Scandalous Women on Film: Anne of the Thousand Days

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
from the play by Maxwell Anderson
A Hal Wallis Production
directed by Charles Jarrett


Anne Boleyn - Genevieve Bujold
Henry VIII - Richard Burton
Katherine of Aragon - Irene Pappas
Cardinal Wolsey - Anthony Quayle
Thomas Cromwell - John Colicos
Thomas Boleyn - Michael Hordern
Duke of Norfolk - Peter Jeffrey
Mark Smeaton - Gary Bond
Henry Percy - Terence Rigsby

Synopsis (from IMDB): Anne of the Thousand Days  recounts the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold) who becomes the second wife of King Henry VIII (Richard Burton.) Engaged to Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, Anne attempts to avoid to the king's attention and refuses to become his mistress, but her betrothal is broken-off by Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle.) Vowing vengeance, Anne returns to Court, where she soon becomes intoxicated with the power of having the King in love with her, using that power to undermine Wolsey. Still refusing to submit to the King's advances, Henry eventually proposes marriage and promises to divorce his wife, Katherine of Aragon(Irene Papas.). After several years of waiting for the divorce, she and Henry finally marry, but her world slowly begins to collapse when she fails to give birth to the son her husband so desperately wants and he falls for Jane Seymour. Henry asks Cromwell (John Colicos) to move against her, concocting a sensational set of lies to destroy her and they triumph in a brutally unfair show-trial which ends Anne's thousand-day reign as queen of England.

Fact vs. Fiction: Although the film for the most part follows the historical record, there are a few inaccuracies. For dramatic purposes in the film, Henry comes out of hiding at Anne's trial and forces Mark Smeaton to admit that he'd lied about committing adultery with Anne. Later on, Henry shows up in Anne's chambers at the Tower of London, and offers her a deal, if she agrees to an annulment of their marriage, she can take Elizabeth and go abroad. She refuses and Henry tells her that she must died. This also never happened. Henry never saw Anne again after he left the May Day joust the day before she was arrested. Archbishop Cranmer did visit Anne in the Tower to inform her that her marriage was being annulled which led Anne to hope that her life would be spared since Henry was now free to marry. The film also implies that Anne's sister Mary Boleyn gave birth to the King's child. Henry never claimed Mary's son Henry Carey as his, although historians now believe that he may have been the father. Anne's interest in the new religious ideas is not mentioned at all in the film. There is also no proof that Anne had a vendetta against Sir Thomas More and wanted him dead the way it is implied in the film.

My thoughts: Since I'm about to head off to England for the first ever Anne Boleyn experience, I decided to watch Anne of the Thousand Days to get me in the mood. I saw this film years ago and I remember being impressed by Genevieve Bujold's performance as Anne Boleyn (this was her first English language performance, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress).  This second time, I was still impressed by her performance, but not as much by the film. In the film, Anne is motivated by revenge against the King and Cardinal Wolsey for ruining her chance to marry Henry Percy. While I have no problem with that, what bothered me was her open anger towards the King. After Wolsey tells her that she cannot marry Percy, the King attempts to woo her. She viciously assaults him verbally, telling him that he is spoiled, his poetry is bad, and his attempts to write music worse, and that he's not a particularly good lover. Whoa! Despite Henry's lust and fascination for Anne, I can't imagine that he'd still be interested after that. She doesn't so much tease him, as hold him off with a battering ram.

What's missing from the early stages of their relationship is a sense of charm on Anne's part. It would have made more sense for her to hold her tongue, the historical Anne would have been smarter than that. Yes, Anne was known for being arrogant and for arguing with the King but that was later on when the divorce was dragging on for years, and she was tired of waiting. She is also openly disdainful of Wolsey at a time, when she would have been more subtle but that the fault of the screenplay not Bujold's performance. She certainly looks beautiful in the costumes, and is fiery and passionate particularly in the final scenes in the Tower where she has a monologue about her relationship with Henry where she tries to pinpoint the day that they were both in love before things changed and he began to hate her.

Richard Burton is of course excellent as Henry VIII. While Jonathan Rhys-Meyers tends to play Henry as just a petulant, spoiled, schoolboy, Burton's Henry is an athelete, musician, erudite, canny, arrogant, autocratic and vicious. He also has moments of extreme tenderness towards Anne. However, my favorite performance is John Colicos who played Thomas Cromwell as a wily, and crafty politician, willing to do anything to keep his hold on power including torturing an innocent man into confessing to adultery. Because the film is only a little more than two hours, Anne's relationship with her brother gets short shrift. In fact, I forgot which actor was playing the role since so many of the actors had dark hair. Interestingly Mary Boleyn is written as a bitter, bitter woman who warns Anne about getting involved with the King before she disappears from the film.

The film falls apart in the final third when Anne refuses to sleep with Henry unless all the men who oppose the Right of Succession die. The trial scene is a travesty, Anne would never have been allowed to cross-examine witnesses. For one thing, she was a woman. And Henry popping up serves absolutely no purpose at all. The scene between Henry and Anne, where he offers her an out and she refuses to take it, insisting that her Elizabeth will be Queen one day, and the greatest Queen is a little high-handed. The final image though is lovely as the little Princess Elizabeth plays in the garden and Anne is heard once again in a voice-over, telling the audience how Elizabeth will be a great Queen.

I give this film both a thumbs up and a thumbs down. It is sumptuously filmed, the costumes are gorgeous, good performances, but the script is uneven. The scene where Anne finally admits that she loves Henry, just before they sleep together for the first time, seemingly comes out of nowhere. Is she saying it because it's true or to hold her position? Or because she's just been given one of Wolsey's palaces? Still, if you are a lover of all things Tudor, you will want to own a copy of this film along with The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michel.

The film is available on DVD along with Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, Queen of Scots


Bearded Lady said…
I haven't seen this film in ages but I do remember I just loved the costumes. The trial did seem kind of silly too.
Daphne said…
Have a great time on your trip! I really wanted to go as well, but it just didn't work out this year. I really enjoy Anne of the Thousand Days despite it's inaccuracies.
I enjoyed most of it until the end and the trial scene. Then it went off the deep end for me.
I saw this movie many years ago as a teenager, and I loved it desperately, neither knowing nor caring that the history was wrong. Instead I lumped it in with the Zefferelli "Romeo & Juliet" -- doomed teen girls in beautiful clothes! -- and thought it was one of the best films ever. I've carefully avoided it since, not wanting to be (inevitably) disillusioned. *g*

Have a great trip, and a safe one!
Thanks Susan! Yes, there is a dangerous at seeing a movie again that you remember with fondness from your youth. I remember loving this movie and the Zefferelli R&J. I still think that Genevieve Bujold has to be the most beautiful Anne Boleyn ever.
Unknown said…
Hi 'Scandalous Women' Blogger :-) I have been a follower of your blog for a while now and I cant express how much I love discovering more and more of these amazing women in history that I admire. I am currently working on a piece called 'My top 5 Blogs' and that I would love for you to be one of them and that is only if you would let me? :-) Do I have your permission?
Unknown said…
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