Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) dir. Charles Jarrot
Starring: Genevieve Bujold, Richard Burton, Anthony Quayle, John Colicos
“We used the incest excuse last time. We can't make a habit of it.”
Queen Elizabeth is in vogue again. “The Tudors” is the buzz mini-series on television and Shekar Kapur and Cate Blanchett are about to release a sequel to “Elizabeth” called “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”. I’d like to make a case for Charles Jarrott and Hal B. Wallis’ “Anne of the Thousand Days” as the best of all these films. The time period is filled with many intriguing soap opera-style political stories – there’s Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scotts, the many wives of Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Drake and more. “Anne of the Thousand Days” concentrates on Henry VIII’s empire-dividing lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn. It’s a tremendously interesting epic film about this very important and complex time period.
Henry VIII is played with gusto by Richard Burton. The reigning monarch of England has led the nation through a relatively peaceful period. His ego is as big as his power and despite being married his eyes are constantly wandering. In the opening scene horndog Henry locks eyes on the young and beautiful figure of Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold). Even though he’s been in bed with her sister, Mary she quickly discards her and pursues with all energy the more beautiful Anne. His courtship is aggressive, but Anne is strong and stands up to Henry VIII’s continual demands. She doesn’t want to be another mistress of the King, instead she will only give her love in exchange for the title of Queen.
One major problem stands in the way of bliss for Henry – he’s married to the niece of the King of Spain. The politics of annulment are complicated even more by the political ramifications of making an every of Spain. But Henry is determined. With the aide of his advisors Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) and Cardinal Wolsley (Anthony Quayle) Henry makes famously splits ties with the Vatican creating the Church of England all so he can wed Boleyn. Henry gets what he wants, but when Boleyn is unable to produce a son for Henry the honeymoon is over and Boleyn becomes an enemy of the state. We know from history the fate of Boleyn, and revenge will be Anne’s in death with her daughter Elizabeth I waiting in the wings for her time claim the throne.
“Anne of the Thousand Days” at two and a half hours is indeed an epic film. But there’s no better producer than Hal B. Wallis to make it all work. Just go to IMDB and you’ll see his resume, which is longer than the phone book and includes a number of classics including “Casablanca”, “Beckett” and a dozen Elvis films. The politics of the Court can be complicated but the writing team of John Hale, Bridget Boland and Richard Sokolove who adapt Maxwell Anderson’s play keep it simple. The film is character-driven. Burton is incredible as Henry VIII. He is bull-headed ego-mad chauvinist, but Burton makes him lovable and vulnerable. The speech he makes to Anne which convinces her to marry him is a wonderful turnaround of character.
Genevieve Bujold, a great Canadian actress, is an equal match for Burton. If not one of the best-ever performances by I’ve seen by an actress, it’s certainly the most underrated. Bujold was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Maggie Smith for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”. Watch the subtle character changes over the course of the film. The film is essentially a power struggle between man and woman, each with their own agenda. Anne starts out on the defensive and idealistic. She is offended that the King could break up her engagement to Lord Percy and simply ‘take’ her because he is King. Though the King is known for his merciless persecution of dissidents, she stands up to him knowing that his carnal lust weakens him. Eventually she falls in love with the wealth and power that comes with her title. And when she can’t give birth to a son, she becomes a broken woman, who loses the strength to fend off the increasingly psychotic behaviour of Henry.
Charles Jarrott at the time was a veteran of British television, but this is definitely not “Masterpiece Theatre”. He shoots the film with on location realism. The confines of the court are never clausterphobic or cold, his shooting style is vibrant with movement, colour and a magnificent anamorphic wide screen frame. With little big cinema experience he indeed manages to create a great epic film.
The new DVD of the film is actually two films in one – before “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” Jarrott and Wallis were the first pair to create a period sequel of the Tutors. The second disc accompaniment is “Mary Queen of Scots” – a sequel of sorts made three years later with different actors but with the same tone and style as the first film. After watching “Anne of the Thousands” I was so interested seeing this second part of the story. Unfortunately despite some good performances “Mary Queen of Scots” fails to rise to greatness of “Anne”. The time and place is even more complicated than the court of Henry VIII –and so the film gets bogged down by double-crosses and triple-crosses.
But certainly check out “Anne of the Thousand Days”, it’s a classic epic featuring two great performances from Genevieve Bujold and Richard Burton. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Anne of the Thousand Days / Mary, Queen of Scots