THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII
Director: Alexander Korda
Production: London Film Productions; black and white, 35mm; running time: 97 minutes; length: 8664 feet. Released 12 October 1933, Radio City Music Hall, released 24 October 1933 in London by United Artists. Filmed in about 5 weeks in London. Cost: about 60,000 pounds.
Producer: Alexander Korda; screenplay: Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis; photography: Georges Périnal; editors: Stephen Harrison and Harold Young; art director: Vincent Korda; music: Kurt Schroeder; costume designer: John Armstrong; historical adviser: Peter Lindsey; dance direction: Espinosa; falconry expert: Captain Knight.
Cast: Charles Laughton ( Henry VIII ); Robert Donat ( Thomas Culpepper ); Franklin Dyall ( Thomas Cromwell ); Miles Mander ( Worthesly ); Lawrence Hanray ( Archbishop Cranmer ); William Austin ( Duke of Cleves ); John Loder ( Peynell ); Claude Allister ( Cornell ); Gibb McLaughlin ( French executioner ); Sam Livesy ( English executioner ); William Heughan ( Kingston ); Merle Oberon ( Anne Boleyn ); Wendy Barrie ( Jane Seymour ); Elsa Lanchester ( Anne of Cleves ); Binnie Barnes ( Katherine Howard ); Everley Gregg ( Katherine Parr ); Lady Tree ( Nurse ).
Award: Oscar for Best Actor (Laughton), 1932–33.
Biro, Lajos, and Arthur Wimperis, The Private Life of Henry VIII , London, 1934.
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* * *
"An ace and certainly the finest picture which has come out of England to date," is the way that Variety hailed The Private Life of Henry VIII , a feature generally considered to be the first British film to have had an international impact (although certainly not the first British film to be screened in the United States, where English features had been seen from the early 'teens). The Private Life of Henry VIII was very much an international production: it starred Charles Laughton, a major stage and screen actor from England, and was produced by Hungarian-born Alexander Korda and photographed by the French Georges Périnal. Wisely, to emphasize that his film was no mere British feature, Alexander Korda gave The Private Life of Henry VIII its world premiere at New York's Radio Music Hall on October 12, 1933, two weeks prior to the London premiere.
A jovial film which equates the joy of sex with the pleasure of food, The Private Life of Henry VIII depicts the British Monarch's personal relationship with five of his six wives. The film does not bother with Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon: an opening title explains that she was too respectable. The actresses portraying three of the remaining wives—Merle Oberon, Binnie Barnes and Elsa Lanchester—were later to become familiar players in Hollywood films, as was Robert Donat (as Thomas Culpepper). Charles Laughton received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, making The Private Life of Henry VIII the first British feature to be so honored.
Alexander Korda always maintained that the idea for the film came to him when he heard a London cab driver singing the popular Music Hall song, "I'm 'Enery the Eighth I Am." Another, more sensible, explanation for Korda's decision to make the film is that he was seeking a suitable vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, and a statue of Henry VIII made the producer aware of the resemblance between the Monarch and the actor. The film was shot in a mere five weeks at a reported cost of £60,000.
What contemporary audiences particularly enjoyed and what makes The Private Life of Henry VIII still entertaining is the film's comedy, particularly the dialogue between Henry and Anne of Cleves, with the former's oft-quoted line as he enters the bedchamber, "The things I've done for England!" The film has an elegance and a charm created in part by Vincent Korda's set and Périnal's photography. Alexander Korda's direction is little more than adequate and relies heavily on the quality performances delivered by his players.