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United Kingdom 1933
Directed by
Alexander Korda
97 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Private Life of Henry VIII

Charles Laughton won an Oscar for Best Actor in his first major starring screen  role and indeed he is perfectly suited to the part in a film which technically shows that it is not long out of the silent era. The first appearance of Laughton as Henry mimics the iconic Holbein portrait of the infamous king and the actor thereafter plays up to the popular myth of Henry as a grandiloquent, petulantly overbearing buffoon.

Expatriate Hungarian producer Alexander Korda who had already made one “Private Life” film in Hollywood, the 1927 silent film The Private Life Of Helen Of Troy, was looking  for subject matter that was distinctively British. This material suited his requirement but the result is problematic as history for, despite the courtly pomp and circumstance, it is so evidently a simple transposition of contemporary England to a Tudor setting. One can readily imagine audiences of the time revelling in seeing themselve so historically dignified..

Despite its datedness Laughton’s performance makes the film worth seeing whilst an honourable mention should go to his real life wife, Elsa Lanchester, as Anne of Cleves. The film made a star of the exotically-beautiful Merle Oberon who would later marry Korda.




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