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I am in a Tudor mood. So for the next few Wednesdays I will be reviewing Tudor related movies.

The movie I want to review today is Henry VIII. It was not a theatrical movie it was two-part British television serial produced principally by Granada Television for ITV in 2003. The movie chronicles the life of Henry VIII of England from the collapse of his first marriage to his death following a stroke in 1547 and depicts his other marriages. In some ways this seems more like a remake of the 1970s BBC production of the Six Wives of Henry VIII.

The movie and subsequent DVD are divided into two parts. The fist part deals mainly with the ending of Henry’s marriage to Infanta Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Bolyn. The second part encompasses Henry’s other 4 marriages and for that reason the second part seems a little crammed and rushed. I would have liked to have seen the movie done in three parts with each part addressing two of the six marriages.

The main star of the movie is veteran British actor Ray Winstone as King Henry VIII and Helena Bonham Carter (herself the queen of period pieces) as the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Part two stars Emily Blunt as Catherine Howard another of Henry VIII’s ill-fated queens. Actually, her pleas not to be executed are pretty heart wrenching.

I have read that there was controversy surrounding the casting and performance of Ray Winstone as the king. He is noted for playing many tough guy roles and people who are thugs and that his portrayal of the king was anything buy kingly and aristocratic. I can have empathy for the critics on that point. Henry does not come across as particularly regal or aristocratic. However, that doesn’t really bother me too much even though I do acknowledge that point of view. What Ray does provide for the role is sense of power, authority and ruthlessness along with strength and selfish ambition. These are all qualities I can envision Henry VIII having.

I do enjoy the series even though it is a bit uneven. Part one being the better of the two if only for the presence Helena Bonham Carter and the chemistry between her and Ray.Carter does a great job of bringing Anne Boleyn to life. She is depicted not only as a person who was grabbing power for herself she is also depicted as a victim of a system that literally killed if one did not produce results. As I mentioned above part two just seems too rushed for my tastes. I do think that Emily Blunt does a very good job depicting the young Catherine Howard but since she seems to be only window dressing around which the plot unfolds she is not given the opportunity to flesh out her character. If they had devoted more time to that marriage I think Emily Blunt would have shined even more.

Despite of those flaws I mentioned I do enjoy the two part movie a great deal. Henry VIII is a great study. I would not say I admire him because I think he was a blood thirsty tyrant in many ways. He is a good study on the abuse of power and the role of monarchy in the 16th century. I will close this review with my disclaimer. Do not get your history lesson from a movie. Let a movie give you the sense of how things looked and felt during the time period, let it come alive through costumes and setting and let the movie be a spring board to searching out and understanding the real events. Sorry, don’t mean to sound too preachy.

Here is a list from wikipedia on the historical inaccuracies of the film.

Anne Boleyn was not brought to court to wait on Queen Catherine on Henry’s instructions. She had been in the service of his sister for several years before she transferred to his wife. He courted her sister for several years before he became fixated on her. In the film Mary Boleyn is pregnant by the King and Anne is engaged to be married (see below) when he first meets her.

Mary Boleyn is depicted as being pregnant but unmarried. In reality she had been married for over a year to William Carey before her affair with the king began and so would not have needed Wolsey to arrange a marriage to “render her respectable”.

Anne’s father Thomas Boleyn is portrayed as being given the title Earl of Essex. In reality, the Earldom he was given was Wiltshire, not Essex. (Wiltshire was ironically the home county of Anne’s successor Jane Seymour.)

The relationship between Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn was, in real life, a secret affair as Percy was already betrothed. He would not have appeared before the King to ask for his blessing to marry Anne as the series portrays.

The Duke of Norfolk is portrayed as a young man when in fact he would have been middle aged by the times of the events in the show. As is the Duke of Buckingham, who was not in fact in his late fifties at the time of his execution, he was in his late thirties to early forties.

Anne Boleyn is seen wearing a lace headdress in numerous shots. In reality she would have been the only woman to expose her hair which would have been considered immodest, but which she did to maintain an illusion of chastity. Likewise for Catherine of Aragon, who famously only ever wore English or Spanish-styled gable hoods; her hair would never have been exposed as it is the show.

Mary Tudor was not present with her mother on her deathbed as the show implies. In truth Mary and Catherine were separated shortly before Henry and Anne were married and never saw each other again.
Ambassador Mendoza is shown urging Catherine of Aragon on her deathbed to encourage her nephew, the powerful Emperor Charles of Spain, to lead an invasion against Henry, which she steadfastly refuses to do. In reality Ambassador Mendoza had returned to Spain long before and was replaced by the wily Eustace Chapuys, who did in fact visit Catherine of Aragon just before she died.

Henry’s son Edward was not present by his father side when he died, nor was his last wife Catherine Parr.

Joss Akland plays a dying King Henry VII of England at the start of the film. Henry VII is depicted as being a very old man in that scene when in fact Henry VII was only 52 when he died.