The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933) Poster

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An enjoyably boisterous Henry in a funny, interesting and surprisingly sensitive film
bob the moo28 June 2004
During his reign, Henry the Eighth had six wives. The first of these was Catherine of Aragon but her story is of no particular interest as she was a decent and respectable woman – so Henry only divorced her. However his next wife was a different matter altogether and we join the story on the day of Anne Boleyn is getting her neck ready for the executioner's block. Henry is a boisterous king who, no matter how bad his many marriage experiences, cannot seem to avoid getting married again; as he himself says, 'the things I do for England'!

When I taped this film I had never heard of it but before watching it was told that it was a great moneymaker of the time in the US. I wasn't sure if this was a very historic film or a fun film but the opening credit title made me realize it would be a sort of humorous historical piece – it is practically the sort of title card that appears before many Laurel & Hardy shorts! True to form the film takes liberties with history but does so to the benefit of the film, making it very funny and rather larger than life (not that hard a subject given Henry's life!) but not to the point where it is just a comedy – no, it is better written than that. Instead it manages to present this big boisterous life in a balanced way – when events are funny, they are funny but on the flipside it also lets us see that Henry is lonely, trapped by affairs of state and rather a big child at times. It is hard to describe but this film managed to run a gauntlet of emotions in a way that I was pretty impressed by. The very good writing has prevented it dating at all and it is just as enjoyable as it was then – in fact I can't think of a film that I have been more pleasantly surprised by for quite a while – how ironic that it is over 70 years old!

Outside of the script and direction, a massive reason that this film works is a great performance from Laughton. His Henry is fantastically lively and energetic without ever going completely OTT. He manages to deliver his funny lines with great timing and awareness but also delivers a real character who we can feel for – he conveys real hurt and loneliness with just looks at times, and his tearful breakdown is actually quite moving. He is given good support from many small roles who are given good parts – even the observers at the executions have great lines! The 39 Steps' Robert Donat gives good support in a straighter and less showy role and the various member of Henry's court are reliable. However the film belongs to Laughton and he runs it, realising the script's potential and then some.

Overall I came to this film not sure what to expect and I was very surprised by just how enjoyable and well rounded it was. Historians may be irritated by a rather generous interpretation of history but the basics are all there and the writer's touch has only really added colour and a sense of fun to the story. The script is packed with material that is funny and telling at different points and it is delivered with real confidence and ability by Laughton in a performance that dominates the film and is a major reason I enjoyed it as much as I did.
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Charles Laughton as the Tudor king
didi-52 April 2005
Alexander Korda's film about Henry VIII was a worthy Oscar winner - the first time a British film was so recognised. Seen now it is a dated piece of work but Charles Laughton has the heart and soul of the king down to perfection - grumbling, belching, ripping meat of the bones with his bare hands, leering at the women of his court, and - when the situation allows it - giving the part a fair amount of pathos.

Oddly, the film begins with the execution of Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon). We don't see the first wife, Katherine of Aragon, at all. Wendy Barrie is Jane Seymour, the one true love of Henry's life - for her he changed his initialled monogram from an entwined H and A (for Anne) to H and J. Catherine Howard is played by Binnie Barnes - she's a bit too flighty for my liking and not an accurate reading of Catherine as history renders her. Robert Donat has a thankless part as Culpeper, who Catherine sets her sights on. And as Catherine Parr, the last Queen to Henry and the one to outlast him, Everley Gregg is amusing and touching.

The scene-stealer as usual though is the real-life Mrs Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, playing the plain, card-dealing, Anne of Cleves. She puts this part across with little effort, wheedling money from her new husband in lieu of the expected fruits of their wedding night. These scenes are a great source of comedy as the two pros play off each other.

'The Private Life of Henry VIII' is a good play, and just when you think you know how the part is going to go, it surprises you as all good acting should. Laughton would do other good work for Korda (including Rembrandt a few years later) but this is one of his best remembered roles for British cinema.
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Alexander Korda and his history lessons
theowinthrop22 March 2005
Born in Hungary, Alexander Korda became a leading figure in British cinema. He would approach Hollywood in his production, casting, and vision of how movies should be made. And he was quite aware of what he was facing in his struggles. Britain's film industry was never as wealthy as it's American cousin (or it's German cousin, for that matter). But due to language it had inroads to the United States as well as the empire. If it could not meet Hollywood's (or Ufa's) best production values, it had a stable of actors that were hard to match. In fact, many of them ended up in Hollywood (much to Korda's disgust). This was not only those born in the British Isles like Olivier, Leigh, Laughton, but also those who were foreign born who ended up in British films as stars (like Veidt).

Korda also had European history and culture to play with, and in the 1930s would do a series of films that involved both. They centered on some historical or legendary character: Henry VIII, Don Juan, Catherine the Great, Rembrandt, the Roman Emperor Claudius. Laughton appeared in three of these, as Henry, Rembrandt, and Claudius. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. would be Don Juan and his son would be Catherine's husband Peter III of Russia. There were also "foreign" or "imperial" settings for some of these epics. Sabu became Kipling's Mowgli in "The Jungle Book". The Arabian Nights were the basis for "The Thief of Baghdad".

Henry VIII is really not filling in the entire monarch's life or reign. It barely notices wife #1 (Catherine of Aragon), who it considers dull. It begins with the conclusion of the second marriage with Anne Boleyne in 1536, and then jumps rapidly into the brief third marriage, the comedy of the fourth marriage in 1541, the deep tragedy of the fifth marriage in 1544, and the last marriage, wherein Henry seems to have married a nurse and a scold (not really historically correct). Laughton is superb as a man, seeming with everything, who can't (for one reason or another) find the happiness he seeks in a content home life. But the film does not delve into his policies, and it really does not get into the personality conflicts within Henry's character. He does act the bully and the gallant and the buffoon (such as when discoursing on fine table manners), but the parts (if analyzed) do not hold together as well as say Robert Shaw's sly and sinister monarch in "A Man For All Seasons", but Shaw is playing a younger man in a period of only six years, while Laughton is dealing with nearly twelve years as the same man fights to retain youth and yet ages badly due to ill-health. Laughton did deserve his Oscar, but Shaw needed two more films of Henry at later stages to fill in his first rate junior portrait.

Laughton did well with Henry, as Korda did by selecting Laughton. We are the richer for both of their visions.
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Laughton is wonderful
Morning Star13 February 2000
Just saw this film again on video. The film is dated now but Charles Laughton's performance still seems fresh. He's quite funny in the scene where he complains about "the lack of manners these days" as he gnaws on a whole chicken with his bare hands and tosses the bones behind him on the floor. And he's quite touching at times when be breaks down in front of everyone and cries. Laughton certainly deserved this Oscar for this role.
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Don't forget Elsa Lanchester
A-No.131 January 2003
All the comments I have read about this movie have focussed on Charles Laughton and though he gives a performance that makes this film worth seeing on that basis alone, I was more struck by Elsa Lanchester and daresay that she even managed to usurp him in their scenes together. Her performance as Anne of Cleves is one that is memorably eccentric, as she plays her with a kind of flakey caginess that is funny, fascinating and original. She is also quite striking to watch and I am thankful that Bride of Frankenstein has given her a degree of cinematic immortality that might otherwise have been denied her. Returning to this film though, it is highly entertaining, though its abrupt mood shifts leave the viewer with an inconsistent impression about Henry VIII and his volatile personality, but, then again, perhaps that was the point: to show just how inconsistent a man he was in his thoughts and desires.
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Henry Was Hard On His Ladies
Bill Slocum7 May 2005
Love and absolute power are two things that bring out the worst in people. For most of history, men enjoyed the better of the bargain, and King Henry VIII of England was perhaps the most representative example of that. Between his many dalliances he had six wives, a cast of very different women who spoke to his love of variety if not constancy.

"The Private Life Of Henry VIII" is a merry recounting of five of those marriages, with a passing nod in the opening titles to first wife Catherine of Aragon: "Her story is of no particular interest. She was a respectable woman." It's a funny line that sets up what will be the film's cheerfully cynical tone.

Director Alexander Korda and his writers Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis made several brave choices, like the episodic structure of the story as it focuses on each wife in turn, and how it concentrates most on the last four rather than the second and most famous of Henry's wives, Anne Boleyn, played by Merle Oberon for what only amounts to a cameo as she awaits her execution. By doing this they acknowledge Henry VIII's cruelty without giving us the kind of details that would make us not like him, even as he is played by Charles Laughton.

Laughton is the best thing in the movie, winning an Oscar for a performance undimmed by time. He struts wide-legged from scene to scene, playing up his character's vanity and vulgarity and finding an emotional core that draws us to like him despite his legendary faults. When we first see him, after a few minutes of exposition around his court, he has caught one of his ladies-in-waiting, Katherine Howard, making comment about how unfair this whole Boleyn business is. Why if he were not a king, she would call him...

"What would you call me?" Henry demands as he appears from the shadows of the doorway.

Katherine trembles, and manages to blurt: "Why, I would call you...a man!"

A big laugh from the big man. "So I am, and glad of it. And you may be glad of it too, one day."

As played by the lovely Binnie Barnes, Katherine Howard gets the lion's share of attention among the wives, as we first see her as a court lady who soon becomes ambitious for Henry's attentions even as one of Henry's knights, Thomas Culpeper, pleads for her love. She gets Henry eventually, lives to regret it, then doesn't, in a nice story arc Barnes carries off well with her beauty and charm, well enough to not make us wonder about her sudden turnabout in character from the sensible, decent woman we see in the beginning. About the only negative of her performance, and of the film, is her scenes with Culpeper slow down the story and take too much time away from Henry.

Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's real-life wife, makes a strong impression as the least romantic of Henry's partners, a German duchess he marries for politics but comes to grief when he gets a load of her face. Lanchester actually is lovely, but Anne figures her only way to avoid Henry's attentions is to push out her jaw and act dense when he talks about what her wifely duties entail. She and Laughton have a wonderful comic chemistry as they spend their wedding night playing cards; and its especially fun to watch Laughton as his character gets some of his own back for all his serial marrying.

"If you want to be happy...marry a stupid woman!" Henry tells Culpeper at one point. That's not exactly true; stupid women can break your heart, too. True marital happiness may in fact be a fallacy, but at least "The Private Life Of Henry VIII" makes such failure fun.
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Setting A High Standard
bkoganbing11 December 2005
In watching The Private Life of Henry VIII it's good to remember that we are talking about his private life. The reasons of state and the impact all the marriages had on Tudor foreign and domestic politics is not dealt with her at all. For a balanced treatment of that I would highly recommend watching the BBC mini-series with Keith Michell.

In fact it was all politics and religion and the mix of the two that was involved in Henry VIII's first marriage and the divorce. That was what led to the English break away from the Roman Catholic Church and the founding of the Anglican church. In this film Catherine of Aragon, wife number one, is dismissed as "a good woman."

The film begins with the execution of Number 2, Anne Boleyn, who failed in her duty to provide a male royal heir. Number 3, Jane Seymour did so at the cost of her own life when she died in childbirth. Both Merle Oberon and Wendy Barrie who played both of these women respectively make brief, but lasting impressions.

Wife Number 4 is Anne of Cleves and were not sure exactly why Henry VIII found her so unappealing. Reportedly the portrait sent to the English court of her before the marriage was brokered was shall we say, exaggerated advertisement. This vacuum of knowledge gives Elsa Lanchester a great opportunity for some scatterbrained comedy that she so excelled at. It comes as a comic interlude in an otherwise grim film. The things Henry does for England.

Wife Number 5 is Catherine Howard, reputedly a young girl with some nymphomaniac tendencies. Binnie Barnes as Catherine Howard is a good deal more virtuous, but just as ambitious as the real Catherine. In truth Thomas Culpepper played by Robert Donat was only one of a series of lovers with whom she cheated with. And doing that to the King had only one remedy.

Charles Laughton one an Oscar for this performance and set a standard for playing Henry VIII. Some of the others that followed and all of them doing it well are Montagu Love, Richard Burton, Robert Shaw, James Robertson Justice and Keith Michell. Yet Laughton's is the performance all others are measured by.

Robert Donat got his first real notice playing Thomas Culpepper and of course went on to a great, but limited career because of his chronic asthma. Some of the cerebral qualities that went into all of his lead roles are definitely found in Culpepper.

But despite Donat and the wives the film is Laughton's. Laughton was only 34 when this film was made about a decade at least younger than the real Henry VIII. And folks did age faster in Henry's time than in Laughton's. I've always thought that the key to Henry VIII was the fact he wanted to stay young forever. He wouldn't accept growing old as a fact of life that even monarchs aren't immune from.

We should remember the film is about his private life and it is Laughton's portrayal of the private Henry that has made this film a classic.
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Great classic movie with Charles Laughton
RIO-1511 April 2001
The personal life of England's infamous monarch is portrayed marvellously in this British classic.Starting with the beheading of his second wife the ambitious Anne Boleyn we follow Laughton's masterly performance of King Henry through his subsequent marriages which all end in tragedy,until his last wife outlives him.

Charles Laughton is simply fantastic in his role.Portraying the King of England as a virile,charming but dangerous man when he's young and a crouching,old fool in his latest years.Very good performances also by Elsa Lanchester and Binnie Barnes as two of his wives. Rating: **** out of *****
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Charles Laughton IS Henry VIII.
Film Dog6 April 1999
Charles Laughton is quite simply one of the best actors to ever grace the earth. EVER. He proves his range once again as he portrays Henry VIII. Now, I've never seen Henry VIII, but I swore I was looking at him. To me, Laughton is that convincing. Compare this confident, powerful character to his 'Ruggles', in "Ruggles of Red Gap". A total wimp. A complete 180. Then there's Capt. Bligh. From sissy to nasty. The freaks: Quasimodo, Dr. Moreau, Nero, To say this man can play any sort of role is putting it mildly. Name one other actor with more range. I personally can't.
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Laughton rules as the much-married King
Jem Odewahn31 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This 1933 Alexander Korda production actually holds up mighty well today. Given that it is an early talkie, and was made in a fledgling British film industry, I was expecting more than a little creakiness. But it is still a very lively, well-paced film- in large part due to Laughton's terrific performance as the much-married King Henry VIII.

Politics take a back seat in this bawdy royal yarn, as we watch fat, charismatic, roaring and sometimes sensitive Henry work his way through six wives in quick succession. Actually, we never see the first, Catherine of Aragorn. The film begins with the beheading of Anne Boleyn, played by a young Merle Oberon. It's an eye-catching small role for the future Mrs Korda, and she makes the most of her limited screen time. Stage player Wendy Barrie is Jane Seymour, Henry's pretty, dumb and short-lived third wife, and the kooky, delightful Elsa Lanchester threatens to steal Laughton's thunder as Anne of Cleves. She's the only woman in the film who doesn't want to be Queen! And Billie Barnes is ambitious Catherine Howard, who carries on a fateful affair with a young, handsome Robert Donat....

Fine production values, a fun, sharp script and good acting propel the drama. Korda keeps the film moving at a lively pace, even if the editing is a bit primitive. The film only starts to lose it's spirit after the death of Billie Barnes- the rest of it is a rollicking ride. Laughton won the Oscar for his portrayal, and his dominating performance is still very admirable today. Yes, Laughton was very theatrical, but he was also a darn good actor, one of the best.
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It's supposed to be a comedy guys
MissSimonetta23 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I cannot tell you how many people I have come across who do not get that this is a black comedy and not a factual representation of the life of Henry VIII, despite the dryness of the title. One person even said they shut the film off after the first inter title quips that Katharine of Aragon was not worth mentioning because she was a good woman. Do they not realize that was a joke or are people THAT dense? If you don't realize it's supposed to be humorous after witnessing the circus-like attitude toward Anne Boleyn's execution at the opening, then surely you did by the time it gets to the wedding night between Anne of Cleves and Henry, where they play cards as they nonchalantly discuss terms of divorce.

Ranting aside, if you're one of those people who DOES realize that this is a comedy, then you're bound to have a good time. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1934) is an episodic picture going through the many marriages of one of England's most infamous monarchs. Charles Laughton is amazing in the lead, portraying a Henry that is commanding and powerful as well as humorous and poignant. He's especially moving during his final scenes, where Henry tries fighting against his advancing age to impress his much younger fifth wife and especially when he breaks down after discovering she has been carrying on with a much younger man. Other notable performers are Elsa Lanchester as Anne of Cleves who plays off of Laughton well, and the gorgeous Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn who faces death with dignity and a bit of humor.

Turn your inner historian off and enjoy!
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He's Hen-ery the Eighth, he was
jc-osms15 November 2010
Rollicking historical bio-pic of the notorious love-life of Britain's most married monarch in this early talkie directed by the celebrated Alexander Korda and featuring a bravura performance by the young Charles Laughton.

Of course, condensing six marriages into one 97 minute movie (a famous BBC series of the early 70's allocated one hour to each wife!), means that cuts are made, for instance Katherine Of Aragon (his divorce of whom saw Henry excommunicated by the Pope and effectively make England a Protestant country, in other words, no insignificant event), is sidestepped completely and we only see Anne Boleyn, possibly the most interesting and charismatic of the wives as she readies herself for her beheading. So really we only get four and a half wives for the price of six but to be fair the film is pretty much all about Henry, as the title makes clear.

Laughton is terrific in the title role even if one may smile now of the casting at the time which saddled the homosexual actor with six women (not to mention the more than occasional mistress), all of whose prime purpose was to beget a male heir to Henry's throne. The movie also gets across well the excesses of Henry's court as well as the sycophancy which inevitably accompanied this despot with at different stages his songwriting and wrestling prowess lauded to the heavens.

There's a relatively minor sub-plot with Robert Donat's Thomas Culpepper's relationship with the over-ambitious Kathaerine Parr which is later exposed by an army of witnesses leading to their immediate demise, but you sense the director's sympathies are with Henry in any case.

There's much ribald humour, quite racy for the time, in the utterings of the hoi-polloi at the queens' executions and amongst the King's serving staff, while the encounter with the exceeding ugly Anne Of Cleves is played for laughs pretty much from the start. The direction is fast moving and while telescoping a lot of history into its short running time, does so with wit and flair - like when the second and third queens say to camera "What a lovely day", for one, her last and the other, first words as a monarch, or the elevated shot of a solitary Hanry when his beloved Kate (Parr) gets the chop for her adultery with Donat.

Bowdlerised history it may well be but this is great fun and can teach all manner of succeeding stodgy and static historical recreations, both big and small-screen, a thing or six about delivering fine entertainment.
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About as good as they come
Gloede_The_Saint21 March 2010
This was god damn bleeding great. Both hilarious and sad. With a sarcastic and somewhat sarcastic tone, we see the life of the notorious king and the relationships to his five last wives, the first is left out since she according to the film's opening titles were not interesting enough. : ) What to say about this. Executioners who bicker over who has the right to cut off the head of the Queen (opening scenes), and spectators who wants the best possible view of the execution is the beginning of this wonderful genre mix from Alexander Korda.

Charles Laughton plays the crazed Henry, whom despite many ugly acts you just have to love. The rest of the cast is quite good as well, especially Elsa Lanchester, but Laughton is indeed the star. Not a boring, empty, or uninteresting moment.

If you have not seen this you most definitely have to! Delicious black humor and some great drama is what awaits you.

Rating: 9.5/10
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Reasonably good history but too much material for one movie as well as an odd view of the life of this complex king.
MartinHafer21 February 2010
You should probably know that I was a world history teacher, so I tend to look at historical films differently from the average person. I love a good historical film but I am also very unforgiving of a sloppy film or one that gets its facts wrong. Keep this in mind when you read this review.

Compared to the average 1930s historical film, this one is pretty good and pretty accurate. Aside from a few mistakes here and there (such as showing Anne Boleyn being publicly executed), the spirit of the film is pretty accurate to Henry in his later years. However, it shows an odd view of his life--completely bypassing his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (it said she was a good woman so her life was omitted--but she also was married to Henry the longest--and this would take up at least two movies to discuss well) as well as only giving the briefest glimpse of Boleyn just as she was being executed--but nothing more. So it skips a lot--and only shows a small glimpse of Henry's life (about a six year period). BUT, and this is important, there is STILL way too much material for this film. You see, during this time, Henry had five different marriages--and each is treated almost like a Cliff Notes version of the marriage.

So, despite its limitations, is it entertaining? Well, perhaps. If you like historical period pieces and don't mind the sketchy nature of the film, it's fine viewing. The acting is very good--and Charles Laughton was in fine form. And the film looks beautiful. As for the script, it's pretty good--with some nice sparkling dialog.
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dated early sound production redeemed by its leading man
Michael Neumann27 December 2010
So persuasive was Charles Laughton in his first major role that he defined for all time our image of the famous English monarch with the perennial marriage problems: regal in bearing, arrogant in manner, stuffing himself on roasted fowl and tossing the bones haughtily over each shoulder. The film was a huge success both at home and abroad (it was the first British production ever to win a sizable American audience), most likely because of Laughton's entertaining portrait of the king, ascribing to Henry the petulance and charm of a precocious child. The temperamental actor took the role in his teeth and ran away with it, winning international acclaim and a Best Actor Oscar. And yet for all its flamboyance his performance is also surprisingly sympathetic, revealing the aging king as a lonely man unable to find the simple happiness he desperately craved, and in the end wistfully accepting the nagging, maternal attentions of his sixth and final wife. The elegant settings and costumes were achieved on an amazingly small budget, but the static camera and sometimes primitive dialogue should be forgiven as typical artifacts of the early sound era.
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good film
kyle_furr3 March 2004
Charles Laughton won an oscar for playing Henry VIII and the movie stars out with the beheading of his second wife. His third wife dies during childbirth and his fourth wife, played by Elsa Lancaster, saves her own skin by agreeing to divorce him. His fifth wife is also beheaded for cheating on him with Robert Donat, and it doesn't show what happens to his sixth wife. They don't even mention his first wife expect at the start where they say they were divorced. Charles Laughton also played Henry VIII 20 years later in Young Bess but he wasn't the main star there, Jean Simmons was. Charles Laughton is great as the king and so is Elsa Lancaster, his fourth wife. I don't know how accurate this film is but i don't care.
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A great interesting film with a superb central performance
TheLittleSongbird29 July 2012
Anybody expecting a history lesson on Henry VIII are better off reading a book about the Tudors instead. However, it is not about the historical accuracy/inaccuracy that I am going to judge The Private Life of Henry VIII. In all honesty, having studied the Tudors and read countless books and seen various documentaries on the subject I was not expecting a history lesson in the first place, just an entertaining, sumptuous and well acted film, and that is exactly what The Private Life of Henry VIII is. If there was anything that I would've preferred to have been done better was for the first part of the film to be less rushed through. Other than that it was great, while occasionally creaky the production values do look splendid with sumptuous costumes and gorgeous-looking decor. Kurt Schroder's lush score and the witty script are also things to like, as well as how compelling the comedy of the Anne of Cleves' scenes and the moving tragedy of Catherine Howard's were. Alexander Korda directs solidly, never allowing the pace to lag and making effort to make the characters interesting. And interesting they are, helped enormously by the performances. I completely agree with those who praise Charles Laughton's performance, alongside Quasimodo and Captain Bligh his funny, subtle and very clever turn as this complex monarch is one of the best performances of his career, underneath the flamboyancy there is a tinge of poignancy too which enables us to sympathise for him. He has a fine supporting cast, most notably the hilariously good Anne of Cleves of Elsa Lanchester and the dashing Culpepper of Robert Donat. All in all, great. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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Good version, excellent performance by Laughton..
MarieGabrielle28 April 2011
The film, entitled the "Private lives of Henry the VIII" tells us that this encompasses his activities inside the royal palace, and there were many. While maybe not historical fact one hundred percent, the performance and players do well to transcend this.

Laughton is at his best here, ..."ah the things I must do for England"... he sighs mischievously as he enters the master chamber to be with his fourth wife Anne of Cleves well portrayed by Elsa Lanchester. He is very amusing and while the story give us some history it also gives us an amusing peripheral view of what life may have been like for the king.

The scene where he tears a capon apart, eating it and commenting on the ills of humanity, and what is wrong with people. His court is silent, as they do not want to be next on the chopping block.

Merle Oberon is lovely as Anne Boleyn, dark and attractive, as she wonders if her hair will stay in place after the guillotine.

The costumes and sets in the black and white are part fiction, part real. Theatrical but not over the top, as later Technicolor would be.

Overall an enjoyable version which even today does not seem dated, literally one could almost imagine Laughton stepping off the screen, and coming to your living room to play King Henry today. Amazing in retrospect, how gifted actors, truly talented can transcend their time period and make an indelible impression.
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Laughton richly deserved his Oscar as Henry VIII...
Neil Doyle27 October 2008
Highly enjoyable British film from Alexander Korda, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII gives CHARLES LAUGHTON the plum role of his career and he munches on all the scenery with artistic skill and great humor. Even though he has the spotlight, others around him make the film a highly enjoyable one to watch.

ROBERT DONAT is handsome and sensitive as Culpepper, a favorite of the Court who has the misfortune to love one of Henry's wives (BINNIE BARNES).

MERLE OBERON has a brief role as Ann Boleyn in a sensitive scene where she worries about meeting the executioner's ax. Oberon would later marry Korda and this was a showy but brief role that gave her career a good start.

ELSA LANCHESTER provides a lot of chuckles as Anne of Cleves, the woman whose portrait fascinates Henry--until he meets her. Her facial displays are deliberately meant to provoke him--that and her ungainly movements--and she and Laughton play their scenes together with great finesse.

TCM is showing a good print of the film which makes it all the more enjoyable, because the sets and costumes are quite opulent and photographed skillfully. The pace is brisk, the humor is ever present, the story never loses interest and Laughton--even at his hammiest--is superb as the king who tried to find happiness but found out that it eluded him at every turn.
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"The Private Life Of Henry VIII"
GeraldApplegate11 December 2005
I was very please to have the chance to view "The Private Life Of Henry VIII" (1933)on our local PBS station a few weekends ago. The print that they had was very tattered however, I loved the film. I am now wondering if this film is yet available on DVD. The props that they used in the film like the bed warmers of the period gave the film a me the viewer a very nice insight into day to day life at that point in history for the very fortunate of day such as kings and other nobles. You can only imagine what life was like for most of us common people. I was also very pleased to learn in my search to gain some information on this film that Charles Laughton won an Academy Award for his performance in it. Anyway if anyone can contact me about a DVD of this film please feel free to e-mail me at

God Bless Gerald
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Charles Laughton gets the Gold
wes-connors21 May 2013
This classic impression of "Henry VIII" by Charles Laughton is fun to watch. After this, it became impossible to think of the real-life English monarch without picturing Mr. Laughton. However, the unlikable character's "Private Life" makes a dull film. Alexander Korda creates atmosphere, but he and the scenery-chewing star needed a better story. There is some respite, if you endure, during the second half. Things pick up when dapper Robert Donat (as Thomas "Tom" Culpeper) arouses fifth wife Binnie Barnes (as Katherine "Kate" Howard). Also stay tuned as Elsa Lanchester (as Anne of Cleves) visits the castle for a quick marriage and returns, later, to offer the King some good advice. Laughton took home his "Oscar" for this role.

****** The Private Life of Henry VIII (8/17/33) Alexander Korda ~ Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Binnie Barnes, Elsa Lanchester
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Blood Sport.
Robert J. Maxwell28 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Near the beginning of "Three Days of the Condor," Max von Sydow and his gang of hired hit men brutally murder in cold blood half a dozen harmless and unarmed civilians. At the end, von Sydow's character has a little speech that is supposed to make us sympathetic. He may kill for the group that pays him the most, but he is a sensitive man, a man of principle. But that initial mass murder, starkly depicted, is an unforgivable act. It was so repellant that the fact that he might know the Louvre inside and out became irrelevant.

I had the same problem with "The Private Life of Henry VIII." Charles Laughton gives a find performance, considering that it's so overplayed. But one expects a great big ham at a royal banquet. The difficulty is that the film begins with the tragic beheading of Anne Bolyne, Henry's second wife. And the preparations are dwelt on. The French headsman, imported for the occasion, spends forever sharpening his sword. There is reassuring talk about how it doesn't hurt. Happily the execution takes place off screen, as does the descending sword in "Anne of the Thousand Days," which tells part of the same story.

The king isn't at all put off by his wife's death. She had to make room for wife number three. He goes through half a dozen wives. In the last scene he turns to the camera and says, "Six wives, and the last one is the worst." And we're supposed to chuckle at the bad luck of this pompous, self indulgent, murdering curmudgeon who lives by hypothetical imperatives alone.

Laughton's performance can't be criticized. He shouts out orders and bullies everyone, man and woman alike. When he executes another wife for possible adultery, he weeps as he prays for forgiveness, "Mea culpa," but I don't believe it. He's never shown remorse in his life. Yet he injects some humor into the narrative. "There is no more delicacy," he complains at the dinner table, as he tears off a large piece of capon and slips the bones over his shoulder. Laughton has developed a walk that reeks of uncompromising authority, as he stomps around the castle.

I guess the contemporary audience enjoyed it. I didn't like it much.
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Dated but Interesting
Hitchcoc18 February 2010
This is an actors film. Charles Laughton takes Henry through different periods in his life. We are kept at arm's length when it comes to the realities of the political climate he faced and his obsessions. We are to accept him as a fat lovable, impulsive man who is able to simply command an execution without batting an eye. The wives are each interesting. We barely see Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) but then are given a series of quite interesting, though somewhat underdeveloped personages. Elsa Lanchester as Anne of Cleves comes across as a vacuous Lucille Ball type who plays cards rather than consummating the marriage. The movie really has no suspense. Henry is a bully, and he gets what he wants. His heartbreak is hard to sympathize with when we consider what he has been given by his lineage. Laughton's acting excellent, but we don't really get much of the real sense of the true figure. I guess that is left to other films and other directors.
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"She died like a queen." One of many.
Irie21213 September 2009
Camera on the crowd. Peasant couple watching as Anne Boleyn gets the ax. "She died like a queen," says he. "Yes– and that frock! Wasn't it too divine!" says she.

Anne Boleyn (a luminous Merle Oberon, age 22) loses her head courtesy of one of two executioners-- headsmen used as comic relief because they bicker about who is better at beheadings, the British or the French. Not that this movie needs comic relief. I never thought of the Tudor years as droll, but Alexander Korda, Lajos Biro (writer), and Charles Laughton successfully make light of divorce, death in childbirth, annulment, widowhood, and of course, the axe.

Those are the five fates of Henry's six wives, and I'd have suffered almost any of them if Henry VIII actually had been the amusing, vigorous royal scoundrel of Charles Laughton's brilliant portrayal.

A hefty man, Laughton becomes larger than life in the extravagant Tudor costumes. And he fully occupies the role, from leg garters to puffed sleeves to tousled hair (which he smooths into place with licked fingers as he courts No. 5).

No wonder he got the Oscar against stiff competition (Paul Muni and Leslie Howard). At no point are you in doubt about what his Henry is feeling or thinking, so expressive is Laughton's face, so finely and quickly articulated are his movements. That is no small feat, as Henry runs a full gamut of moods as well as actions— from cuddling a baby to strangling an adviser, from seducing one wife to doing anything to avoid having sex with another (Elsa Lanchester as Ann of Cleves), from challenging a wrestler to delivering a lecture on the death of manners as he tosses half-chewed fowl bones over his shoulder at dinner. It's hard to respect a man like that, but it's impossible not to.
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It's Charles Laughton's Film.
JohnWelles15 March 2009
Whatever you say about Alexander Korda's "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933), is that it is Charles Laughton's movie all the way. Right from the opening scene where you first see Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) he seems to push all the other actors (and their are some fine ones too; such as: Robert Donat, Elsa Lanchester and Merle Oberon) off the screen. You are always looking at Charles Laughton rather than anybody else. True, some of it is dated, but the sets hold up well, and there isn't that many painted backgrounds. Despite its entertainment value, which is huge, it is also a important film in British cinema history. It was the first time a English actor won an Academy Award for Best Actor (Charles Laughton), and the first British movie too be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. A very enjoyable film.
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