I had done well in the history books, better than Thatcher was doing. I stood for English values, topless in a chariot, poised with a javelin: she spoke for the same while wearing a blue twin set and brandishing her handbag. She had the advantage of winning the battle of the Falklands whereas eighty thousand of my soldiers and their womenfolk were slaughtered in Watling Street, yet the legend of Boudica was still told brightly. In defeat, I remained heroic. In contrast, the legacy of Thatcher's triumphs came more and more into question.
There was no reason to suppose that the new historical 'truths' presented by the cultural phenomenon known as the 'movie' would favour her over me. My character and life story were full of possibilities: I had knee length red hair; would venture into battle as naked as my soldiers; my two daughters were raped by the Romans and I was flogged; my name meant 'victory' and my army rampaged through Colchester, London, and St. Albans putting Roman legions to flight. By 1928 I had been captured on the silver screen by Sinclair Hill in his epic, 'Boadicea'. The lovely Phyllis Neilson-Terry portrayed me valiantly, if more silently than appropriate for as loud a Queen as I.
Margaret Thatcher started off less auspiciously – on TV as a Spitting Image puppet voiced by a man. She featured in a number of TV dramas as soon as she had been driven from office. Represented by Maureen Lipman, Angela Thorne and Jennifer Saunders, among others, she became a figure of fun. Such foolery had never happened to me and it felt unkind. You might describe me as fortunate – the loss of a kingly husband, getting whipped in public and seeing your daughters ravished does not lend itself to satire. Having an amiable gin loving husband apparently does. Gradually she began to be taken seriously as a fearsome female leader of her country, more in my mould. Andrea Riseborough and Lindsay Duncan gave her a stronger, more favourable image. I was happy for her.
Meanwhile, my country was not being allowed to forget me. Siân Phillips burnished my image strongly in 'Warrior Queen' before Alex Kingston stepped out of a famous American hospital drama to bring 'Boudica' to life. She captured my soul amazingly well. I was impressed. As were others in the movie capital of the world. That was not the good thing it should have been.
Mel Gibson, flushed with the success of his 'Braveheart', declared his intention to do the same with 'Boudica'. I was concerned that he might misrepresent me as outrageously as he did William Wallace but confident that I would emerge glorious whatever. With my bandwagon rolling, DreamWorks and Paramount leapt aboard with the announcement of projects called 'Queen Fury' and 'Warrior Queen'. The movie press went ecstatic over the idea of 'Braveheart with a bra', which, to my mind, undersold the ticket potential of a Queen who favoured the bare-breasted look. Nevertheless, I expected the world to see me at last alongside Elizabeth and Victoria. Not for a moment did I imagine that I was about to be eclipsed by Thatcher.
Life had taught me not to rely on men and I should not have been surprised when Gibson failed me. Dreamworks and Paramount lost interest too. My Hollywood movie never happened. I had to make do with a pivotal role in 'The Wrath of the Iceni', a Dr Who adventure in which the savage Leela met her match in me, the legendary warrior Queen of the Iceni. Ella Kenion is not how I wish to be remembered. Wasn't she Mrs Cakeworthy?
Instead, Hollywood had turned its attention to Thatcher. Where I got Ella, she got Meryl. Am I wrong to find that unfair? How history is written now depends on who is cast to play its major figures. Because I was deprived of Streep, or her like, I have slipped back to the margins while Thatcher, with her Oscar, steps forward to bask in the applause of history. Make no mistake, Hollywood now writes history.
From Phyllis Neilson-Terry to Ella Kenion
Before Streep there was Duncan and Riseborough
Photo: Neilson-Terry, images.mitrasites.com
Poster: For Dr Who, wily.badger.wordpress.com
Photo: Duncan, guardian.co.uk
Photo: Riseborough, blackfilm.com