The Private Life of Henry VIII

The Private Life of Henry VIII

The things I’ve done for England…

I haven’t seen Charles Laughton in too many of his films, but from what I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed him. This, The Private Life of Henry VIII, was the film that netted him an Oscar for Best Actor, considered an upset at the time over favorite Paul Muni; it’s also, in my opinion, one of the rare comedic acting wins at the Oscars. The research I did into the film seemed coy as to the genre of this one, but after seeing it, I’m surprised it’s not labeled more clearly as a comedy, or at the very least a farce; not only that, it was a pretty effective one to be honest. While the film could’ve done with a bit more gussying up, to put it succinctly, it was still quite enjoyable, especially from a 1930s point of view.

The film, as evident by the title, deals with the reign of King Henry VIII of England, specifically his several marriages and how each of them ended up failing him in various ways. As a comedy, the film takes a very light-hearted approach to detailing Henry’s private life, and the length of the picture is rather short as a result, but like most short films that are at the very least worth your time, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The film’s weirdly jovial mood was evident from the opening scene, where the workers of the castle go about their merry business… preparing for the wife of the king to be beheaded, in almost a festival-like setting. From there, we flit about the castle with whimsical glee, until finally Henry himself appears in full costume and proceeds to blow the windows out with his sheer personality. Laughton’s bombastic persona and method of trampling around threatened to derail the film when he first appeared, but in some mystical way it ended up growing on me as the film went on, which I credit to Laughton and his natural charisma (not to mention his sense of humor, particularly in the film’s capon-eating scene, which I chuckled through most of it solely because of him). One thing I didn’t care for, and which seems to be a common occurrence in films of the time, is the film’s lack of a score, save of course for the opening and closing credits (and a couple of title cards used during the running time); I’ve never been sure why so many films of the era forgo musical scores as though they were still afraid of the advent of sound, but I can only hope this trend fades quickly.

There’s not a whole lot of baubles or spit-shine to this one, what with the lack of musical score and the underworkings of the film’s construction on full display, but I still liked it. It was enjoyable, and it had that sense about it not to take itself all that seriously, making the film quite a delightful little romp as a result. Only time will tell if the film stays in my memory as opposed to fading away like so many others, but for the time being, I’m fairly pleased. I still don’t think it will end up on top as the best picture of its year, but that the Academy saw fit to nominate a film like this, especially one mostly outside the Hollywood system, is enough of a win for me.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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2 thoughts on “The Private Life of Henry VIII

  1. I remembered the scene where Laughton plays cards with Elsa Lanchester for decades after seeing it once in high school!

    • That’s another memorable scene as well. I always get a kick out of dating/married couples in films portraying characters that dislike or hate each other for whatever reason; it adds an extra level of meta-humor to the situation.

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