Thursday 19 August 2010

Henry VIII in the Movies

After some discussion on the Tudors on screen, I thought I would post an overview of Henry and his famous tribe of wives, as they've been portrayed on screen over the last 100 years.

 British theatre actor, Arthur Bourchier, in the silent movie Henry VIII (1911), shown here with actress Laura Cowie in the role of Anne Boleyn. The couple later united in real life and were married in 1912.

Swiss actor, Emil Jannings, with Henny Porten as Anne Boleyn in the German silent movie, Anna Boleyn (1920.)

Welsh actor, Lyn Harding, as King Henry, shown here with celebrity Marion Davies as Henry's sister, Princess Mary, in the movie, When Knighthood was in Flower (1922), a silent movie adaptation of the novel by Charles Major.

"There's no delicacy nowadays. No consideration for others. Refinement's a thing of the past! Manners are dead!"

British actor, Charles Laughton, won his Oscar for his performance as the King in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.) Laughton's performance is today considered iconic, since it helped enshrine the image of the King wenching his way through the women of the Court and stuffing himself with turkey legs at court banquets. Laughton reprised the role twenty years later in the biopic, Young Bess (1953), opposite Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons and Deborah Kerr.

English actor, Frank Cellier, pictured here in another role, made a brief appearance as King Henry in the movie, Tudor Rose (1936), based on the tragic life of Lady Jane Grey.

Alexandre Rignault, seen here in another role, played Henry VIII in the French-language biopic, François Premier (1937).

The theatre actor, Montagu Love, seen here in another role, played the sickly King Henry VIII in an early adaptation of Mark Twain's novel, The Prince and the Pauper (1937.) Pin-up Errol Flynn starred as the story's hero, Miles Hendon.

The great Rex Harrison played Henry VIII in the original Broadway production of Maxwell Anderson's play, Anne of the Thousand Days, and he reprised the role in the American television drama, Omnibus: The Trial of Anne Boleyn (1952.)

British character actor, James Robertson Justice, played the King in the movie The Sword and the Rose (1953), the second adaptation of Charles Major's novel, When Knighthood was in Flower. He is seen here with Glynis Johns as Princess Mary, the future Duchess of Suffolk.

"Oh, Thomas, Thomas, Thomas! Does a man need a Pope to tell him where he's sinned? It was a sin. God's punished me. I have no son. Son after son she's borne me - all dead at birth or dead within the month. Never saw the hand of God so clear in anything. It's my bounden duty to put away the Queen and all the popes back to Peter shall not come between me and my duty! How is it that you cannot see? Everyone else does."

The British historian, Lady Antonia Fraser, author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Warrior Queens, Charles II and other best-selling historical biographies, rated the performance of Robert Shaw as King Henry VIII to be the best on-screen rendition of the monarch. Shaw, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role, is shown here, on the right, with Oscar winner Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in the biopic, A Man For All Seasons (1966), adapted from the play by Robert Bolt.

"I am accursed! A live daughter and a dead son! Did I accept excommunication for this? Did I send More and Houghton and Fisher to their deaths for this? She cannot give me living son! Very well then, if she cannot give me a male heir, I shall rid myself of her."

The phenomenal Richard Burton, husband of Elizabeth Taylor, was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the movie adaptation of Anne of the Thousand Days (1969.) Burton's performance is, thus far, my personal favourite.

 Many Tudor enthusiasts consider the multiple performances of Australian actor, Keith Michell, to be the most historically accurate rendition of King Henry VIII. Michell first portrayed the King in the 1970 6-part BBC television series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and he went on to reprise the role in the cinema feature, Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972.) In both cases, the King was aged and fattened appropriately, as he degenerated from the playboy prince who married Katherine of Aragon in 1509 to the bloated man-mountain who married Katharine Parr in 1543 (below.) Twenty years later, Michell reprised his most famous role in the television movie, The Prince and the Pauper (1996.)

The English comedian, Sid James, played an imagined, hyper-sexualised Henry VIII in the comedy movie, Carry on Henry (1971), a spoof of Anne of the Thousand Days. He is seen here with soap opera star Barbara Windsor in the role of Bettina.

Manoel de Nóbrega played King Henry in the Brazilian television adaptation of Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, O Príncipe E o Mendigo (1972.)

Jean Le Poulain played the King of England in the French television movie, La jument du roi (1973), seen here with Françoise Seigner as Anne of Cleves.

"If you think the food may be poisoned, why not feed it to a dog, or a plumber?
American Oscar-winner, future NRA spokesman and President of the Screen Actors Guild, Charlton Heston, played the dying King Henry in another television adaptation of Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1977.) Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, George C. Scott and Rex Harrison co-starred.

"A peace above all earthly dignities,
A still and quiet conscience."

Shown here with Timothy West in the role of Cardinal Wolsey, John Stride played the title role in the BBC's adaptation of Shakespeare's last play, The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth (1979)

Alan Bates (right) played King Henry in yet another television production of The Prince and the Pauper (2000), this time produced by Hallmark.

Jared Harris struck a real physical resemblance to the young King Henry in the BBC television adaptation of Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl (2003.)

"I can do whatever I want."

Award winning actor, Ray Winstone, gave a convincing performance as a savage, brutal King Henry in the 2-part television drama, Henry VIII (2003), which also starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Emily Blunt, David Suchet and Sean Bean. The decision to have Winstone speak with his native East End accent was controversial, but it was a deliberate device by the production team to highlight the gritty nature of Henry's hold on power.
"I have torn this country apart for you!"

Australian actor, Eric Bana, seen here with Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, portrayed the King in the movie adaptation of the novel The Other Boleyn Girl (2008.) For this blog's review, click here.

"You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends."

Irish actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyer, played Henry VIII in all thirty-eight episodes of the Showtime series, The Tudors, which ran from 2007 to 2010 and chronicled the King's life from his bed-hopping days in the late 1510s to his death in 1547.


  1. I love Keith Michell - he is my absolute favourite I think for his acting and the way that he shows the degeneration in Henry. Lovely feature thanks for sharing

  2. Henry was a complex character but he was no mental slouch. I felt that Richard Burton was best in implying an intelligent and studious personality that was overcome by both his own arrogance and the circumstances that were beyond his control.

  3. Keith Mitchell is my favorite. Richard Burton makes a fascinating portratit of Henry in his prime. Ray Winstone as a savage in silk was interesting but that accent made no sense to me. Everyone in the movie seemed classier than the king, it just didn't work for me.

  4. Thanks for publishing this list. It's fantastic! I have to say that having seen Keith Mitchell's performence with Annette Crosbie and Dorothy Tutin I think he really captured the persona of an intelligent and kind Henry before he became a horrible jerk. (i dont watch the Tudors but i have to say that Jonathan Rhys Meyer is soo good loking!)
    Jaina( a big tudor fan)


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