The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

TV Mini-Series  |   |  Drama, History, Romance
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A six-episode dramatization of Henry VIII's relationships with each of his six wives. Each episode is devoted to one wife, and is a complete play in itself.

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1  
1970  
Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 6 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Series cast summary:
Keith Michell ...
 Henry VIII (6 episodes, 1970)
...
 Narrator (6 episodes, 1970)
...
 Duke of Norfolk (5 episodes, 1970)
Bernard Hepton ...
 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (4 episodes, 1970)
Sheila Burrell ...
 Lady Rochford (3 episodes, 1970)
Basil Dignam ...
 Bishop Gardiner (3 episodes, 1970)
Wolfe Morris ...
 Thomas Cromwell (3 episodes, 1970)
Angela Pleasence ...
 Catherine Howard (2 episodes, 1970)
Anne Stallybrass ...
 Jane Seymour (2 episodes, 1970)
Dorothy Tutin ...
 Anne Boleyn (2 episodes, 1970)
Daniel Moynihan ...
 Edward Seymour (Lord Hertford) (2 episodes, 1970)
John Ronane ...
 Thomas Seymour (2 episodes, 1970)
Howard Goorney ...
 Will Somers (2 episodes, 1970)
...
 Sir Thomas Wriothesley (2 episodes, 1970)
Alison Frazer ...
 Princess Mary (2 episodes, 1970)
Edward Atienza ...
 Eustache Chapuys (2 episodes, 1970)
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Storyline

A six-episode dramatization of Henry VIII's relationships with each of his six wives. Each episode is devoted to one wife, and is a complete play in itself.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

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The legendary, BAFTA award-winning BBC historical drama!

Genres:

Drama | History | Romance

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Release Date:

1 August 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die sechs Frauen Heinrich VIII  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Keith Michell is 188cm tall, the same height as the real Henry VIII. See more »

Goofs

At the end of the segment "Jane Seymour", the supposedly dead Seymour is still breathing. See more »

Connections

Followed by Elizabeth R (1971) See more »

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User Reviews

A Masterpiece Despite the Fundamental Flaw
31 October 2004 | by (England) – See all my reviews

This is one of the most popular and best-remembered BBC drama productions of all time. As well as drawing record audiences in the early seventies, it spawned the equally impressive follow-up - Elizabeth R. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is not held in such high regard without good reason. It is perhaps the most historically accurate dramatic account of this period in history we will ever see.

As well as its accuracy, the series is remembered for the performances of the actors. Keith Michell shines throughout as King Henry aging from an athletic young prince to a monstrously obese tyrant. All of the actresses deliver sterling performances as the wives. Standouts from the supporting cast include Sheila Burrell as the conniving Lady Rochford, Wolfe Morris as manipulative Thomas Cromwell, Patrick Troughton as the Duke of Norfolk and Bernard Hepton as Archbishop Cranmer, a role he was to reprise in Elizabeth R and the 1973 cinema remake of this series.

The costumes and makeup for this series cannot go unmentioned. They are little short of outstanding. One would almost believe Keith Michell was swapped for an older, fatter actor for the latter three episodes and the costumes change throughout, depicting shifts in courtly fashions.

CATHERINE OF ARAGON Perhaps the least lavish play in terms of production values, but among the better ones for scripting and acting. It begins, rather ploddingly, by covering Catherine's time in England before her marriage to Henry. When they do wed, the story skips abruptly to Henry's courtship with Anne Boleyn and the divorce of Catherine. Midway through this episode Anne Boleyn is Queen and Catherine is left dying away from court. It closes with her death in 1536.

ANNE BOLEYN A somewhat disappointing installment, despite wonderful acting and a sharp script. Anne is without a doubt the most famous wife of Henry VIII and the one who has provoked the most interest from historians, yet much of her life goes untold in this series. The earlier events in her story were rushed through in a handful of scenes in the second half of the Catherine of Aragon episode, and this episode focuses entirely on her downfall. Half of this play is dedicated to the last eighteen days of Anne's life, in the tower. Dorothy Tutin's fine performance brings this play back on par with the better ones in the series though.

JANE SEYMOUR Something of an anomaly within this series. It breaks with the continuity of the other five plays by covering events that had already been dealt with in Anne Boleyn's episode. The result is that Anne's execution is depicted twice during the course of the series. It also stands out from the rest in terms of production. The other five episodes are filmed as theatrical pieces whilst Jane Seymour is visibly an example of television drama. It's a shame that perhaps the dullest of Henry's wives gets by far the best treatment in the series. The real mystery of this episode is why the format suddenly changes before reverting back to the old style for the final three installments.

ANNE OF CLEVES It was never going to be easy to write a ninety-minute play about a largely unimportant, six-month-long mistake, but everybody involved seems to have made their best efforts here. Anne of Cleves is interpreted as being far more intelligent and witty than she cared to show in the English court and Elvi Hale plays her well. It's very absorbingly written too.

CATHERINE HOWARD It's difficult to decide what to make of this episode. The script has Catherine as a match for her ill-fated cousin, Anne Boleyn, with cunning intelligence, when she was, in fact, a frivolous girl who was thrust too high for her own good. It is, nonetheless, a good adaptation of her story and Sheila Burrell is fantastic as Lady Rochford. As with all the other episodes, there is a reluctance to paint Henry in a bad light here and Catherine almost comes out as the villain of the piece.

CATHERINE PARR Perhaps the most neglected wife in public interest, Catherine Parr's story is actually full of intrigue. This episode deals with her strong religious views and her enforcement of them which nearly sent her to a grizzly fate. Unlike the others in the series, this play relies heavily on dialogue rather than action and it closes the story well.

So the only real failing of the series is not that it is shown in six episodes, but that one episode is dedicated to each wife. The story could have been told more comprehensively if parts 1-3 dealt with Catherine of Aragon's time as Queen, her fall from grace in favour of Anne Boleyn, the divorce, the religious reforms brought about by the King's desire to marry Anne Boleyn and have her children as heirs to the throne, Anne's marriage to the King and her eventual downfall. Jane Seymour would be best dealt with in part 4, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard merged together in the fifth part, whilst Catherine Parr and the King's death could be covered in the sixth.

This criticism aside, the series has earned every word of praise ever spoken for it. It is one of the best nine hours you can spend watching a television drama, so go out and watch it.


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