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Like the film 'Elizabeth' the factual content of this film was very slim. Unlike Elizabeth it had no compensating qualities. It gave virtually no insight to the character of Henry or any of his wives, from the opening scenes where the Duke of Buckingham apparently survived his execution in 1513 to appear as a crusader for Catherine of Aragon 15 years later, to the death bed scene where Henry's family (who were actually celebrating New Year miles away) are clustered round his bed to hear his dying words. Jane gets knocked about and Henry hides round the corner during Anne Boleyn's trial-Complete nonsense! historically, once Henry had decided to lose a wife, he avoided all contact and blamed everyone else for their treatment. What is odd is that the directors chose to invent completely spurious scenes to illustrate Henry's crimes when there were plenty of real incidents which would have provided more than enough spectacle. I appreciate that Henry's court of more than 1000 people, glittering with excessive layers of sumptuous cloth and huge jewels could not be managed on a TV budget- but this Henry spent half his time in empty buildings talking to his echo, something impossible in the Tudor Court where even the King going to the toilet was surrounded by hereditary attendants. So, setting aside accuracy, we are left with the casting of Ray Winstone. Not impossible that Henry might have cracked coarse jokes, had a cockney accent and been free with his hands. Before he became a human boulder, he was also athletic, obsessed with doing all of those sports his father, fearful for the life of the only surviving son, had forbidden. But what happened to the literate defender of the faith? The king who owned dozens of pairs of reading glasses, who played a range of musical instruments and sang every day, who enjoyed disguising and dancing, who spent hours in disputes with intellectuals about faith? This film's Henry was like a soap opera character- a renaissance Dirty Den. Two dimensional and unbelievable. It was the choice to rely on spectacle rather than knowledge, assuming the audience to be dummies, incapable of following a plot, that sank this film. Another film which would not manage a release in cinema and will, I guess, be forgotten!
Well this is just another telling of the story of England's most famous
monarch, and to be very honest, it was OK, but it's been done better
It did have numerous strong points. Firstly, some of the wives came across particularly well. Helena Bonham Carter gave perhaps the best Anne Boleyn to date (it would be a battle with Dame Dorothy Tutin for the title), sticking to what is known about the real woman, whilst still giving a very moving performance. Katherine Parr, however brief her appearance may have been, was another winner in this production, as this is the first time her character has been accurately and well portrayed.
The acting was very good overall, but Ray Winstone stuck out a little as the King. The rest of the cast were in Tudor mode, poshing it up and giving it their all, whilst he stuck to his usual cockney gangster style. However, this aside, he did portray the King well and was the first Henry VIII to date to show any form of remorse or concern following the execution of Anne Boleyn.
However there were short falls. The single biggest problem was that it was all too glamourised - did we really need to see the executioner hold up Anne Boleyn's severed head? Did they really need to alter history and have the Queens beheaded before baying crowds, just for that dramatic effect?
There were also some questionable interpretations of history. The Duke of Norfolk's role in Catherine Howard's downfall has been altered completely here (again, all done for thrills). Some scenes were very badly juxta-posed - to any viewer unfamiliar with the history behind this story, the film would give them the impression Jane Seymour had died after been punched in the face and thrown on the floor by her violent husband.
Just as some wives came across well, the rest came across very badly. Katherine of Aragon, rather than the respected and virtuous woman history paints a picture of, is an incessant whinge here - there's nothing likeable at all in her. Anne of Cleves appears twice, but doesn't utter a word in either scene, so she doesn't come across at all. Jane Seymour was wooden - the portrayal of her arouses no feelings whatsoever.
To summarise, it's all very glitsy and modern. The story is mistold in many key places. The only thing that really makes this worth watching is the star performance from Helena Bonham Carter. If you really want to see this story well told, invest some time and patience in watching the complete 1970 TV series 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII'.
Perhaps, like other dramas suggested by historical characters, this
of the story of 'Henry VIII' should be viewed with a high degree of
suspicion since most of the events depicted have very little basis in what
we know of the complex Tudor monarch.
Putting this reservation aside, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this four-hour drama for what it is, largely an entertainment playing on our prejudices and emotions throughout its depiction and treatment of the six wives. Part One wastes far too much time on the courtship between Henry and Anne Boleyn, and then manages to whizz through the circumstances of her downfall in a matter of minutes. This was a huge mistake in my opinion and makes that part of the story extremely confusing.
Part Two obviously spends time on Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, but again with a large amount of artistic licence - was Jane really a political meddler and did her husband's violence towards her cause her to go into premature birth? was Catherine really a manipulated slut with no mind of her own? The second section of "Henry VIII" is more gory than Part One, in particular concerning the execution scenes, and I think this aspect probably worked.
In the cast, kudos has to go to Ray Winstone in the lead despite the distraction of his East End accent, particularly for his work in the later part of the story. Of the wives, Assumpta Serna is an excellent Katharine of Aragon, giving the role some dignity; Helena Bonham-Carter is ok as Anne Boleyn but irritates at times - she does better in the scenes where she appears vulnerable than when she is feisty, talking-back Anne; Emilia Fox is good as Jane Seymour; Pia Girard has nothing to do as Anne of Cleves (I don't think she even speaks); Emily Blunt is miscast as Catherine Howard; and Clare Holman is effective as Catherine Parr. Others making an impact include David Suchet as Wolsey, Michael Maloney as Cranmer, Danny Webb as Thomas Cromwell, Dominic Mafham as Anne Boleyn's brother; Joseph Morgan as Thomas Culpepper; and Sean Bean as Robert Ashe.
Perhaps a bit of a misfire but a fascinating one.
Other reviewers have commented on historical inaccuracies in this
mini-series; I'd like to comment on the screenplay and its apparent
attempt to "modernize" this historical story. Aside from Winstone's
Cockney accent (unlikely in a palace-reared king at a time when French
was still used widely in the English court), would Henry VIII *really*
have said "how come" instead of "why" and would Catherine Howard
*really* have said to someone that "it's down to you that I'm here"? I
must also note that I've read a lot about this period in English
history, and don't actually remember any huge Catholic uprising led by
a noble from York (wonderfully played by Sean Bean though the role
was); surely such a significant episode would have made a bit of a
splash in the many histories of Henry VIII that I've read?
I will say that once I realized how hopelessly anachronistic this version was (about 5 minutes into part 1, shown here in Canada over the last week or so), I just settled back to enjoy the spectacle; and, for the limited, soap-operaish trashy wallow that this mini-series turned out to be, it was quite enjoyable. Some very fine actors hopefully received reasonably hefty paychecks for this, and some of the scenery and effects were very nice to watch. But for anyone interested in real history, this is about on par with the feature film "Elizabeth" of a few years ago, which posited a modernized version of the first English queen of that name that was, historically speaking, simply laughable.
Watch it for the actors; don't watch it for any sense of authenticity.
Henry as played by Ray Winstone is a brawling, bawling, beastly Bluebeard. I realize Henry VIII was a spoiled brat of a king, reigning at the time when being an absolute monarch meant something, but the Tudors were also craftily intelligent. This Henry just appears to be a demanding brute. There is very little attempt to portray his intelligence or his charm. He may have been king (and it's good to be king), but when he wanted to Henry could be charming. It doesn't come through here. The history itself is a bit screwy. Let's call it history lite. There is a bodice-ripper mentality to the writing. Let's get into the hairshirt with Katherine of Aragon or the sex with Anne Boleyn. Let's show brutal war at its most brutal. Yes, war really is horrid and the Renaissance Europe was a cruel place, but the feeling of this piece is not the historical value of violence and sex, but rather for their voyeuristic quality. It's a bit smarmy. The acting was melodramatic, relieved only by good performances by Charles Dance and Sean Bean and their characters die fairly quickly. This was 3 unpleasant hours that I don't want to repeat again. Classic classy British fair, NOT.
I knew that the picture was going to be full of imperfections they
minute I saw that they had made Katherine of Aragon a dark-haired,
dark-eyed stereotype of what a Spaniard is suppose to look like.
Katherine of Aragon, contrary to her previous portrayals, was a pretty,
highly intelligent and well-educated young woman with reddish gold hair
and blue eyes.
Moreover, she was infinitely more popular with the British people than Henry himself, and the Briitish people loathed Anne Boleyn for being the cause of hurting their beloved " Good Queen Catherine!"
It was believed that only Catherine's abhorence of Civil War prevented a good portion of the people rising up against Henry when he first started divorce proceedings. Assumpta Serna did an excellent job as Catherine, but her character(in my opinion) was given short shrift in comparison with Helena Bonham Carter's Anne Boleyn. Miss Bonham Carter was also too pretty to play Anne Boleyn, who, according to her contemporaries, was sallow-faced, black haired and eyed, and not that attractive in looks. What Anne did possess was a great deal of wit, charm, and ambition. Both she and Catherine were women who demonstrated strength and courage in adversity. What they lacked was the ruthless selfishness of Henry V111 and his monumental self-absorbsation in getting his own way. None of this was adequately portrayed in this series by the actors.
What makes this drama fail is that it is impossible to take seriously as
16th Century England. It has absolutely no feeling of authenticity - the
sets are bright and tatty, the costumes (especially what some of the wives
were wearing) looked like fairy-tale outfits, and all the way through it has
this Hollywood-style cinematic music playing.
The writing is utterly atrocious. The drama simply follows from one wife to the next. It never really delves into any other aspect of Henry's life apart from his relationships with his wives, each of whom is portrayed into a flat, plain stereotype. The drama places undue emphasis on an uprising by Robert Aske, and Sean Bean's ending is so blatantly copied off his fate as Boromir in 'Lord of the Rings' it's embarrassing. Except for the lead, the acting itself is not bad, but the characters sound too modern (very soap-like) and Ray Winstone is beyond belief as Henry VIII.
Ultimately, 'Henry VIII' is not about history in either its style or substance, but is more of a soap-style drama on a par with 'Footballer's Wives'.
I second most of the comments already made about the historical
inaccuracy of this program, but want to add yet another quibble: the
scenes that purport to show the dissolution of the monasteries. What a
bunch of hooey! I thought I was watching a scene from some movie of the
Vikings raiding and pillaging the English coast. What actually happened
was that inspectors were sent around and anything of value was
methodically stripped and either taken for the royal treasury or sold;
the monasteries were then pulled down, bells were melted, etc.; the
monks and nuns were given pensions. It's true that servants were turned
off without work, causing hardship; it's also true that those who were
especially obdurate were tried and executed, but the slashing swords
and burning monks fleeing from buildings were complete inventions of
I just don't see the point--fiction is the name for this (not even historical fiction--just fiction).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As an avid researcher of the Tudor age, I was looking forward to this
series. I shouldn't have. Instead, I should have treated this as a
drinking game - if I spotted an inaccuracy, I'd have a slug of beer. Or
vodka, as I learned as the series run along.
No need to list all the inaccuracies, just a few. Catherine of Aragon was in her later years very stocky, about 5ft tall, not so Assumpta Serna. Henry was well over 6ft tall, but when compared to his wives, the actor (although excellent) seems rather of an average height. Mary, Catherine's daughter, was not allowed to stay with her mother during Catherine's last years.
Only Henry's marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were public - that is to say, there would not have been early morning services with the bridal couples emerging from a chapel to a sprinkling of flower petals as was depicted in the cases of Katherine Howard and Jane Seymour.
Henry was not riding trough woods to Jane Seymour when the cannons of the Tower were blasting after Anne Boleyn's execution, he was having lunch with Jane at nearby Strand.
Thomas, Duke of Norfolk was not a hunky bald-headed doorman dressed in black leather, nor was Aske - there are plenty of portraits of them to prove otherwise (not that I object to seeing the yummy Sean Bean in dark leather ;)).
Ho hum, whatever have I left unmentioned... never mind, this is a splendid series with gorgeous costumes, fine actors and really, a very classy depiction of the era. If only the details...
Oh, and did I mention the fact that Henry most certainly would not have been aggressive towards his beloved Jane during her pregnancy.. but the sequence in the series seems to require some explanation to the delivery of Eddy and the death of Jane.
Pls refer to the excellent biographies by Fraser, Weir et al :)
I can accept inaccuracies and speculations when so many years of
history are crammed into a two part mini-series type telling, but
Katherine's hair shirt, Anne's stillborn son being born as a result of
marital rape, Jane's going into early labor as a result of an
argument,and the Catherine (the second one) exposing herself in the
tub? Give me a break!
The acting was excellent, the costumes and sets beautiful, but it was far too inaccurate and speculative to tolerate.
The classic _Six Wives of Henry VII_ certainly wasn't accurate either, but it sure was fun!
The 1971 BBC miniseries will always be the definitive one for me.
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