The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) Review

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) Director: Alexander Korda


The Private Life of Henry VIII is a light-hearted comedy that deals with tragic circumstances. The film is a good film, mainly for Charles Laughton’s memorable performance.

Ironically directed by a Hungarian director, this film is one of the seminal films establishing British cinema. It begins en media res, with the beheading of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, at the outset. He then marries Jane Seymour who dies in childbirth eighteen months later. He then weds a German princess, Anne of Cleves, who he finds distasteful. He divorces her and falls in love with Katherine Howard, a woman already being wooed by a courtier, Thomas Culpeper. Henry VIII marries her but soon executes the both of them when their affair is discovered. At the end of the film, we find an aging Henry VIII gorging himself with food and breaks the fourth wall with the audience, as comedies are wont to do, and says, “six wives, and the best of them’s the worst.”

The film stars a large, loud, and amusing Charles Laughton. Five of Henry’s wives are depicted, excluding his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The film was the first non-Hollywood film to win an Academy Award, for Laughton for his performance as Henry VIII. This was the first of many of his on-screen roles as Henry VIII and the award was deserving.

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