Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

I watched The Tudors when it was on TV, and one day I'll review it here.  That series took two seasons to cover the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn; this film does it in two and a half hours.  That's obviously going to produce a fairly different experience but even if the formats had been the same, I think the two would feel distinct.

The Anne depicted here is a highly reluctant target of the King's attentions.  She is engaged to a man she loves, and deeply resentful when the Henry VIII vetoes their marriage and attempts to win her to his bed.  However, it takes her very little time to realise that just as Henry has the power to deny her the happiness she sought, she in turn has the power to deny him.  She refuses to become his mistress but subtly encourages him to continue his pursuit, until he is so enamoured with her that he is willing to challenge the Pope to have his marriage annulled and make her his wife.

We know that the real Anne Boleyn did indeed refuse to become Henry's mistress - possibly because she saw how readily he'd discarded her older sister once he'd had what he wanted - but it's very doubtful that he had anything to do with the breaking of her engagement.  So the film has only itself to blame for for failing to convince us that Anne's feelings have really changed when she finally tells Henry that she loves him.  It decided to make her dislike him in the first place, after all.

On the other hand, given some of the later fictionalised interactions it adds, it is entirely possible that we're supposed to question her sincerity.  I kind of like that ambivalence, to be honest.

This film had pretty mixed reviews when it came out, though Genevieve Bujold's performance as Anne was generally well-regarded.  I wonder how many of the negative responses came from male reviewers.  A notable thing in the film is that while Henry has a great deal of power - he is King of England after all - the film makes it clear that he has no strength.  He's a weak man, selfish and shallow.  I think Richard Burton's portrayal of him in this regard is very good.  Anne meanwhile, may end up on the headsman's block, but she goes there confident she has secured the future of her daughter, who would grow up to become one of England's most celebrated monarchs.

This film plays fast and loose with the details of history, but it achieves the more important thing of underlining the exceptional role Anne Boleyn played in English history, and the high likelihood that she was a quite exceptional woman in her own right.

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