William Barker announced in pre-publicity for 'Henry VIII' that all the positive prints of the film distributed to public cinemas in The Isles would be returned to Barker Motion Photography (BMP) after a limited screening period following the film's premiere on 24 February 1911 in London and then destroyed. This enabled BMP to charge unprecedented rates to each exhibitor for rental of the film rather than a flat purchase price. Although Barker claimed that the destruction was because of the high cost of producing 'Henry VIII' (including Herbert Beerbohm Tree's fee) and its artistic "exclusivity", BMP also made a great deal of money this way - and had already recouped their initial expenditure by sale of the Australian and New Zealand distribution rights for the film to Thomas West and Henry Hayward. The returned positive prints - that is, those prints that were said to be the returned ones - were duly burned in a very well-publicised public ceremony on Thursday, April 1911 in the grounds of BMP's studios at West Lodge, Ealing, Middlesex. Supposedly only BMP and Tree retained one negative copy each of "Henry VIII' thereafter.
Several contemporary reviews of 'Henry VIII', as well as newspaper reports, referred to the film's tints - "amber", "blue", "brown" "green" and "yellow" were mentioned but not "red". Reference to its "colours" was also included in some press advertisments for the film's cinema screenings. However, some other reviews stated that the print of "Henry VIII" seen was not "coloured", apparently meaning that it was merely tinted and said it would have enhanced the film for it to have been "coloured" (presumably meaning some form of hand-colouring or possibly an existing contemporary colour format such as Kinemacolor).
That all extant copies of 'Henry VIII' were publicly burned by William Barker on Thursday, 13 April 1911 at Ealing Studios and nothing was ever seen of the film thereafter is one of the enduring myths of UK and international film history - but myth it is.
Many cinema exhibitors in The Isles, Australia and New Zealand chose music other than the score by Edward German to accompany screenings of the film. These performances were made by a variety of musical groups including local orchestras and choirs, using existing works by established international composers. It is not known at present whether any additional new scores were composed especially for the showings of the film, although new arrangements of existing music was.
The only known extant film of "Henry VIII" is a positive strip of four consecutive frames taken from Scene One and used as evidence for Barker Motion Photography's UK copyright declaration on 23 May 1911. This is now held by The [UK] National Archives (TNA). A declaration of copyright for Australasia was made in the UK for Barker Motion Photography and West's Pictures on 26 May 1911 also with a positive film strip attached but the strip appears to have been lost. Part of the extant film strip, showing one whole frame and half-ones above and below it, was published on TNA's Blog on 25 April 2014 (which states that TNA have eight frames of "Henry VIII" but this may be assuming that the Australasian strip is extant and in TNA). This is the first time that this film strip has been reproduced anywhere. The only other recorded surviving images of "Henry VIII" are the reproductions of still photographs taken on the sets during the rehearsals for each scene and illustrating each one (except Scene Four), a photograph of six positive film strips, side-by-side, each with sixteen consecutive frames, taken from (l-r) Scenes Three, Five, Four, Two, One and Two of the film and a photograph of one positive film strip of six consecutive frames from Scene Four that were all first published in English magazines in 1911. The stills and the film strips illustrate the appearance of "Henry VIII", the differences needed in set layouts for the film compared to the play being quite clear in the photographs. The second film strip photograph is almost certainly showing the point at which Wolsey/Herbert Beerbohm Tree is speaking the 'O Cromwell, Cromwell!...' part of his farewell speech to Cromwell/Reginald Owen; this is the key speech in the play, which is probably why the photograph of the film excerpt was released to the press separately. The evidence of the published images of "Henry VIII" suggests that one positive copy of the film was used to provide strips of film for copyright and publicity uses. Apart from the one example in TNA, "Henry VIII"'s film clips, still photographs and the photographs of the film strips remain as unextant as the film itself.
Herbert Beerbohm Tree reworked Fletcher and Shakespeare's play from one nominally about Henry VIII to one about Cardinal Wolsey, already really the main character in the drama - (the calculation is that only 53% of the original play is in Tree's version). Tree created a starring role for himself whilst giving each of his lead actors scenes where they featured - with him. This was carried over to the further abridged version that was filmed in 1911. That this dramatisation worked in the way Tree intended can be seen by the repeated references to Tree/Wolsey in contemporary reviews of the film, several writers particularly noting Tree's playing of Wolsey's scene with Cromwell and his farewell speech.
The musical score used with the film was originally written by its composer, Edward German, for Henry Irving's 1892 London stage production of 'Henry VIII'. By the time it was supplied to cinemas in 1911, for use during the showing of the film, the score had been rearranged for its use in Herbert Beerbohm Tree's stage production in London in 1910 by the musical director of His Majesty's Theatre, Adolf Schmid and had had additional music written by German for use in Scene Five of the film, the coronation of Anne Boleyn; for this very short new work German was paid £50 (c. $243 in 1911), making him the first well-known professional English musician to write a music score for a film.
The dances in Scene Two, the Banqueting Hall of Wolsey's Palace, were choreographed for the "Henry VIII" play by the 19 year old Margaret Morris, making the "Henry VIII" film the earliest known filmed record of her dance work. It is recorded that numerous dancers watched the film several times, solely to see Morris's choreography.
"Henry VIII" was promoted by the most sophisticated and most expensive publicity campaign ever mounted for an English film in The Isles, Australia and New Zealand. It appears to have been a collaboration between William Barker, Thomas West, Henry Hayward and their respective organisations. That paid off as "Henry VIII" was being toured with queuing audiences, full houses, repeat screenings, extended runs, continuing media coverage, serious criticism by both professional and amateur writers and a general appreciation of the film's qualities independent of the promoters' claims. The whole becoming an early film example - perhaps the earliest for a film made in England - of a cultural phenomenon in each of the countries it was presented in.
One of the most shrewd parts of the promotion of "Henry VIII" as it was toured was the inclusion of a prize essay competition for school children, presented as ' "Henry VIII" Film As An Educator' using a standard preset plan that was also adopted for use in Australia and New Zealand. The prize would be won by the best essay on "Henry VIII" 'as presented at [name of cinema]' - so ensuring that children entering the competition had to watch the film, at least once, to write about it, having paid to enter the cinema, as would have each member of their family who accompanied them. The prize-money offered varied according to the size of the locality it was being screened at, being as much as 5 Guineas (£5.25) in the larger cities - a very large sum, as calculation of its worth now shows. The essay itself also had variable lengths required, either 200 or 300 words, again depending on the size of the town or city and the prize-money. A number of cinemas also offered medals (advertised as "gold" and as "silver" - though whether each one was pure gold or pure silver remains to be found out) to successful prize-winners. There is no evidence of a shortage of entrants for the competition anywhere. Surviving copies of competition essays, whether winners or other entrants, have not been found yet.
The filming of "Henry VIII" on Thursday 9 February 1911 was the third attempt at filming the His Majesty's Theatre performance of the play. Twice before the filming had to cancelled due to bad weather, the latter time at the last minute, with the cast assembled at the studio, due to heavy fog in Ealing Green making photographing the action impossible.
The stage crew and most of the supporting cast and extras (around 200 people) were at the West Lodge studio by c.9.00am on 9 February (a late winter's day in England), the leading actors arriving later. Filming started around midday and lasted for four to five hours, with one rehearsal for each of the five scenes shot, finishing in the early afternoon. The completed film was taken to Barker Motion Photography's office in Soho Square, London, developed, edited and tinted. The print was shown at His Majesty's Theatre to Herbert Beerbohm Tree and the leading actors (if not all of the cast who could be there) at midnight the same day.
King George V of England was shown "Henry VIII" in a special screening of the film. It is possible that he may have been presented with a copy of the film and further possible that that copy was retained in the Royal Archives and may still be there (albeit possibly deteriorated beyond salvage). This fact has eluded film historians and film archivists for over a century.
The publicity campaigns for "Henry VIII" in The Isles, Australia and New Zealand made great use of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as a selling point: in posters and newspaper and periodical advertisments his name appeared first, often in larger typeface than the other leading actors. The film was effectively flagged in marketing literature, and in newspaper and periodical editorial as Tree and his theatre's film, rather than that of the production company, Barker Motion Photography and the co-producer and co-director, William Barker (the credited co-author of the original play William Shakespeare was not promoted in this way - sometimes not being named at all). The use of these promotional techniques, highly developed for use in the theatre, was an innovation for English films; they had one effect not really understood at the time, understandably, nor later, less understandably: Herbert Tree became England's first film star.
The sets for the film were adjusted versions of the sets used at His Majesty's Theatre, reduced in size, rearranged and painted in monochrome colours instead of full colours for filming. 15 lorries were needed to take the props and costumes from the theatre, in Haymarket, St James, London to the film studio at Ealing Green, Ealing - a distance of c.14.50 Km (c.9 miles) - for filming on Thursday, 9 February 1911 and then back to the theatre in time for that evening's performance, at 8.00 pm. There is no indication that the theatre performances had been interrupted to help the play's cast and crew prepare for filming - the previous day, Wednesday, 8 February, had had the regular midweek matinee as well as the evening performance.
The principal public screenings of "Henry VIII" in 1911 can be divided into four cinema or auditorium tours (with their supposed contractual limits): 1) "London" (London County Council area) - "six weeks"; 2) "The Provinces" (England outside London, Scotland, Ireland, Wales) - "six weeks"; 3) "Australia" (State capitals, their suburbs and major towns) - "six months"; 4) "New Zealand" (Largest cities and towns) - "six months".
The last known public screening of "Henry VIII" in New Zealand and the last public presentation of the film recorded anywhere in the world was at 20:00 on Friday, 24 November 1911 at The Lyceum Picture Palace, Kimbolton Road, Feilding, Manawatu, North Island.