The Private Life of Henry VIII (1934)

93 or 97 mins | Comedy | 19 February 1934

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HISTORY

Immediately following the onscreen credits are two written statements. The first reads: "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." The second note reads: "He then married Anne Boleyn. This marriage was also a failure--but not for the same reason." The film's opening credits differ somewhat from the end credits. In the opening credits, the "wives" and the "king's nurse" are listed last, and the wives are given numerical designations, such as "Anne Boleyn, the second wife" and "Jane Seymour, the third wife." Although the cast credits spell Robert Donat's character name as "Culpepper," it is spelled "Culpeper" in an onscreen note, and several reviews also spell it as "Culpeper." Publicity items note that clothes worn by Charles Laughton in the picture were reconstructed from period portraits, and interior sets were reproductions of interiors at Hampton Court and other Tudor palaces. The film won Laughton an Academy Award for Best Actor, and the movie was nominated for Best Picture. It was chosen as one of the "Best Foreign Films" of 1933 by the National Board of Review, made NYT's "ten best" list of 1933, and was voted one of the ten best pictures of 1933, according to a FD critic's poll.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: The idea for the picture came to director Alexander Korda after he heard a London cab driver sing a music hall song about King Henry VIII. Seven complete scripts were written and discarded. Initially only the story of ...

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Immediately following the onscreen credits are two written statements. The first reads: "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." The second note reads: "He then married Anne Boleyn. This marriage was also a failure--but not for the same reason." The film's opening credits differ somewhat from the end credits. In the opening credits, the "wives" and the "king's nurse" are listed last, and the wives are given numerical designations, such as "Anne Boleyn, the second wife" and "Jane Seymour, the third wife." Although the cast credits spell Robert Donat's character name as "Culpepper," it is spelled "Culpeper" in an onscreen note, and several reviews also spell it as "Culpeper." Publicity items note that clothes worn by Charles Laughton in the picture were reconstructed from period portraits, and interior sets were reproductions of interiors at Hampton Court and other Tudor palaces. The film won Laughton an Academy Award for Best Actor, and the movie was nominated for Best Picture. It was chosen as one of the "Best Foreign Films" of 1933 by the National Board of Review, made NYT's "ten best" list of 1933, and was voted one of the ten best pictures of 1933, according to a FD critic's poll.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: The idea for the picture came to director Alexander Korda after he heard a London cab driver sing a music hall song about King Henry VIII. Seven complete scripts were written and discarded. Initially only the story of Henry and Anne of Cleves was to be dramatized, but the story was eventually expanded to include five other wives. Korda had a difficult time finding financing, as period projects were then regarded as box-office poison. He was even told to leave Henry's name out of the title and instead use the title The Golden Bed. Finally, with the help of Richard Norton and Murray Silverstone, £12,000-20,000 were secured from United Artists, which was looking for new product to distribute. Although producer Herbert Wilcox had an exclusive contract with United Artists for British films, Korda overcame this restriction, and his film was shot at Wilcox's British and Dominion studios between late spring and early summer 1933. Even after production had started, Korda lacked sufficient funds to complete the picture. To save money, sets were constructed cheaply, the same costumes were worn throughout the picture, and actors reduced their salaries or waited until completion for their compensation. The London opening took place at the Leicester Square Theater on 24 Oct 1933, two weeks after the New York opening. The picture grossed around $500,000 in America alone, and much more overseas, thus proving that a British sound film could match Hollywood product in popularity. Following the success of The Private Life of Henry VIII, film production in England blossomed, and Korda's London Films was placed under contract by United Artists. His next two pictures, Catherine the Great and The Private Life of Don Juan (see entry), were also biographical costume pictures. According to modern sources, the cast included Judy Kelly (Lady Rocheford).
       Other pictures dramatizing Henry VIII's personal life include Cardinal Wolsey, a 1912 Vitagraph film, directed by Stuart Blackton and Lawrence Trimble and starring Hal Reid; The Six Wives of Henry VIII, a 1971 BBC mini-series, directed by Naomi Capon and John Glenister and starring Keith Michell, Annette Crosbie and Angela Pleasance; and Henry VIII and His Six Wives, an Anglo-EMI production, directed by Waris Hussein and starring Keith Michell and Charlotte Rampling.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
21 Sep 1933
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 1933
p. 3
Motion Picture Herald
26 Aug 1933
p. 79
Motion Picture Herald
23 Sep 1933
p. 34
New York Times
30 Jul 1933
p. 2
New York Times
13 Oct 1933
p. 25
Variety
17 Oct 1933
p. 19
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
WRITERS
Story and dial
Story and dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Osmond Borrodaile
Cam
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Settings des by
MUSIC
SOUND
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Gen press agent
SOURCES
SONGS
"What Shall I Do for Love," music and lyrics by Henry VIII.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 February 1934
Premiere Information:
Boston opening: 7 Oct 1933; New York opening: 12 Oct 1933
Production Date:
at British and Dominions Studios
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
United Artists Corp.
3 November 1933
LP4327
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
93 or 97
Length(in feet):
8,749
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Preparations are made for the execution of Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII. She dies like a queen, and only minutes later, Henry marries Jane Seymour, whom he expects will be an ideal wife, as, he boasts, she is not spiteful or ambitious, only stupid. Jane bears the king's long hoped for son and heir, but dies in childbirth. Thomas Culpepper, one of the king's squires, is in love with Katherine Howard, a lady of the court who met Henry on the day of Anne Boleyn's death and is ambitious to be queen herself one day. The royal court urges Henry to marry again, placing him in a foul mood at the dinner table. While others are afraid to speak, Katherine Howard makes him notice her by offering to sing one of his own songs. Squire Thomas Peynell is then sent to arrange a royal marriage to a German, Anne of Cleves, but falls in love with her himself as she sits for court portrait painter Hans Holbein. Meanwhile, Henry has become infatuated with Katherine Howard, but a rendezvous in her apartments that he hopes to keep secret is made noisy by the guards. Word arrives that Anne of Cleves is not far away, and Culpepper must interrupt the royal assignation. To save herself for Peynell, Anne of Cleves offends Henry with her bizarre behavior. However, to send her back would mean war, so he agrees with great reluctance to the marriage, dreading his wedding night by saying "The things I've done for England." As Anne of Cleves pretends naivete, the newlyweds play cards until he agrees to an ...

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Preparations are made for the execution of Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII. She dies like a queen, and only minutes later, Henry marries Jane Seymour, whom he expects will be an ideal wife, as, he boasts, she is not spiteful or ambitious, only stupid. Jane bears the king's long hoped for son and heir, but dies in childbirth. Thomas Culpepper, one of the king's squires, is in love with Katherine Howard, a lady of the court who met Henry on the day of Anne Boleyn's death and is ambitious to be queen herself one day. The royal court urges Henry to marry again, placing him in a foul mood at the dinner table. While others are afraid to speak, Katherine Howard makes him notice her by offering to sing one of his own songs. Squire Thomas Peynell is then sent to arrange a royal marriage to a German, Anne of Cleves, but falls in love with her himself as she sits for court portrait painter Hans Holbein. Meanwhile, Henry has become infatuated with Katherine Howard, but a rendezvous in her apartments that he hopes to keep secret is made noisy by the guards. Word arrives that Anne of Cleves is not far away, and Culpepper must interrupt the royal assignation. To save herself for Peynell, Anne of Cleves offends Henry with her bizarre behavior. However, to send her back would mean war, so he agrees with great reluctance to the marriage, dreading his wedding night by saying "The things I've done for England." As Anne of Cleves pretends naivete, the newlyweds play cards until he agrees to an immediate divorce on her terms. Henry, now fifty, is offended by his barber's suggestion that he is too old to marry again, and weds Katherine Howard. Exuberantly happy, Henry tries to prove his youth to Katherine by engaging in a wrestling match that leaves him exhausted. Katherine realizes she still loves Culpepper, and despite his reluctance, they began an affair. Six months later, royal advisor Wriothesley discovers their relationship, and has Archbishop Cranmer tell Henry. First angry, then tearful, Henry sequesters himself while the crowds again watch a queen be beheaded. In 1543, the aged, lonely Henry meets Anne of Cleves, who suggests he marry Katherine Parr, who takes care of his children. Within three years Katherine Parr has become a nag, depriving her aged husband of his beloved food and drink. Henry remarks, "Six wives--and the best of them was the worst of them."

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.