriage provided, Catherine was then married to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII.

As with Margaery and Tommen, Catherine and Henry had an age difference of six years. Early in the marriage Henry was described as being infatuated with his queen and she was well liked by the English people. However, it was not to last…

Anne Boleyn – Mistress to Queen

Which brings us to Anne Boleyn; ironically Catherine of Aragon’s greatest enemy also


Anne Boleyn (source)

bears a resemblance to Margaery. A woman who famously used sex and sensuality to win the favour of the king, Anne was also a highly intelligent woman who kept her eyes on the prize.

Balancing a flirtatious and fun exterior with her world class education and cunning, Anne Boleyn is often perceived as cold-hearted in her pursuit of the throne – which of course was eventually her downfall.

Next: Game of Thrones – Warrior Women. How do Arya, Brienne and Ygritte match up to their historical counterparts?


7 Biopics of LGBT Women: LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month, TV and Film
  1. The Danish Girl (2016)

The_Danish_Girl_(film)_posterBased on the life of: Lili Elbe

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch and Amber Heard

One of the most hotly anticipated films of 2016, Eddie Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery.

This fictionalised account of Elbe’s life and transition somewhat differs from the true story (notably the reaction of Elbe’s wife, Gerda Wegener) and has faced criticism for casting a cisgender man in the role – but nevertheless has been well received by critics and nominated for several awards.

  1. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

ShotandywarholBased on the life of: Valerie Solanas

Directed by: Mary Harron

Starring: Lili Taylor, Jared Harris, Stephen Dorff and Martha Plimpton

A biopic of the radical feminist Valerie Solanas who became infamous for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, this film tracks Solanas’ troubled life as she navigates 1960s New York as a down on her luck lesbian writer.

Lili Taylor won the Award for Best Actress at the both the Seattle and Stockholm Film Festivals, as well as achieving Special Recognition for her performance at the Sundance Film Festival.

  1. Frida (2002)

FridaposterBased on the life of: Frida Kahlo

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Valeria Golino, Mia Maestro, Roger Rees and Geoffrey Rush

This film depicts the professional and private life of the surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Though the main romantic focus of the movie is on Kahlo’s relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera, the film does not shy away from her bisexuality and also addresses themes of gender identity.

The American Film Institute was included Frida in their Movies of the Year 2001 and Salma Hayek was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal.

  1. The Hours (2002)

The_Hours_posterBased on the life of: Virginia Woolf

Directed by: Stephen Daldry

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris.

This complex plot focuses on three women of different generations whose lives are interconnected by the novel Mrs Dalloway byVirginia Woolf. Themes of bisexuality run throughout each plotline, though the film does not mention Woolf’s documented relationship with Vita Sackville-West.

Nicole Kidman won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the famous writer.

  1. Bessie (2015)

BessiePromotionalPosterBased on the life of: Bessie Smith

Directed by: Dee Rees

Starring: Queen Latifa, Mo’nique, Michael Kenneth Williams and Khandi Alexander

Queen Latifa portrays Bessie Smith, legendary blues performer, who rose to fame during the 1920s and ’30s. The film follows Smith from a sad abandoned childhood in Tennessee, to becoming known as ‘Empress of the Blues’.

Both Smith and Ma Rainey are depicted as having same-sex relationships throughout the film.

  1. The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

Christine_Jorgenson_Story_PosterBased on the life of: Christine Jorgensen

Directed by: Irving Rapper

Starring: John Hansen, Joan Tompkins and Quinn K. Redeker

This film was never going to win any awards for its acting – or even its accuracy, but as one of the first films to cover this topic it is a milestone.

Though her name is not as well known today, Jorgensen became a minor celebrity in the 1950s as one of the first widely known cases of sex reassignment surgery in the United States.

  1. Henry & June (1990)

Based on the life of: Anaïs Nin

Directed by: Philip Kaufman

Starring: Fred Ward, Maria de Medeiros and Uma Thurman

Based on the lives of renowned writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller and the complicated relationship Nin has with Miller and his wife, June.

Image credits:

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10 Biopics of Black Women – Black History Month

Black History Month, TV and Film

While of course the best way to understand the lives of women in history is to read/listen to factual accounts, fictional portrayals can bring personalities to life – one of the reasons everyone loves a good biopic.

In honour of Black History Month, here’s a breakdown of a few of the black women in history to receive the hollywood treatment.

1. Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

Lady_sings_the_blues (1)

Based on the life of: Billie Holiday

Directed by: Sidney J. Furie

Starring: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James T. Callahan, Scatman Crothers

A musical legend in her own right, Diana Ross here portrays the life of Jazz royalty Billie Holiday. The film follows Holiday’s troubled adolescence as a cleaner and prostitute in a Harlem brothel to her rise in popularity as a night club performer, as she is propelled towards stardom.

Based on Billie Holiday’s 1954 autobiography, the movie does not shy away from the performer’s battle with addiction.

Among the five Oscar nominations for Lady Sings the Blues, Ross was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

CW for Rape, drug addiction and racist language.

2. Belle (2014)

"Belle poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“Belle poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Based on the life of: Dido Elizabeth Belle

Directed by: Amma Asante

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Felton, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson

This is a heavily fictionalised version of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose father was a British peer and whose mother was a West Indian slave. She was raised as a free noblewoman at Kenwood house in England alongside her white cousin Elizabeth.

The film was partly inspired by the famous painting of Dido and her cousin, and focuses on the legal challenge to slavery which was taking place in the 1800s.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw won Best Actress in the African-American Film Critics Association Awards, the British Independant Film Awards and the Black Reel Awards.

3. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)


Based on the life of: Dorothy Dandridge

Directed by: Martha Coolidge

Starring: Halle Berry, Brent Spiner

Halle Berry stars as the multi-talented Dorothy Dandridge, singer, dancer and actress who was the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.

The film examines Dandridge’s difficult childhood, her love affairs, her rise to fame and the difficulties she faced as a successful black woman in a very racist society.

Berry won the Best Actress Black Reel Award, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance.

4. Black Venus (2010)

"Black Venus" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“Black Venus” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Based on the life of: Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche

Starring: Yahima Torres, Olivier Gourmet

In this french and english language film about the unusual and often distressing life of Saartjie Baartman, Yahima Torres stars as the Khoikhoi woman sold to a showman to be exhibited in the 1800s.

She travelled from London to Paris, where crowds came to see what was billed as her ‘Hottentot’ figure in various sideshows.

5. Bessie (2015)

"Bessie Promotional Poster" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“Bessie Promotional Poster” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Based on the life of: Bessie Smith

Directed by: Dee Rees

Starring: Queen Latifa, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mo’Nique

Queen Latifa portrays Bessie Smith, legendary blues performer, who rose to fame during the 1920s and ’30s. The film follows Smith from a sad abandoned childhood in Tennessee, to becoming known as ‘Empress of the Blues’.

Smith is depicted as a bold, vibrant, independent woman with a big voice and a penchant for moonshine. The film touches on the many challenges she faced, including an altercation with the KKK.

6. The Josephine Baker Story (1991)

800px-Baker_BananaBased on the life of: Josephine Baker

Directed by: Brian Gibson

Starring: Lynn Whitfield, Ruben Blades, David Dukes, Louis Gossett Jr., Craig T. Nelson

A biopic on the life of French-American Josephine Baker, the first black international star and the first black woman to star in a major motion picture.

Hugely talented Baker was a singer, dancer and actress, but also a fierce advocate of civil rights and recipient of the Croux de guerre for assisting the French Resistance during World War II.

Lynn Whitfield won an Emmy for her portrayal of this remarkable woman.

7. What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

"Whats love got to do with it poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“Whats love got to do with it poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Based on the life of: Tina Turner

Directed by: Brian Gibson

Starring: Angela Basset, Lawrence Fishburne

Angela Basset won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as rock star Tina Turner.

The film focuses on Turner’s infamous relationship with Ike Turner (cw for domestic abuse) and her battle to keep the rights to her stage name as she gains confidence as an independent performer.




8. Shirley (2011)

Based on the life of: Shirley Bassey

Shirley Bassey (left) and Ruth Negga (right)

Shirley Bassey (left) and Ruth Negga (right)

Directed by: Colin Teague

Starring: Ruth Negga, Lesley Sharp, Babou Ceesay

Ruth Negga stars as mixed race welsh singer Dame Shirley Bassey, best known for belting out some of the most classic James Bond themes including Diamonds are Forever and Goldfinger.

The biopic follows Bassey as she grows up in poverty as part of an eight child family, and is depended upon to make money by singing in local clubs. After her move to London the film charts her rise to one of the most popular British singers of the 1960s.

Negga won Best Actress at the Irish Film and Television Awards for her performance.

9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

"I Know Why." by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“I Know Why.” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Based on the life of: Maya Angelou

Directed by: Fielder Cook

Starring: Constance Good, Esther Rolle

Based on her highly acclaimed autobiography of the same name, Maya Angelou wrote the screenplay for the movie re-telling of her childhood years.

The movie traces Maya’s life from she and her brother moving to live with their grandmother in Arkansas, to the trauma of being raped as a young girl by one of her mother’s boyfriends and the several years of silence that followed.



10. Betty and Coretta (2013)

Based on the life of: Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz

Directed by: Yves Simoneau

Starring: Angela Basset, Mary J. Blige

Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, their widows carry on as single mothers and continue to fight for civil rights.