The Private Life of Henry VIII - Classic Film Pick
Hungarian director Alexander Korda's 1933 production of "The Private Life of Henry VIII" became Britain's first internationally successful film. Charles Laughton won an Oscar for his portrayal of the corpulent King with a reputation for incurring the death of his wives.
The film's sense of British nationalism shines through in Loughton's earnest delivery of the line, "Diplomacy, diplomacy." "I'm an Englishman; I can't say one thing and mean another!" Although larded with historical inaccuracies, "The Private Life of Henry VII" carries off its promised tone of gossipy behind-the-scenes Tudor action. There's humor in the film's early juxtaposition of the former Queen Anne Boleyn's beheading on the same day as King Henry's third marriage to Boleyn's maid Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie). Henry already has his eye on Lady Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes), an opportunist courtesan involved in a private affair with Henry's courtier Thomas Culpeper (Robert Donat). A "secret" visit to Katherine's room allows her to exert the upper hand. She questions whether he seeks admittance as a Henry the King or as Henry the man. Only when he admits that it is a command from the King does she open her bedroom door.
Charles Loughton's real-life wife Elsa Lanchester mugs up a storm as Henry's sexually naive yet masculine-minded fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Her comic performance sticks to the film like chewing gum on a 500-year-old statue.
Korda encouraged several benchmark cinematic moments. For example, Loughton breaks the fourth wall on two dramatic occasions to play directly into the camera lens. The first comes at the moment when King Henry discovers his third wife has died after giving birth to a son. Laughton plays the emotion for all of its political import, uttering an obligatory "God rest her sweet soul," before breaking the sentiment to focus to his infant prince, Edward. The jolting scene represents a flourish of confidence on the part of the director and his star actor. The film's most famous bit, however, involves Laughton eating a chicken with a primal gusto that clearly defines King Henry's character as a gluttonous man devouring whatever is put before him.
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