18 thoughts on “Henry VIII in Movies and TV

  1. I will always have a soft spot for Burton’s Henry. I have no idea how accurate he is, but damn is he electrifying. Maybe because Liz was hanging out on set and got a cameo as a masked courtesan?

    I have yet to see Wolf Hall but it looks promising!

    1. I have to agree: Burton’s Henry was the best by far. I mean, hell, it IS Richard Burton afterall. But the thing that made him so great was that Genevieve Bujold was absolutely not afraid of him, or Liz hanging out on set all the time. I love the story that Bujold got fed up with Taylor always lurking around the set to keep tabs on Richard and announced “I’m going to give that bitch an acting lesson she’ll never forget!” And holy hell, she did exactly that!

      You can read more about the frisson on the set of AOTD between Bujold, Burton, and Taylor here.

  2. Crossed Swords is available from Amazon. It’s another version of “The Prince and the Pauper,” or maybe a re-titled re-release of the first one. Hard to pick a favourite Henry, as each one seems to be part of the whole. I have the same issue with the big-and-small budget portrayals of Dracula, either the literary or the historical character: warrior, ruler, blood-sucking monster, supernatural seducer, but no single film has ever quite put them all together, although some later versions have gotten the idea. Like Henry, like Hamlet, each generation has its own interpretation.

    1. Loved Keith Michell in the TV version – the wives were costumed by Jean Hunnisett. It was because “they” liked them so much that she got “Elizabeth R”!

  3. Damian Lewis did a magnificent Soames Forsythe, too, which utterly changed my re-reading of the book of the Forsyth Saga. I had no idea he was in Wolf Hall, I must look it up now! another fine article, thank you!

  4. So over all of it! Everyone seems obsessed with trying to figure him out but no one seems interested in context! If you want to understand Henry VIII, then you need to look to the prior 300 years of English history – particularly the Wars of the Roses, and to lesser extents the reign of Henry V and the quasi-civil war of Empress Matilda (Maude) and King Stephen. And you need to understand that cultural memory during the Tudor period went back a lot farther than our’s.

  5. Reused prop alert: The respective Henrys of Richard Burton (“I love her, I love her not”) Keith Mitchell (1972 old Henry) and Charlton Heston all appear to sit on the same gilded and painted gothic throne.

  6. Damien Lewis is my favorite Henry. He seems to capture the pompous arrogance quite well — and the emotional instability. (If it really takes them another several years to do more of “Wolf Hall” I may just cry.) Though some of the other actors here were quite good too; I think the reason I don’t rank Keith Mitchell higher, despite a terrific turn as Henry, is because I lost interest in the wives miniseries after Anne Boleyn. Felt like the first two episodes had most of the zest and fire.

    Anne of the Thousand Days, though… hands down, my favorite depiction of Anne Boleyn. She’s not Natalie Dormer’s conniving scheming hypocrite, nor is she Natalie Portman’s creepy opportunist. She is more like I always thought she was in history — a woman who knows what she wants and it so happens that for a long time, that ISN’T Henry. People often paint her as a villain, and forget to remember that she essentially endured unwanted sexual harassment for several years. Boo. Hiss. Down with King Henry!

    Terrific post. So much fun to read.

  7. wow, I think Keith was not the best, He speaks like a sissy the whole time.
    For me the best Henry is by far “Ray Winstone” but I think I am the only one who sees the weak person behind the bold maskerade that Ray plays here…………. (But I did not know Ray before this series so I was totally blanco with the actor) .
    This henry makes me love him and afraid for him…………………. wasn’t thàt what his charm was after all ?.
    But everyone has his/her way of seeing this great charismatic king and more worse as Jonathan Reese it can never be again , that was fun to watch but a pretty dwarf as King Henry goes to far for me.

    1. I just heard a review of the last episode of Downton Abbey that said much the same. The were talking about the success of the show and the interviewee, not sure who he was said that, “Historical Dramas are always about the time period that they are made rather than about the time period they are about”. Not sure I agree that it is always true, but I am sure relevancy is often a driving force.

      Ron Carnegie

  8. As much as I adore Keith Michell as Henry, it;s unfair to other actors who have only a movie with which to develop a character; he had an entire miniseries.

  9. We need a shot of Miranda Richardson as Queenie dressed as her father in the last episode of Blackadder II.”

  10. Charlton Heston is the best Henry onscreen, in my opinion. He absolutely nailed it – a towering performance!

  11. I’m a huge Robert Shaw fan, so I am having to vote for him as my favorite H8. Don’t even get me started on Jonathan Rhys Meyers…there are no words on why he was even cast in that role. The actor who played the Duke of Buckingham in that series would have been a PERFECT H8.

  12. My favorite Henry VIII is definitely Keith Michell; he was superb and credible all the way. Honorable Mention to Damian Lewis, who does a fine job in Wolf Hall (his last scene is almost scary, he is good at projecting menace even while projecting joy). Richard Burton made a good Henry VIII. I didn’t mind Jonathan Rhys Meyers too much; although he looked nothing like Henry; he had the restlessness, the athleticism and physical power as well as the mercurial personality vacillating between charm and petulance and viciousness. Eric Bana, an actor I like in other roles, was totally miscast; he is too quiet and calm and almost passionless. I’d have rather seen him play Thomas More…

  13. Keith Michel as the young Henry in that photo with the long red/blond hair is a dead ringer for Richard lll if you slapped a black wig in the same style on his head, Yes?

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