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.