The Elephant Queen
The Elephant Queen.jpg
Directed by
  • Victoria Stone
  • Mark Deeble
Produced byLucinda Englehart
Narrated byChiwetel Ejiofor
Music byAlex Heffes
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 8 September 2018 (2018-09-08) (TIFF)
  • 1 November 2019 (2019-11-01) (Apple TV+)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • Kenya

The Elephant Queen is a 2018 documentary film directed by Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, and narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It tells the journey of a family of elephants in the African savannah when they are forced to leave their waterhole. The film was produced by Lucinda Englehart under the banner of Deeble & Stone.

At the 2019 Critics' Choice Movie Awards, The Elephant Queen was nominated for Best Science/Nature Documentary and Best Narration.


Athena, a 50-year-old mother elephant, is matriarch of a herd of adult females and male and female juveniles, which includes mother Mala, older daughter Milli, and newborn Mimi.[2] The elephants live in a bucolic area referred to as The Kingdom, with dotted waterholes.[2] The waterholes are also home to bullfrogs, chameleons, dung beetles, killifish, and terrapins.[2] In The Elephant Queen, the animals are characters with personalities who live in symbiotic harmony.[2] A drought forces the herd to leave their environment and travel far away to a savanna. But they must eat and drink plenty to endure 200 miles until the next waterhole. Matriarch Athena has the hard decision to wait for Mimi to get stronger for the long trip, or to voyage on towards her and her family’s safety.[2]


English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates[3] the journey of the elephant family.[4]


Directors Deeble and Stone stated that they never filmed elephants before as main subjects.[5] In 2009, a drought hit Amboseli National Park, Kenya, which "opened their eyes" to tell the elephants' story.[5] While talking about their immersive experience of capturing African elephants' life, the duo said:[6]

We were looking for a charismatic female elephant matriarch because it's very much a female leadership story, and we were looking for the ideal elephant for a long time.

— Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, Deadline Hollywood

The duo followed the elephant Athena and her herd for over four years in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya.[6][7]


On 8 September 2018, The Elephant Queen premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.[8] The film would later screen at the BFI London Film Festival,[9] Sundance Film Festival,[10] Montclair Film Festival[11] and Sydney Film Festival.[12] The Elephant Queen opened in theatres on 18 October 2019 as a pilot to a deal between A24 and Apple, where A24 would distribute films through a limited release in US theaters before becoming Apple TV+ exclusives.[13] That same day, they released The Lighthouse, hence priority at A24 shifted to that film, and a small release was made for The Elephant Queen with little to no marketing.[citation needed] The film was made available for streaming on Apple TV+ on 1 November 2019.[13] It later also had its one-time linear premiere in its country of production, on Citizen TV in parts of sub-Saharan Africa on 12 April 2020. Thusly, rendering it non-exclusive in those countries.


On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Informative, compassionate, and beautifully filmed, The Elephant Queen should satisfy nature documentary lovers of all ages."[14] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 67 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".[15]

Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film "delivers a powerful reminder that the magnificent subjects of this documentary [...] are faced with serious dangers both natural and man-made".[2] Sandie Angulo Chen of Common Sense Media wrote, "Gorgeously shot, fabulously narrated, and surprisingly poignant, this documentary is an inspiring tribute to the power of motherhood and community on the African savanna".[16] Scott Tobias of Variety magazine wrote, "There's a gap between the story Stone and Deeble want to tell about love and family, and the much grimmer story nature itself is telling, in unsentimental terms. In the end, it's hard to reconcile the two".[17] Chelsea Phillips-Carr of Point of View wrote, "The documentary is without a doubt charming, but it is also too innocuous for its subject matter".[18]


Year Award Category Result Ref(s).
2019 Cinema for Peace Awards International Green Film Award Won [19]
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Best Science/Nature Documentary Nominated [20]
Best Narration Nominated
2020 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Narrator Nominated [21]


  1. ^ Jaworowski, Ken (17 October 2019). "'The Elephant Queen' Review: Magnificent Images of Majestic Animals". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "'The Elephant Queen': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Review: 'The Elephant Queen' documentary delivers drama and emotion on African savanna". Los Angeles Times. 17 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  4. ^ Mann, Randi (7 October 2019). "Watch AppleTV+'s 'The Elephant Queen' Trailer, The Ultimate Family Film". ET Canada. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  5. ^ a b "The AFI DOCS Interview: THE ELEPHANT QUEEN With Directors Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone | American Film Institute". Archived from the original on 17 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  6. ^ a b N'Duka, Amanda (28 January 2019). "'The Elephant Queen' Filmmakers on Long Search For "The Ideal Elephant" – Sundance Studio". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 17 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  7. ^ "The Elephant Queen: An Intimate Story About The Most Majestic Animals In Africa". Archived from the original on 20 October 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  8. ^ Alcinii, Daniele (7 September 2018). "TIFF '18 Exclusive clip: "The Elephant Queen"". RealScreen. Retrieved 2 September 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ "The Elephant Queen". BFI London Film Festival. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  10. ^ Roka, Les. "Sundance 2019: The Elephant Queen achieves gold standard in wildlife documentary genre | The Utah Review". Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  11. ^ Facebook; Twitter; YouTube; Instagram; Flickr. "The Elephant Queen | Montclair Film". Archived from the original on 9 July 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019. ((cite web)): |last= has generic name (help)
  12. ^ "The Elephant Queen". Sydney Film Festival. Archived from the original on 25 September 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  13. ^ a b Donnelly, Matt (27 September 2019). "Apple Sets Theatrical Release Dates for Original Films 'The Banker,' 'Hala' and 'The Elephant Queen' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Archived from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  14. ^ "The Elephant Queen (2018)", Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango, archived from the original on 16 October 2019, retrieved 30 October 2021
  15. ^ The Elephant Queen, archived from the original on 9 November 2019, retrieved 9 November 2019
  16. ^ "The Elephant Queen – Movie Review". 15 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  17. ^ Tobias, Scott (12 September 2018). "Toronto Film Review: 'The Elephant Queen'". Variety. Archived from the original on 16 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  18. ^ "TIFF Review: 'The Elephant Queen'". Point of View. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  19. ^ "Cinema for Peace Gala Nominations 2019". Cinema for Peace.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ "Critics' Choice Documentary Awards". Critics' Choice Awards. Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  21. ^ "The Elephant Queen". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 28 July 2020.