Thursday 26 August 2010

Catherine Howard in the Movies

"So young, so beautiful, yet so corrupt." - King Henry VIII on the character of Catherine Howard in the BBC television series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)
"Love eternal, since yesterday afternoon, until tomorrow morning?" British actress and dancer, Binnie Barnes, as Queen Catherine opposite Charles Laughton in the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.) The story of Catherine's love affair with the King dominated the movie, but Catherine was presented as both more worldly-wise and sophisticated than the real queen had ever been. The couple's first on-screen meeting can be watched here.

American actress and model Dawn Addams had a brief cameo as Catherine in a biopic based on the Queen's most famous stepdaughter, Young Bess (1953.)

"They say the king is a very Turk with women, you will have very little rest tonight my angel. Let him do as he likes child." Angela Pleasance, seen here in character opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII, played Catherine in two episodes of the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970.) Apparently drawing inspiration from Professor Lacey Baldwin Smith's highly critical biography, A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Times of Catherine Howard, published a few years earlier, the drama was one of the few which was markedly unsympathetic to Catherine, depicting her as an amoral and temperamental self-obsessive - at one point casually suggesting to her uncle if it would be possible for Francis Dereham to "disappear" and at another physically bullying her cousin, Katherine, Mary Boleyn's daughter.

Lynne Frederick is shown here as Catherine in the movie Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972.) It was a sympathetic take on young Catherine's tragic career and Lynne was perhaps the closest physical match to the real Catherine ever seen on screen. Unlike every other portrayal of Catherine, Henry VIII and his Six Wives skirted round the issue of whether or not she had actually been guilty of the adultery for which she perished. Her execution can be watched here; Keith Michell reprised his role as Henry VIII and, like Lynne, he was perhaps the most accurate physical portrayal of his character.

Michelle Abrahams shown in Episode 4 of Dr. David Starkey's documentary series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001.) Dr. Starkey later wrote a bestselling book on Henry's queens, in which he sympathetically wrote of Catherine: "True, she was a good-time girl. But like many good-time girls, she was also warm, loving and good-natured. She wanted to have a good time. But she wanted other people to have a good time, too. And she was prepared to make some effort to see that they did."

Perhaps best-known for her work as the title character in The Young Victoria and as a bitchy fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada, Emily Blunt gave a sympathetic and nuanced portrayal of Catherine Howard opposite Ray Winstone in the British television movie, Henry VIII (2003), one of her earliest roles. Although the real Catherine went to her death with much more quiet dignity, a very moving dramatisation of the event with Emily Blunt can be seen here.

"We ran a little wild." Tamzin Merchant, shown in the role above, played Catherine in the Series 3 finale of Showtime's award-winning The Tudors, and reprised the role for the first half of Series 4. Unlike other dramatic interpretations of Catherine's story, The Tudors did not suggest that she had seduced Thomas Culpepper in order to become pregnant; it was the only drama - so far - to suggest that much of Catherine's alleged adultery was to do with her boredom and loneliness. And, the misery of being at the mercy of the King's capricious mood-swings. An early meeting between the doomed lovers is shown here, with Thomas Culpepper played by Canadian Torrence Coombs and Jonathan Rhys Meyer as Henry VIII.


  1. I absolutely agree that Lynne Frederick was the best Katheryn Howard in terms of resemblance (compared to the Holbein miniature commonly said to be of the Queen).

    What I really liked about the ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives’ movie was the effort to cast actresses (with the exception of the lady playing Anne of Cleves – who was made to look repulsive and silly ) who looked like their historical counterparts. Frances Cuka was a perfect Katherine of Aragon, and Barbara Leigh Hunt strongly resembled the famous picture of Katharine Parr (wearing the feathered cap).

  2. I don't know much about Catherine Howard. She's one of the forgotten of Henry's wives. Perhaps a more in-depth blog post about her is needed.

    I recently wrote a blog post about Anne Boleyn and how inaccurately she is portrayed in movies, books and history.

    I have the HBO Tudors series (which is historically inaccurate at times) to thank for my recent obsession with Anne. I have enjoyed your blog immensely and I am now a loyal follower.

    Theresa Bruno


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