Monday 10 December 2018

Movie Review: Anne Of The Thousand Days (1969)

A historical epic drama, Anne Of The Thousand Days delves into the politics and passions that shaped history in the English royal court.

It's the early 1500s, and England's King Henry VIII (Richard Burton) is desperate to have a son, but stuck in a loveless marriage with Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas) who can no longer have children. The much younger Anne Boleyn (Geneviève Bujold) catches his eye, and he pursues her incessantly. Anne's sister is already pregnant with the King's child, and Anne has no intention of becoming another of his illicit lovers bearing him illegitimate children: she insists that she will only sleep with the King if he makes her his Queen.

Henry turns to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) to convince the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine, but to no avail. Henry's chief lawyer Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) then convinces Henry to break away from Rome and install himself as the head of the church in England. He does so, paving the way to marry Anne. But their long-desired union is hugely controversial, and Henry's increasingly erratic behaviour causes more trouble ahead.

Directed by Charles Jarrott as an adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson play, Anne Of The Thousand Days is two and half hours of lavish historical drama and court intrigue. Handsomely staged with elaborate sets and costumes to recreate a long gone era, the film is a remarkably engaging story of a passionate clash driving politics and reorienting the course of history.

Aided by deliberate pacing, the story carries enormous potency, and indeed the liaison between Henry and Anne sowed the seeds for a major religious realignment and conceived one of England's most influential rulers. But at the personal level the film is about a man who cannot be denied meeting a woman who will yield only after extracting an extraordinary price. The private battle of wills spills into far-reaching matters of church and state, and the film traces the ripple effects from the palace to the courts, prison cells and guillotines.

Henry is portrayed on the margins of madness, the lack of a male heir driving him to the edge, his proclaimed love for Anne representing a yearning for any attractive young woman who may yield a son. The role perfectly suits Richard Burton, who maintains quiet control most of the time and unleashes Henry's frustrated rage only at strategic intervals.

Anne emerges as a most provocative character, a determined and intelligent woman who parlays her brief period of influence over a king into a potential dynasty for her future child. It's an exceptional display of burgeoning feminine power built on self-confidence and a refusal to acquiesce, and Geneviève Bujold pulls off the role with intense relish.

The supporting characters are vivid and add plenty to the unfolding drama. Cardinal Wolsey in his infernal red robes, the conniving Cromwell, the dour and set-upon Catherine, Anne's avaricious parents and the cerebral Sir Thomas More (William Squire) all play their role in animating the court and influencing crucial events.

Anne Of The Thousand Days is a colourful recreation of political machinations, the fierce desire for a male ironically unleashing the power of a female to control the present and rule the future.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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