The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

private life of henry viii poster 1933 movie charles laughton
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 7/10

Laughton is a great Henry VIII

Old style feels stodgy

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Private Life of Henry VIII

Studio:  London Film Productions

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  August 17, 1933 (London)/September 23, 1933 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

private life of henry viii costume charles laughton

That’s how I make an entrance!!!

Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) is seeking an heir, and his second wife Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) hasn’t provided one.  With Boleyn headed to the execution block, the king is set to marry Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie) who could finally provide him with an heir…unfortunately, Henry’s queens always face challenges be it Seymour, Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester), Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes), or Catherine Parr (Everley Gregg)…being involved with Henry VIII could be deadly.

Directed by Alexander Korda, The Private Life of Henry VIII is a historic drama.  The film received an Academy Award for Best Actor (Laughton) and was nominated for Best Picture.  The Criterion Collection released the film under the Eclipse imprint as part of Alexander Korda’s Private Lives (Series #16).

Henry VIII is one of those kings of England you hear a lot about (even in the United States).  His immense girth, multiple wives, and disposition have made him a legendary figure…and Charles Laughton feels like a perfect fit for him.

private life of henry viii anne of cleves elsa lanchester charles laughton

A card shark…me?

The movie is one of those blends of legitimate history and fictionalized storytelling…which is sometimes dangerous.  The movie presents the first wife of Henry VIII (Catherine of Aragon) is ignored because there isn’t really anything interesting about her.  This kind of sets the stage that it isn’t entirely historic, but if you watched the movie and took it as history, you also get a warped perspective since the filmmakers play with facts.

Laughton is a great gluttonous Henry VIII.  Not only does he match the images in paintings like the one by Hans Holbein the Young, but he also really embodies the stories you hear about Henry VIII…he makes the character and helps create it.  He has a nice supporting cast with doomed Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn and Binnie Barnes as the climber Katherine Howard.  Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester steals the scene as Anne of Cleves who has no interest in being with Henry VIII.

private life of henry viii eating chicken charles laughton

Can I get some Frank’s Red Hot over here?

The movie is shot rather basic.  It feels very set based (like a lot of older films).  The costume design and style of the film fit what the story needs but it does feel rather stodgy in comparison to modern films (including modern period pieces).

The Private Life of Henry VIII isn’t bad, but it does come from the time it was made.  The movies were a different thing than now and often now, a period piece like The Private Life of Henry VIII would be glamorous and ostentatious…something that actually fits with the character and how he would have lived.  Instead you have a rather good performance within a bland film…which is a shame.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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