The Private Life of Henry the Eighth

The Private Life of Henry VIII

The Private Life of Henry VIII
Starring: Charles Laughton, Robert Donat
Director: Alexander Korda
Format: Black & White
Rated: NR
Studio: Aae Films
Video Release Date: January 23, 2003

This is a somewhat disappointing historical drama, directed by Alexander Korda. While Charles Laughton does, indeed, give an excellent performance as Henry VIII, the film suffers from its screenplay, which chooses to focus on Henry’s last five marriages, with emphasis on his fourth and probably least important marriage, that to Anne of Cleves. One has to wonder if her prominence in the film was due to the role being played by Elsa Lancaster, Laughton’s wife at the time. The most important marriage, that to Katherine of Aragon, is dismissed of being of no interest. This is an amazing and absurd statement, given the fact that it was this marriage that ultimately set England on the path to Protestantism and the establishment of the Church of England. As a historical drama, the film leaves a lot to be desired, as it suffers from superficial treatment.

The film begins with the execution of Ann Boleyn, played by the lovely Merle Oberon, who, despite star billing, is only in the film for several minutes. The film then goes to the marriage to Jane Seymour, played by an actress with a thirties style hair bob. It is Jane who gives the King his heart’s desire, a son and heir, before succumbing to death shortly after childbirth.

The film then segues into the marriage to Anne of Cleves, which role is played with comedic abandon by Ms. Manchester. This is followed by Henry’s marriage to Katherine Howard, a young wanton who cuckolds the king with Thomas Culpepper, one of the King’s Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. The role of the hapless Thomas Culpepper is played by screen great, Robert Donat. Katherine Howard, as did Anne Boleyn, ends up losing her head on the chopping block for her treasonous transgression. Henry’s last wife, Katherine Parr, is merely depicted as a loving and caring woman, watching out for Henry in his dotage.

The video itself is of very poor quality, with a lot of static which renders portions of the film’s dialogue inaudible. It is also disconcerting to have many of the female cast wandering about the set with nineteen thirties style hair bobs, as this serves to have a jarring effect. For a better and historically more accurate picture of the wives of King Henry VIII, one would do well to view the BBC production, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", which is available on DVD and as a set of six video cassettes.

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