09 June 2009

Anne of A Thousand Days

Anne of A Thousand Days Still Lavish and Gripping
By Kristin Battestella

Anne of the Thousand DaysWhen one gets into a medieval mood there’s little to save one-except a healthy marathon of Tudor England and all its debauchery. Sometimes we turn to older, aged, long-standing pictures for more authenticity compared to today’s sexual presentations, so I was very pleased to discover Anne of A Thousand Days available on DVD. It’s been a while since my last viewing, and what’s more Tudoresque than an over the top Richard Burton?

King Henry VIII (Burton) cannot have the male heir he so desperately desires with his Queen, Katherine of Aragon (Irene Papas). After dismissing his pregnant mistress Mary Boleyn (Valerie Gearon), Henry sets his sights on Mary’s younger sister Anne (Genevieve Bujold). With the help of Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle), Henry courts Anne. Unfortunately, she refuses his bed until Henry decides to annul his marriage to Katherine. Despite Thomas More’s (William Squire) objections, Henry marries Anne Boleyn. When no living male heir comes from the union, the King quickly sets his sights on Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson) and seeks to dispose of Anne.

Richard Burton (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Robe) is one of the finest Welsh actors produced. In respect to presence and notoriety, there’s really no denying it. I like Richard Burton well enough, but that having been said; he’s also often ridiculously over the top in his delivery and mannerisms. We can joke about his style and torrid marriages (yes, two) with Elizabeth Taylor, but in Anne of A Thousand Days, all that drama works. Burton’s raised voice, pacing, and big bellows bring the larger than life Henry into the twentieth century. His dramatic tears and clenched fists show us his yearning for Anne Boleyn, as well has his power to get his own way. With such serious and controversial subjects such as incest and adultery, Anne of A Thousands Days needs an actor to trump the built in scandalous material. Burton’s beard, costumes, and style transform him into King Henry, and he gives one of his finest performances.

Director Charles Jarrott (Mary Queen of Scots), unfortunately wastes Irene Papas (Jacob, The Odyssey) as Katherine of Aragon. Her quiet objections and respectful queen aren’t given proper due in Anne of A Thousands Days. Of course, this is after all, all about Anne Boleyn, isn’t it? French Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold looks a little young against Burton’s big and bearded Henry, but she holds her place and then some against all these Shakespearean trained heavyweights. Anne’s early disdain towards Henry comes across understandably, and her slow turn to love and lust for power progress properly through the film. I really only know of Bujold through Coma, her controversies on set, and her quick exit before Star Trek: Voyager even began. Nevertheless, her feisty style and heavy performance earned her a Golden Globe trophy and an Oscar nomination. Generally, in Tudor presentations, someone is always made out to be the bad guy. Here, however, Anne and Henry play out as tragic and faulty people. Bujold and Burton’s final confrontation at the end of the film almost single handedly makes Anne of A Thousand Days.

In some early pictures, it’s easy to spot who is the rookie or stock players-but not in Anne of A Thousand Days. From the Boleyn’s Michael Horden and Katharine Blake to William Squire as Thomas More-and even sneak peaks of Elizabeth Taylor-everyone looks to have the zeal and clout needed to keep his or her head in Henry’s court. Nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar as well as the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, Anthony Quayle (Lawrence of Arabia) nearly takes Burton’s cake as the corrupted, but tragic Cardinal Wolsey. We like to thing better of so high a religious official, but we know he’s crooked and maneuvering things just like every other member of Henry’s court. Nevertheless, Quayle tugs at our heartstrings as Wosley slowly loses out against Anne Boleyn. It took me forever to recognize John Colicos as Thomas Cromwell. Battlestar Galatica’s Baltar is subtle but no less slick as Wolsey’s Protestant heir apparent-and he’s completely immersed all his sly into Cromwell.

Even though things were more swinging back in the day, it’s surprising to see such raunchy talk in such a well put together dramatic piece. Anne of A Thousand Days has Shakespearean soliloquies next to such tawdry talk about the power between a women’s legs and how to properly charm a virgin. It’s kind of kinky and bizarre to see such a heavy and serious cast deliver such charms as ’bitch’ and other naughties, but all of them speak with such natural Old Speaketh Like that after the first half hour, it almost feels acceptable. After all, you can’t deal with Kings and Queens, consummations and bastards without some sex talk of the day. Writers Richard Sokolove, John Hale, and Bridget Boland keep the script adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) play serious, authentic, and professional.

Anne of A Thousand Days may be from 1969, but it looks mighty fine today. The costumes, the sets, the colors-every care was taken in art and set decoration. It doesn’t even look that small of a scale against our opulent, 21st century productions, and Anne of A Thousand Days has some Oscar hardware to show for it. The castles look stone cold when need be, or wooden and warm and festive for the parties. All the ladies costumes look accurate and such a dream to wear. Of course, the men will always look a little silly to us modern folk with their skirted coats and bright hose. Nevertheless, the hats, feathers, jewels, and crowns work on the men as well as the women. Music also plays a critical part in Anne of A Thousand Days. The sixties hippie strings and classical score sound straight out of the sixteenth century. The flutes and the guitars are not some lofty and obviously placed outside add on, but the instruments play onscreen and provide authentic courtly sounds. It’s all a little heady and trippy, but somehow a fitting mix of antiquity and modern tunes.

Despite my high praise, Anne of A Thousand Days is not perfect. Folks who can’t abide the over the top and stage like styles of old will be quickly annoyed with the sassy women and forceful deliveries. One has to be very much in the mood for such a heavy picture. The uneven voices’ volumes go from very soft to complete screams. And at almost two and a half hours, some might give up on Anne of A Thousands Days before the real meat of the story begins. All these considered, this crazy monarch keeps us entertained, doesn’t he? Anne of A Thousands Days is another example of how each generation needs to somehow make the Tudor story its own. Where we may laud Camelot and all goodly legends of Kings and fine places, sometimes we need to show ourselves that we’re nowhere near as nutty as Henry VIII. Anne of A Thousands Days is a time capsule of us playing out our torrid histories. What’s wrong with that?

Blessedly Anne of A Thousands Days is available on a proper DVD with subtitles and a widescreen presentation. It’s essential to read the low voices, but the properly trained British accents here go a long way, too. I imagine all this is too old fashioned and over long for the classroom, but teachers and scholars no doubt already know and love Anne of A Thousand Days. We’ve had modern good with The Tudors and some bad with The Other Boleyn Girl, but Anne of A Thousand Days is still a delightful look at Henry and his many wives. True Tudor fans should learn it, live it, love it.


The Anne Boleyn Files said...

I must get it on DVD. I'm rather obsessed about Anne Boleyn but I actually haven't seen Anne of a Thousand Days - just The Tudors, David Starkey's documentaries, The Other Boleyn Girl and A Man for All Seasons. I love Richard Burton, I think he was a top class actor with reall stage presence so I think he'd be good as Henry VIII. I've seen clips of the film and now really want to see it. Thanks for your review!

Kristin Battestella said...

Howdy ABF. I think you'll really like it! Anne of A Thousand Day's old time costume epic look and feel seem more authentic somehow than the modern, juicy stuff!