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Story of Henry VIII and the Boleyns is a popular Hollywood tale
March 6, 2008, 1:35 pm
Filed under: The Show, Tudor Movies

 Sacramento Bee
Thursday, March 6, 2008

Showtime Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays Henry VIII in the Showtime series

Showtime Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays Henry VIII in the Showtime series “The Tudors.” The first season is out now on DVD, and the second season will begin airing March 30.

Last week’s opening of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” a lavish Hollywood production starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as her sister, Mary, and Eric Bana as King Henry VIII, has reminded us of how often the story of Henry, his wives and mistresses has stirred the passions of moviemakers and fans.

Based on Philippa Gregory’s novel, the new film offers the idea that Henry, while still married to Queen Catherine of Aragon, took Mary Boleyn as his mistress and that she bore him an illegitimate child. Later, Mary was replaced in Henry’s affections by her own sister, Anne, who succeeded in getting the king to finally end his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne.

Gregory’s novel, published in 2002, was an instant best-seller and put the spotlight on Mary Boleyn for the first time.

Here are some movies and TV miniseries about the Boleyns and King Henry VIII:

“The Private Life of Henry VIII” (1933): Charles Laughton won the best actor Academy Award for his somewhat over-the-top portrayal of an expansive, pouty and emotional Henry in this big-budget British film directed by Alexander Korda. Merle Oberon’s Anne Boleyn receives less time onscreen than some of Henry’s other wives — the film actually begins with her execution — particularly Anne of Cleves (played by Elsa Lanchester, Laughton’s spouse in real life). Available on DVD from Allied Artists Classics.

“A Man for All Seasons” (1966): Although she’s onscreen for only a few seconds and has no dialogue, Vanessa Redgrave is so gorgeous, so stunningly vivacious as Anne Boleyn, that we see why Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) was so taken by her. Redgrave gives one of the great cameo performances in movie history in this drama about Henry’s nemesis, Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield). The film’s six Oscars include best picture, best actor (Scofield) and best director. Available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Anne of the Thousand Days” (1969): This big, lavish production received 10 Oscar nominations — including ones for best picture and for stars Genevieve Bujold as Anne and Richard Burton as Henry — but won only for costume design. Director Charles Jarrott’s film is quite accurate in its period detail yet way off the mark in depicting the relationship between Anne and Henry. Still, it’s the only major film among the Henry VIII movies to focus largely on Anne. Available on DVD, packaged with “Mary, Queen of Scots,” from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“The Other Boleyn Girl” (2003): This 2003 BBC version of Gregory’s novel, which was released this week on DVD, stars Natascha McElhone as Mary Boleyn, Jodhi May as Anne and Jared Harris as Henry VIII. Director Philippa Lowthorpe had her cast improvise much of the dialogue. Available Tuesday on DVD from BBC Video.

“Henry VIII” (2003): A Granada TV/PBS “Masterpiece Theatre” production, this stars Ray Winstone as Henry and Helena Bonham Carter as Anne. Bonham Carter garnered excellent reviews as Anne (better than Winstone received for his Cockney-accented king), and her character comes across very favorably — scheming, to be sure, but also intelligent, warm and exceedingly noble at her execution. Available on DVD from HBO Video.

“The Tudors: The Complete First Season” (2007): Relative newcomer Natalie Dormer stars as Anne in this Showtime TV series, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing Henry. Dormer gives a strong performance, emphasizing Anne’s conniving and independent spirit, but this is Rhys Meyers’ show. Season 2 begins March 30 with Henry’s marriage to Anne. Available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.

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