This is at least the third film on this blog dealing with Henry VIII and all his chronic beheading, girl chasing, son craving glory. However, it’s the most sympathetic towards Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.
The film based on the Broadway play, takes place only within the time concerning Anne’s relationship with King Henry VIII. Anne (Geneviève Bujold) is a young maiden, defiant against Henry’s attempts to seduce her. Henry (Richard Burton) has already seduced and impregnated her sister, Mary. But the more Anne resists, the more she becomes an object of desire and obsession to Henry. He wants to annul his marriage to Queen Catharine, but the Catholic church will not allow it. The story focuses on Henry working to divorcing Cathrine along with the whole Catholic Church for a good portion of the film. His reasoning is that his marriage to his brother’s widow was incest, thus God has cursed their marriage, causing Catharine to bare only stillborn sons. Once Anne is Queen, she’s only deeper in trouble than before. The people hate her and call her a whore for replacing their beloved Catharine. When she gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, Henry is disappointed and just wants to keep trying. Soon Henry is looking at Jane Seymour to make sons with and the second divorce always goes easier than the first.
Anyway, we know the history. What is important is that Anne becomes depicted as more of a hero than the infamous whore queen. Henry does not want to have Anne executed, she could agree to simply annul the marriage and live. But with annulment, Elizabeth would become illegitimate, and no longer in line to the throne. Like I said, we know the history, and Anne’s blood is not spilt in vain.
One of the main reasons this play had not been turned into a film as because of its frank discussion of sexual topics. Though the play began in 1948, the strict censorship codes of film throughout the forties and fifties made it next to impossible to do the play justice. Many of the reasons Henry gives for divorce have to do with incest and adultery. He’s also very blunt at times with his intentions with Anne. It took until 1969 for these topics to have a respectable place within film.
Within the first five minutes, I made and educated guess that this film won the award for best costume design. My guess was correct, the level of detail on each garment is easy to see. At times, the costumes are the only source of color within the stone castle walls, yet I was never feeling the gloom of gray stone oppressing me. From colorful gowns, Henry’s iconic fur coats and even masquerade masks, each piece of period clothing is exquisite, but sadly, nearly nothing else in the picture matches up to them. It was rightfully the films only Oscar.
If you really want to watch every film about Henry VIII and all his sixteenth century antics, by all means go for it. For those who just want to focus on Anne or the breaking of the church, choose this film over the others. But if you want something more enjoyable, The Private Life of Henry VIII is my personal recommendation. And the best of 1969 is still to come.
“We used the incest excuse last time. We can’t make a habit of it.”