Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)






Director:  Alexander Korda.

Starring:  Charles Laughton (King Henry VIII),  Robert Donat (Thomas Culpeper), Franklin Dyall (Thomas Cromwell),  Miles Mander (Wriothesley), Laurance Hanray (Archbishop Thomas Cranmer),  William Austin (Duke of Cleves),  John Loder (Thomas Peynell),  Claud Allister (Cornell), Gibb McLaughlin (French executioner), Sam Livesey (English executioner),  Merle Oberon (Anne Boleyn), Wendy Barrie (Jane Seymour),  Elsa Lanchester (Anne of Cleves), Binnie Barnes (Katherine Howard),  Everley Gregg (Katherine Parr).

Country:  British film.

Oscars:  Best Actor (Charles Laughton).

A 4 star movie about Henry VIII and his wives.



Spoiler Warning:

"Henry VIII had six wives.  Catherine of Aragon was the first: but her story is of no particular interest  --  she was a respectable woman.  So Henry divorced her.  He then married Anne Boleyn.  This marriage also was a failure --  but not for the same reason."

Anne Boleyn is to die this morning.  Jane Seymour takes her place this evening. 

Anne listens to the hammering of the carpenter building the scaffold.  A French executioner sharpens his sword.  The ladies-in-waiting says that Anne will die so the King can marry Jane Seymour.  Anne prepares her hair style for the beheading. 

The French executioner says his sword is not fit for a King or a Queen.  His helper is an English executioner and he's mad because he doesn't think a Frenchman should be the one to execute an English Queen.  The Frenchman says that the Englishman just wants to execute the Queen himself.  The English executioner asks why not?  After all, he was the one who executed the five lovers of Anne Boleyn.

One of the ladies-in-waiting asks the other ladies what does the King see in Jane Seymour anyway?  Lady Katherine criticizes the King.  "If the King were not a king, what would you all call him?"  Another lady asks what would Katherine call him?  Katherine says:   "I'll tell you."  King Henry stands in the doorway and says loudly:  "No, tell me."

He tells Katherine to come here and asks her what would she call him?  She says:  "A man."  This makes the King laugh.  He says to Katherine:  "And you may be glad of it too one day."  He asks her name and she says Katherine Howard.

The King tells Thomas Cromwell to triple the size of the navy.  He then calls for Thomas Culpepper.  The King sends Culpepper to see if Lady Jane is ready.  He finds that Jane is busy deciding what jewelry to wear.  She decides she will go and ask the King himself. 

Right in the middle of his meeting, Jane interrupts Henry.  The King tells her they are busy, but Jane whines and asks which accessory should she use for the wedding dress?  Henry asks the whole meeting group to wait outside.  Henry looks a bit miffed at Jane, but she is very girlish like and makes King Henry VIII laugh.  And when he laughs he doesn't feel punitive.  He selects the pearls and tells his Jane to run along and put them on. 

A crowd gathers to see the execution.  Anne's eyes fill up with water.  Henry tells Culpepper if he wants to be happy, marry a stupid woman like his Jane. 

Anne walks up on the scaffold.  The ladies-in-waiting start crying.  A drum sounds a loud beat when Anne loses her head.

And almost immediately Henry and Jane start the wedding. 

A woman who has worked for the castle for 40 years sticks a magic charm underneath Henry's pillow.  This causes the man in charge of the preparation of the bedroom to get upset and he asks the woman what's she doing?  She explains that the magic charm will bring the King a boy child.  The man asks her how is he to know if the maid isn't up to some mischief to harm the King?  The woman regards that as a silly question.  "I harm the King, who nursed him from his birth?"

The maid is there to put the newborn baby boy in his basinet. 

A messenger rides out to the King who is falcon hunting and tells him that it's a boy.  Henry shouts out to the others that it's a boy! 

The King is told the boy is alive,  but the Queen is dead.  "Poor, pretty little Jane.  God rest her sweet soul.  Where's the Prince?", asks Henry. The King goes in to see his boy. 

Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper are in a relationship.  Katherine talks about who the King will marry.  She wonders if she will become the Queen?  That doesn't make Thomas very happy. 

The King's barber is a bit too forward with his talk about the King marrying again and Henry chases him out of the room.  There is lots of talk in the kitchen about the King marrying again.  

The King pulls a chicken apart with his hands and eats the bird with his hands.  As he throws the chicken bones over his shoulder, he says:  "There's no delicacy nowadays."  No one speaks, but the King, who asks:  "Have we no singers in the court?"  Katherine Howard gets up and says she will sing a song for him.  The band plays a song that Henry himself wrote and Katherine sings it.  Thomas is a bit jealous and he runs over to stand just beside Henry.  Henry is impressed by her singing. 

Thomas speaks to Thomas Cromwell about his wanting Henry to marry again.  Cromwell says Henry needs to produce some more heirs.  He then talks about the girls saying they won't be of much help.  Mary might grow to have some sense in her head, but Elizabeth will never rule so much as a kitchen.  Cromwell says a second son would make all things safe.  He suggests Anne of Cleaves as the King's fourth wife.  The King says he might just marry the German duchess. 

The King's messenger Peynell delivers the news to Anne of Cleaves, but she says she will not marry Henry VIII.  The messenger has a love relationship with Anne.  They kiss. 

A painter paints Anne's portrait for Henry to see.  He seems to like it.  Even though the King is talking about marrying Anne, he starts to put the moves on Katherine Howard.  Culpepper gets upset again and demands to know from Katherine what the King told her.  Katherine tells him to keep his nose out of their affairs. 

Henry tries to sneak up to see Katherine Howard, but the guards wake up and shout "the King's guard!" on three different occasions.   He knocks on her door and she finally lets him in.  She says she can't love a man with a wife.  Henry says he doesn't have a wife.  But what about Anne of Cleaves? 

Cromwell comes to tell Henry that Anne of Cleaves has crossed over the English Channel and will be here today.  A fellow tells him that the King is in with Katherine Howard.  When Peynell hears this he volunteers to find Henry. 

Henry kisses Kate.  Peynell knocks on the door.  Anne of Cleaves is headed to see His Majesty. 

Anne arrives, but goes first to Peynell.   The King comes to see her.  Anne deliberately puts a stupid look on her face to discourage Heindrich.   She succeeds because Henry doesn't like her and he complains to Cromwell about her.  Cromwell tells him if he doesn't marry Anne, there will be war with all of Europe.  So Henry goes through with the marriage. 

Henry is about to go into the wedding bed, when he turns and says with a snarl:  "The things I done for England."  He goes to see his bride, but once again Anne puts a stupid look on her face and she starts eating an apple.  She also speaks with what sounds like a Yiddish accent.  They end up playing cards.  Anne plays for money.  She keeps beating Henry at cards and he demands his people to go get him some money.

Henry gets more and more frustrated until he asks Anne if she would consider a divorce and what are her terms?  Anne wants two manors, 4,000 pounds a year, and one of his gentlemen (Peynell) as Master of Her Household.  They shake on it. 

The King's barber tries to avoid the mistakes of last time, but Henry asks him if he and the other barbers think the King should marry again?   The barber says that the barbers don't want to repeat their same mistake, after all the well does run dry eventually.  The King gets horribly mad again and yells at the barber to get out. 

Henry now turns his eyes full-blast on Katherine Howard.  He says everyone wants him to marry again.  And he has his eye on an English girl, namely Katherine.

"The fifth marriage looked like a success.  Katerine was happy with her crown, Henry was happy with his Katherine."

Henry and Katherine attend a grand banquet given by them.  Wrestling is part of the entertainment and to prove his virility, the King takes on one of the wrestlers.  Henry wins the match and then helps get the man up.  The crowd roars for the King and his victory.  Going back to his seat, he almost falls down.  Culpepper helps him  walk down the stairs.  The King faints and Culpepper has to catch him to avoid the King getting hurt. 

Katherine comes in to see Henry, but Henry tells her to go away.  Culpepper tells her not to worry for it's just a passing weakness. 

Katherine asks herself and Culpepper:  "What have I done with my life?  I can't go on with it.  I can't."  She says Tom was right about her marrying the King.  She starts to cry.  The two kiss.

Henry calls for Katherine saying that he feels all better.  He kisses her passionately.  He sees Thomas standing by the fireplace and motions for him to go away.

"Every month that passed made life more unbearable for Culpepper."  Culpepper is planning on going to America -- North America.  A lady-in-waiting for Katherine comes to give Culpepper a note.  The Queen wants to meet him at 11 tonight.  Culpepper arrives on time. 

Henry is very tired and about to go to bed.  He tells the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer that he has finally found happiness in marriage.  Cranmer is very happy for him.

The lady-in-waiting warns the Queen that the King is coming.  Henry comes in and talks a little about his recent experiences in European politics. After Henry leaves, the Queen goes back to be with Culpepper. 

It appears that the game is up for Katherine.  The lady-in-waiting to the Queen is interrogated.  And she is threatened with torture on the rack.  This frightens the lady and she talks.  She says she first guided Culpepper to the Queen some six months ago. 

The King tells Culpepper to dance with the Queen. 

Cranmer is given the job of telling Henry about his wife cheating on him.  Henry is brought into the meeting of the privy council.  It takes a long while for Cranmer to get out what he has to say and Henry gets damn impatient.  He demands to know:  "What is it!!!"  Cranmer sits back down and holds his head bent low.  So Katherine's interrogator has to tell Henry about his wife's adultery.  Henry gets very angry and starts to choke the man.  From looks of the expressions on the men makes it look like the charge is true.  The King sits down and starts crying. 

The scaffold is being finished as the crowds await the beheading of Katherine Howard.  One beat of the drum tells Henry that Katherine has lost her head. 

Henry's hair is gray now.  Anne of Cleaves now wants to set the King up with Katherine Parr.

Married for the sixth time, Katherine Parr.  And what type of woman is she?  She is a constant nagger: do this, don't do that over and over again.  Katherine leaves the room.  When the coast is clear Henry goes over to the banquet table and grabs another big piece of chicken.  He looks straight ahead and says:  "Six wives and the best of them is the worst."


What a marvelous performance by Charles Laughton as King Henry VIII.  He beats all the other actors in the many Henry VIII movies.  His Henry is bad, but he is good too.  Mean as hell and vindictive, but then nice at other times.  He's a little of this and a little of that in a very nuanced performance.  You hate Henry and then you like him.  And the movie is very funny in an understated way thanks to the acting skill of Laughton. 

As I say many times in Henry VIII reviews, there's a lot of information about the wives, but very little about the history of Henry VIII's reign. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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