The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) Director: Alexander Korda
From Hungarian director Henry Korda, The Private Life of Henry VIII is one of the seminal films which established British cinema. It begins en media res, with the beheading of King Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry then marries Jane Seymour who dies in childbirth eighteen months later. He then weds a German princess, Anne of Cleves, whom he finds distasteful so he divorces Anne and falls in love with Katherine Howard, a woman already being wooed by a courtier, Thomas Culpeper. Henry VIII marries her but soon executes both Katherine and Thomas when their affair is discovered. At the end of the film, we find an aging Henry VIII gorging himself with food the fourth wall is broken, as comedies are wont to do, as Henry proclaims, “six wives, and the best of them’s the worst!”
The Private Life of Henry VIII stars the large and loud Charles Laughton in one of his most memorable roles for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor. Laughton’s Academy Award for this film actually marked the first non-Hollywood film to win an Oscar. Notably, each of Henry’s wives in this film appear as mere caricatures –a string of social climbers and schemers.