The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Private Life of Henry VIII




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Movie Info

Charles Laughton became an international star by chewing both mutton and scenes in his Oscar-winning turn as King Henry VIII. Alexander Korda's British super-production also put the British cinema on the map, which, until this film, received precious little respect in the international film community. The film, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, details the private life of the famous British monarch. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, is barely mentioned -- explained away by a prologue which states that she was "too respectable to be included." Henry then marries Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) but she is soon beheaded. His next wife, Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie), dies during childbirth. His next wife is Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester, in a prelude to her Bride of Frankenstein role), whom Henry reluctantly beds with his famous sigh, "The things I've done for England." They divorce and Henry next marries Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes), who also finds herself beheaded when she has an affair with Henry's friend, Thomas Culpepper (Robert Donat). Finally, Henry is brought down to size with his final wife, Catherine Parr (Everley Gregg).more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Lajos Biró, Arthur Wimperis
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jan 23, 2003
Criterion Collection


Charles Laughton
as Henry VIII
Merle Oberon
as Anne Boleyn
Binnie Barnes
as Katherine Howard
Elsa Lanchester
as Anne of Cleves
Robert Donat
as Thomas Culpepper
Miles Mander
as Wriothesly
John Loder
as Peynell
Wendy Barrie
as Jane Seymour
Lady Tree
as Henry's Old Nurse
Everley Gregg
as Catherine Parr
William Austin
as Duke of Cleves
John Turnbull
as Hans Holbein
Frederick Culley
as Duke of Norfolk
Gibb McLaughlin
as French executioner
Sam Livesey
as English Executioner
Franklin Dyall
as Thomas Cromwell
Judy Kelly
as Lady Rochford
William Austin
as Duke of Cleves
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Private Life of Henry VIII

Critic Reviews for The Private Life of Henry VIII

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (2)

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Director Alexander Korda is the chief beneficiary of Laughton's larger-than-life performance, as his conservative helmsmanship fails to provide the film with a distinctly personal stamp

Full Review… | July 27, 2014

Charles Laughton, who wa sonly 33 but looked older, won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the titular role with such bravado.

Full Review… | March 14, 2011

The film's most famous bit 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.

Full Review… | February 24, 2011

Korda and his humorists make sure the usual biopic solemnity is not part of this royal court

Full Review… | November 7, 2009

Audience Reviews for The Private Life of Henry VIII

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.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

"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 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.

Veronique Kwak

Super Reviewer


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.

Byron Brubaker

Super Reviewer

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