The Private Life of Henry VIII
November 19th 2006 12:36
I don't know what it is, but for some reason I've found the few films I've seen from the 1930s to be a whole lot more entertaining than some of the stuff from the 1950s that is often given 'classic' status. Maybe it's because it's pre-Hayes Code, or maybe the films are less melodrammatic or something? I can't quite pinpoint it. Just an odd thought I thought I might air.
One such 30s film that I've found to be highly entertaining is 'The Private Life of Henry VIII'. Whether you have a passing interest in film history, or actual history, or whatever, I think there's something in this film that will entertain even the most stubbornly modern of film-watchers.
It's a pretty simple premise, the film follows the private life of the infamous 16th century British monarch, King Henry the VIII, and his misadventures in his various marriages. Henry the VIII is wonderfully portrayed by the highly talented and entertaining Charles Laughton, a masterful one-of-a-kind character actor who managed to land many plum roles despite looking like a bloated fish. Laughton portrays the King as a rollicking, impetuous, boozing lover of women. A man equal parts charming, childish and dangerous. The entire film hangs on his performance, so compelling and original is it that any scene without him feels like dead air. Laughton deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for his loud-but-subtle work here, and it's a shame few characters of this type make it onto the screen today.
The film is an episodic take on the biopic, and we duck in and out of the King's life as we follow his various marriages, his attempts to create an heir, and how his court dealt with his varying moods and helped him rule in both his best interests and the best interests of the country. Henry VIII is sometimes portrayed somewhat unsympathetically by history, this film is by no means one-sided... we get a complex view of a man of his time, and whilst he is sometimes somewhat tyrannical, we also get an understanding of why his subjects loved him so much and why his court always worked for him so loyally.
I was surprised how well 'Private Life of Henry VIII' stood up more than 70 years after it was made. It's a very fun film, and could easily be seen as the progenitor of sly historical drama-comedies such as 'Shakespeare in Love'. If you can find a copy of this, watch it!
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