• Unrated, 1 hr. 37 min.
  • Drama, Classics
  • Directed By:
    Alexander Korda
    In Theaters:
    Sep 21, 1933 Wide
    On DVD:
    Jan 23, 2003
  • Criterion Collection

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The Private Life of Henry VIII Reviews

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hunterjt13
hunterjt13

Super Reviewer

October 11, 2012
Henry VIII, a gigantic, gloating personality, marries multiple women and wrestles members of his court all while chewing on a turkey leg.
Charles Laughton is exactly how I imagined Henry VIII when I look at Hans Holbein's famous portrait of the Tudor monarch and when I read about Henry in history books. His larger-than-life personality and gloating arrogance chew the scenery, just as I imagined the real Henry to be. He's garrulous and captivating, and Laughton plays him perfectly.
I realize that the title is The Private Life of Henry VIII with an emphasis on the word private, but I can't say that the relationships Henry has with his six wives are given much attention. After all, the film begins with the execution of Anne Boleyn, so we miss Katherine of Aragon entirely and the infidelity that gave rise to Henry's break with Rome. The Reformation, the civil war with Scotland, and Henry's military victory in France all go by the wayside, and the film suffers for it.
Overall, I love the character Laughton creates, but I only wish the film had included more of the events perpetrated by this fascinating historical figure.
dietmountaindew
dietmountaindew

Super Reviewer

June 24, 2008
"private life of henry viii" is the academy award winner for best actor for non-american actor, charles laughton, in a non-american movie, helmed by british epic piece director alexander korda. it also has the young fresh-faced robert donat (alfred hitchcock's 39 steps star) who transcends a smoldering stroke of romanticism as the doomed lover of the queen. inevitably this flick centers upon henry viii, the lecherously obese man who constantly seeks a potential light of happiness even at cost of decapitating two women and recklessly raging notoriety, but the flick is keen to maintain a delightful tone to emphasize henry's naughty whims instead of his egoistic brutality, brightened by laughton's jolly likability.

the story skips the first wife of henry viii, the stingy square katherine, and the scene catapults the beheading of anne boleyn (mother of queen elizabeth) on the king's wedding night...it shows the fickle nature of this man who eliminates any emulating spouse of his, and he even rejoices "if you want to be happy, marry a stupid beautiful woman like my new wife" like a little boy who exults at getting a new toy while he's disposing of his old obsolete one.

it has two scenes during two executions which bare the cynical reaction of the mass as well as the dialogues in the kitchen. the king's indignantly motivated to get married for two of the 6 times just by the barber's careless criticism, and his infamous one-night marriage with the german princess(elsa lancaster) who purposedly infuriates him by cheating in the poker games. it depicts henry viii more in a mischieviously boyish perspect, and he truly sheds the tear of genuine sorrow for his fifth wife, katherine howard, who commits adultery with his confidante thomas culperer(robert donat). eventually henry settles with a homely wife who conducts himself to the smallest detail of food, but he remarks "the best's also the worst" to the last marriage of his life.

"the private life of henry viii" sneers at the man with a forgiving generosity, mocking at his easily influenced temperament as well as his naivety to the prospect of love. charles laughton's charisma is crucial to the success of it since only laughton could dub this polygamic king a redeeming sense of clever wits.
Byron B

Super Reviewer

January 30, 2007
The time period is illustrated well. Most people think, like I used to, that all these old B&W dramas are dusty and ancient, so far removed from movies of today. There has been a shift, but especially with these award winning movies I think the thoughtful person would still be entertained. Drama is mixed with comedy, suspense, romance, despair, and hope for a well-rounded experience. This movie has a good dose of humor in portraying the life of Henry the 8th.
John B

Super Reviewer

February 11, 2014
It is ironic that this was considered to be Laughton's star turn because it is probably one of the worst performances that I have seen him in. This Henry is the stereotyped one and not the one played with nuance. For that reason, this picture never grows to the extent that it could.
Daniel D

Super Reviewer

July 1, 2013
Henry VIII is an interesting historical character.His Private life is the most fascinating part about him. For these reasons I'm shocked that The Private Life of Henry VIII was as boring as it was. And this was after watching Wedding Rehearsal. I understand this was back in the 1930s, but I would've wished for the film to be more risky. It was just a regular historical movie that one would watch ten minutes of in a history class. The scenery worked well, but nothing this film could do was enough to draw me in. Charles Laughton was a perfect Henry VIII to be fair, and despite only seeing a couple of his works, his becoming a favorite actor of the era.
Chris B

Super Reviewer

October 17, 2011
A stunning portrayal of Henry VIII is given by Charles Laughton who won an Oscar for his role, is the center of The Private Life of Henry VIII. The film is a tongue in cheek display of the private life of the British King and being so, is often very humorous and yet still quite serious as people lose their lives fairly often. Once we are introduced to King Henry VIII we are told of his first wife who isn't seen because she was "too respectable to be included", and then we dive into his second marriage or I should say the end of his second marriage. We then proceed through the other of his six wives and the resulting impact each has, not just on the King himself but the whole of the court and the country. This is a very captivating film that is simple yet effective and really established Charles Laughton's international stardom and jump started his prolific career. A wonderful British piece!
July 25, 2012
A good biopic... but Charles Laughton gives one of the greatest on-screen performances of all time here.
Chris B

Super Reviewer

October 17, 2011
A stunning portrayal of Henry VIII is given by Charles Laughton who won an Oscar for his role, is the center of The Private Life of Henry VIII. The film is a tongue in cheek display of the private life of the British King and being so, is often very humorous and yet still quite serious as people lose their lives fairly often. Once we are introduced to King Henry VIII we are told of his first wife who isn't seen because she was "too respectable to be included", and then we dive into his second marriage or I should say the end of his second marriage. We then proceed through the other of his six wives and the resulting impact each has, not just on the King himself but the whole of the court and the country. This is a very captivating film that is simple yet effective and really established Charles Laughton's international stardom and jump started his prolific career. A wonderful British piece!
Adrian B.
August 25, 2011
Bizarre, fairly enjoyable autobiographical pick of King Henry the 8th of England (Charles Laughton). The film begins after he has already has had two wives, Catharine of Aragon (of which the film humourously dismisses the long marriage as boring); and Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon), of which he executes during the film. Then the film tells the story of marrying his remaining four wives, one being Anne of Cleves, played by Laughton's actual wife Elsa Lanchester. Laughton keeps the film going with his funny, Oscar winning performance, and the visuals are very nice too look. The film is a little dated and bit inaccurate of biography of King Henry, but it does provide sufficient entertainment value for a re-watch.
starlett2005
August 8, 2011
The Private Life of Henry VIII is an enjoyable film. It is about how King Henry VIII came to marry five more times after he divorced from his first wife. Charles Laughton and Robert Donat give excellent performances. The script is good but could have better. Alexander Korda did a great job directing this movie. I enjoyed watching this motion picture because of the drama. The Private Life of Henry VIII is a must see.
February 1, 2011
at times a gaudy period piece, but a macabrely humorous one at others, it does a good job of giving us a character, not a historical figure.
January 30, 2011
Absolutely a keeper!
H.A.K.
October 9, 2010
this is definitely a movie to see if you want to see about about the wives Henry VIII has after Catherine and Anne Boleyn.

anything else, i liked how Henry VIII ended the movie saying "Six wives, and the best of them's the worst." i thought that was cute as far a the character and all that.
vic40186
March 3, 2010
Charles Laughton saves this bad, formulaic and confusing film with a remarkable performace. Actually, he's the only reason to watch this English film whose big screen adaptation was really poor, it was like reading a History Textbook for elementary school children.
sherry9lee
March 1, 2010
This wasn't quite what I expected. This was actually much much better! It doesn't really matter that it hasn't got much to do with the real Henry VIII, not when it's this good!

Occasionally hilarious biopic (or should I say just tale?) about the english king Henry VIII, who had made it his own personal hobby marrying women and then "chopping their heads off".
Contains two of my all-time favorite actors; Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (who were actually married in real life, for you who didn't already knew :) So I may seem partial when saying that the acting is superb!
Merle Oberon (you know, she who played Cathy in the most famous movie-adaption of Wuthering Heights) has a small part as well, in the beginning as one of Henry's wives soon to be executed.

The movie is directed by Alexander Korda who among others, directed Rembrandt 1936 (also with Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester), and That Hamilton Woman 1941 (starring another very famous english married couple; Viven Leigh and Laurence Olivier).

I love the scene when Henry is going to "fulfil" his marriage with his new wife Anne of Cleves. Anne of Cleves wasn't really the brightest of Henry's wives...

Henry VIII: Madame, all that stuff about children being found under gooseberry bushes...That's not true...
Anne of Cleves: Oh no, it was the stork, huh?
Henry VIII: The stork?
Anne of Cleves: The stork flies in the air with the babe, and then he drops, huh?
Henry VIII: Ummm....no, madame. that isn't true either......when a hen lays an egg it's not all entirely her own doing....
Anne of Cleves: You mean sometimes it was the cuckoo, huh?
Henry VIII:.....Yes......it was the cucko.......


A few more scenes with Elsa and I would have given this 90%.
Everett Jensen
March 5, 2008
[i]The Private Life of Henry VIII
[/i]dir. Sir Alexander Korda

It most certainly is good to be the King. In this wild romp through Henry VIII's many marriages, Charles Laughton (Academy Award winner for best actor) portrays the corpulent King with charisma, jest and an insatiable appetite for food, good times and pretty little things flitting about in petty coats and skirts. Laughton is a force of nature. Every gesture is decidedly grand and he presents his character as an intense, physical presence with no real desire to run his country whatsoever. What we get is Henry the Cad, a bawdy egomaniac with a very short leash on the women in his life.

Although this film is woefully inaccurate regarding history it nevertheless captures the spirit of the court and it's many participants. The sets are magnificent and create a mood of opulence and passion. It begins with the woeful state of Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) who is about to lose her pretty head due to trumped up charges. Henry is just itching to marry Jane Seymour and can hardly wait for the execution to be finished. Life with Jane is dull but productive as she bears him the son neither the banished Catherine of Aragon or the unfortunate Anne was able to. However, joy turns to tragedy as Jane dies less than two weeks after delivering the future Edvard the VI, King of England. King Henry is rather flustered by these latest developments and it's a joy watching him attempt to deal with his obvious feelings for his dead wife. No matter as word gets around that the German Princess, Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester) is available so a meeting is arranged. First, a painter paints Anne as a beautiful damsel and the work inspires Henry to pursue Anne. However, when he meets her he finds a rather comical women who looks nothing like the portrait. Henry is not impressed but because of the necessity of forging an alliance with Germany, the wedding goes through.

After Anne of Cleves deliberately makes her self hideous it is agreed that in exchange for property and compensation, Anne will agree to a divorce. Next in line is the strong willed and ambitious Catherine Howard (Binnie Barnes) who coquettishly sings a lovely ballad in court that pleases the King immensely.
Their marriage goes quite well until it is discovered that Catherine has been acting indiscreetly with one Thomas Culpeper (Robert Donat). This leads to both parties being beheaded. Finally, Catherine Parr eases the old King toward the inevitable moment of Royal Death. The film focuses mostly on the marriages and the King's various levels of dissatisfaction with his brides and their imperfections.

Elsa Lanchester is quite funny as Anne of Cleves. She makes wacky faces designed to turn off the king and her movements and accent are exceedingly comical. She seems to have just stepped out of a vaudeville show and lends the picture some levity. Indeed, it's a very comical film filled with over-the-top mannerisms particularly from the King. During one scene he is busy tearing into a chicken and lamenting about the lack of morals and decency throughout the realm. Meanwhile he's tossing the remnants of the chicken over his shoulder and stuffing his face rather gratuitously.

Overall, this is an entertaining exploration into lust, gluttony and the power of the Majesty to pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. Two wives lost their heads, one died in childbirth and one was exiled and died in poverty and misery. Laughton portrays him as an excessive blowhard with little discretion and very ill courtly manners. His is the image that many people focus on when they think about the King. It's bombastic, grandiose, and decidedly hellbent on getting its own way no matter who attempts to stop it. It's a fabulous portrayal but it leaves out some of the nastier aspects to Henry's character. This version is a buffoon with absolutely no self knowledge to speak of. Despite the acts of barbarism Henry is known to have committed, he is nonetheless presented as a sympathetic figure here. In one scene during a wrestling match he foolishly jumps on the table and commands that one of the wrestlers take him on. The sight of the portly King, 50 years old, fighting a superior man just to impress the Queen is quite pathetic. Naturally the King wins and his heroic stature remains undiminished to most of his court. Still, it's tempered with vanity and a desire to be viewed as a virile, physically competent man in a world that so utterly demands such things.
SeeTheSun
March 2, 2006
[font=Tahoma]Full review to come.[/font]
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