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Henry VIII of England discards one wife Katharine of Aragon, who has failed to produce a male heir, in favor of a young and beautiful woman, Anne Boleyn, whose one-thousand-day reign as Queen of England ends with the loss of her head on the block. Henry weds Ann and soon she gives him a child. The girl, Elizabeth, is a bitter disappointment to Henry, who desperately wants an heir. Anne promises Henry a son "next time," but Henry is doubtful. Shortly thereafter, rumors begin that the King's eye has already wandered. One Jane Seymour is at court for a moment. The Queen has her sent away, but, if Anne will bring Jane back to court, the King promises to sign the Act of Succession to insure that Elizabeth will be Queen. Written by
Henry VIII's male chauvinistic desire to begat a male heir for the throne of England is a tale often told from many points of view. In Anne of a Thousand Days it's told from the point of view of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of the infant child who became Elizabeth I.
Anne Boleyn, a high spirited young lass of 18, catches Henry VIII's eye at court. One of his previous dalliances was with her older sister Mary and that paid off well for the Boleyn family. Father Tom sees riches and glory even more and persuades her to really keep the king panting.
Anne succeeds all too well. Henry divorces Catherine of Aragon and marries Anne. But all he begats is another daughter. And Henry still wants a son and he's got an eye on another. It all ends tragically for the Boleyn family.
It's important to remember that as the film opens Henry VIII having caught sight of Anne at his court denies permission for her to marry some young lord whom she is in love with and vice versa. Had he looked elsewhere, had he moved on, all this might never have come to pass.
Anne of the Thousand Days took 21 years to come to the screen. It ran on Broadway for a year in 1948-1949 and starred Rex Harrison as Henry VIII. Richard Burton joins a great list of actors who've portrayed Henry VIII on the screen. Probably the young Charles Laughton did him best, but Burton is certainly fine.
Genevieve Bujold in her screen debut is a stunning and fetching Anne, too fetching for her own good. Poor kid though, in other than a monarchist society that was becoming more absolute during Henry's reign, she'd have married the man of her dreams and lived happily ever after.
Anthony Quayle is a fine Cardinal Woolsey though I prefer Orson Welles in A Man for All Seasons. Michael Hordern as Thomas Boleyn destroys more than one member of his family through his own ambition.
Irene Papas makes a tragic Catherine of Aragon. By all accounts Catherine was a pious woman who had incredible rotten luck with her pregnancies. Only daughter Mary survived who grew up to be the Queen known as Bloody Mary. She settled some accounts when she became Queen.
I think the best supporting portrayal is that of John Colicos as Thomas Cromwell. This Cromwell was the great uncle of the more well known Oliver Cromwell. Oliver has his supporters and detractors, but I've never seen a good word in any history books about Uncle Tom. Colicos has him pegged just right as a serpentine intriguer. By the way after the period of this film is over, Thomas Cromwell made one too many intrigues and got on Henry VIII's wrong side. People usually didn't live long after that and Cromwell was no exception.
When he wrote Anne of the Thousand Days, Maxwell Anderson grew up in a society of law. I think a fine appreciation of that fact comes into the moral of the story. Even an absolute monarch has to obey laws or no one is safe. Until Henry VIII was off this mortal coil, no one was.
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