Friday, January 6, 2012

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (6 part mini-series) on BBC 1970

SPOILER ALERT (1)The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, first broadcast by the BBC in 1970, became one of its most celebrated historical drama series. The nine hour six part series went on to be shown in some 70 countries and attracted no less than seven major awards, winning for the quality of the performances and for its historical authenticity.
Towering over the series was the gargantuan figure of Henry himself, played by the unknown Australian actor Keith Michell, who earned an award for Best Television Actor. Michell, who started out as an art teacher, owed the role to Laurence Olivier, who had been impressed by Michell while on tour in Australia and had brought him back to England in order to advance his career.  The faith the BBC put in the young actor was more than amply rewarded as Michell went on with extraordinary lengths to vitalize the larger than life character of King Henry VIII.
The series was neatly split into six episodes, each one dealing with one of the six wives and tracing their varied experiences and sometimes bloody ends at the hands of one of England's most infamous rulers. The wives themselves were played by Annette Crosbie, Dorothy Tutin, Anne Stallybrass, Elvi Hale, Angela Pleasance, and Rosalie Crutchley, all respected and proven stars of stage and screen. Annette Crosbie, playing Catherine of Aragon, won Best Actress Award for her performance.  (See below for further info) 

Michell, though, was always the focus of attention. The task for the actor was to portray Henry at the different stages of his life, beginning with the athletic 18-year-old monarch and culminating in the oversize 56-year-old tyrant plagued by a variety of physical ailments. Playing the aging Henry in the later episodes proved the most demanding challenge. Michell, who boasted only half the girth of the real king, spent some four hours each day getting his make-up on and was then unable to take any sustenance except through a straw because of the padding tucked into his cheeks. The impersonation was entirely convincing, however, and critics hailed the attention to detail in costume and sets. No one, it seemed, twigged that Henry's mink robes were really made of rabbit fur, or that the fabulous jewels studding his hats and coats were humble washers and screws sprayed with paint.
The lavishness of the costumes and settings and the brilliance of Michell and his co-stars ensured the success of the series, though some viewers expressed reservations.  Whatever the criticisms, the success of The Six Wives of Henry VIII brought stardom to Michell and also did much to establish the BBC's cherished reputation for ambitious and historically authentic costume drama, consolidated a year later by the equally-acclaimed series Elizabeth R, starring Glenda Jackson as Henry's daughter.     
 (1) the above came from the site and was written by David  Pickering
David Pickering is an experienced reference books compiler. He has contributed to (and often been sole author and editor of) some reference books, mostly in the areas of the arts, language, local history and popular interest.
PLOT BY EPISODE (Details from wikipedia):

Part 1 - Catherine of Aragon

Annette Crosbie as Catherine of Aragon
Catherine's marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales, ends with his early death. Over the next few years, Catherine faces money trouble and arrangements for her to marry Prince Henry are unclear. When Henry VII dies, Henry VIII chooses Catherine as his wife, as his dying father requested. After a short scene of Catherine's son's death (her second pregnancy, after a stillbirth), and her weeping in Henry's arms, the programme cuts to her older days where Henry falls in love with Anne Boleyn. Henry wants a male heir and after several pregnancies only one child of Catherine's and Henry's has survived, the princess Mary (the future Queen Mary I). Catherine is heartbroken when Henry tells her he wants a divorce. There are several court scenes discussing the annulment. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey does all he can to accomplish Henry's desire for a divorce from Catherine, but ultimately fails (and later dies en-route to the Tower of London). Henry attempts to have a Papal Trial in England, to call into question the validity of his marriage to Catherine. But when Rome and the Pope revoke this attempt, Henry begins his break with the Catholic Church and starts to sow the seeds of the eventual Protestant Reformation in England. Catherine is eventually told her marriage to Henry has been annulled, and that Henry has married Anne. Catherine is moved to Wolsey's house until she dies, with María de Salinas (her most faithful servant) by her side. While there, they receive the news that Anne has had her child, the future queen Elizabeth I. The episode ends with Catherine dying in her bed, María de Salinas beside her and Henry reading a loving final letter from Catherine. Henry crushes the letter callously, and walks dominantly towards the camera.

Part 2 - Anne Boleyn

Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn
Having seen Anne's rise in the preceding episode, this episode focuses primarily on her downfall, documenting the disintegration of her marriage in the face of her miscarriage and the king's infidelities. Anne's brother, Sir George Boleyn (with whom she was accused of having incest), is shown anxiously trying to advise and counsel her to be more prudent and cautious in her conduct with the King.  Anne continues to berate Henry for his infidelities, which elicits not-so-veiled threats from him in return. Anne's final failure to give Henry a son seals her doom.  Anne did have a daughter, Elizabeth, earlier in their marriage.  However, not producing a son in ample time was her downfall.  The storyline was heavily influenced by academic theories that believed Anne was the victim of a factional and political plot, concocted by her many enemies; among them, Thomas Cromwell and Lady Rochford, Anne's treacherous sister-in-law.  As with most media treatments of Anne's destruction, the episode followed the historical research, which has all but proved her innocence. The scriptwriter used Anne's final confession of her sins, a burden that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer would have to bear to the end of his days, to suggest her total innocence on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft.

Part 3 - Jane Seymour

Anne Stallybrass as Jane Seymour
Jane gives birth to Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI. When she is taken to her child's christening, she is in pain and is near death; while lying in her sickbed, the events of her life flash before her in a fever dream. She remembers how Henry fell in love with her, and how her relatives and certain of Henry's Councillors like Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, and others, schemed to bring about the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Directly after Anne is executed, Henry and Jane are married. During Jane's short time as queen, she tries with some success to reconcile the princess Mary, with Henry. Her pregnancy is a guilt-filled one. She is tormented by the fact that her predecessor was innocent and the victim of false witness. After Jane gives birth to the Prince, she falls ill and dies.  The last images we see of her are her body lying in state, arrayed like a queen and Henry weeping by Jane's funeral bier.

Part 4 - Anne of Cleves

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves
With three dead wives behind him, Henry is urged by his counselors to marry again and further secure the succession. Thomas Cromwell encourages Henry to be in an alliance with Protestant Germany, so he considers one of the Duke of Cleves' sisters, Anne or Amelia. He sends artist Hans Holbein, who paints both girls. Based on this portrait and good reports of her, Henry chooses Anne and she is sent to marry the king. When Anne reaches England, Henry wishes to surprise her, so he goes to see her for the first time in disguise. He arrives unannounced, and Anne is horrified when she learns the obese and bawdy "messenger" is really Henry, her future husband. Henry, rattled by her reaction, declares her ugly and attempts to nullify the marriage contract, but the marriage proceeds with two unwilling participants. When the time comes to consummate their union, Anne sees a possible escape from the marriage by stalling the already unenthusiastic king. In the weeks that follow, Anne and Henry live separate lives at court, although Anne is shown as being close to his children, especially little Elizabeth. Politics then take center stage as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, plans Cromwell's downfall by playing on Henry's infatuation with his young niece, Catherine Howard. The reasons for the German alliance have also shifted, making the marriage to Anne politically inconvenient. Cromwell, the architect of the alliance, knows he is doomed and warns Anne, who plans an exit from the marriage rather than risk a worse fate. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer offers Anne advice and sympathy and they both deeply regret Cromwell's downfall. Encouraging Henry to think it's his own idea, Anne tells Henry that she understands his demands for an annulment, and suggests that he give her a household of her own, and continued contact with Henry's children, of whom she's fond of. She points out that if they both agree that the marriage was never consummated, it should be easy to have it annulled. Given a graceful exit from a marriage and wife he has no interest in, Henry gradually agrees, saying "Good night, my dear sister." The episode ends on Anne's bittersweet but relieved expression. The portrayal of Anne of Cleves is based largely on the writer's interpretation of obscure historical events. She is shown to have a strong grasp of politics, which may seem unlikely, but this answers the facts of the annulment and the even more unlikely fact that Anne of Cleves survived her marriage to Henry.

Part 5 - Catherine Howard

  • Angela Pleasence as Catherine Howard
The Duke of Norfolk visits his elderly mother to see if one of his nieces would be a likely enticement for the King.  The Duke's ambition is clear as he wants a Howard on the throne of England. We meet Catherine Howard, a pretty and foolhardy teenager, who confides in her cousin Anne Carey that she had sexual relations with a young man named Francis Dereham the previous summer. Catherine is taken by her governess, Lady Rochford (the former sister-in-law of the late queen Anne Boleyn), to her Uncle (the Duke of Norfolk), who informs her that she is to be the next Queen of England.  Catherine states her concerns because of what happened to Anne but Norfolk assures her if she listens to him all will be well, and stresses that she must not show fear or timidity when addressing the King. Norfolk is unaware of his niece's sexually active past, and Catherine lies about it, telling him that she is untouched. She is taken to meet the king. Henry, long ill with an ulcer on his leg, is immediately taken with the pretty young girl. Catherine nurses and flirts with him and Norfolk's dream seems closer. The king decides to take her as his wife but on their wedding night Henry's impotence is an obstacle. Another obstacle arrives when the Francis Dereham comes to visit the Queen and blackmails her regarding their prior romance. Catherine gives him the job of Private Secretary to her so he will be quiet. To secure her future, Norfolk insists she produce a male heir, in any way possible. Catherine, with the help of Lady Rochford, begins a desperate affair with Thomas Culpepper. Thomas Culpepper is Henry's young and dashing personal aide, who is already overwhelmingly smitten with the new Queen.  Month's pass with no sign of a child, and the court begins to know about the Culpepper affair, as well the rampant rumors concerning Catherine's past indiscretions with Dereham . With disclosure threatened, Norfolk betrays his niece to the king before his enemies alarm the king of the situation.  Culpepper and Dereham are taken to the Tower, tortured, and later executed. There is then a dramatic scene where Norfolk and the king's guards come to arrest Catherine and the Lady Rochford. Catherine demands to see the king, but is denied. She is taken to the Tower where she rehearses the speech she will give at her execution. The episode ends with the king preparing for an operation on his ulcerated leg and banishing Norfolk, who is now very violently out of favor with the king. Henry tells Norfalk that if he ever looks on him again, it will only be his head.

Part 6 - Catherine Parr

Rosalie Crutchley as Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr, the recently widowed Lady Latimer, is called to an audience with the King. Henry, old, corpulent, sick and lonely, takes to the mature twice-widowed lady.  Her honesty and calmness entices him. She turns down his offer of marriage, however, only to be persuaded by the ambitious Seymour brothers, Edward and Thomas (brothers of the late queen Jane Seymour), to accept Henry's proposal.  Even though Thomas and Catherine Parr have romantic feelings for each other, is especially eager to have Catherine marry Henry. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer also encourages the devoutly Protestant Catherine to marry the King. Catherine soon becomes Queen of England and her natural maternal instinct is put into practice with the king's children; Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. However, Catholic Bishop Gardiner takes a dislike to Catherine's religious views.  Gardiner plots her downfall and questions her ladies. Gardiner even has one woman, Anne Askew, not one of Catherine's ladies, but a notable religious writer and speaker whose works Catherine had read, on the rack. Catherine is horrified by Askew's story and confronts her husband and Gardiner. Henry is angered by her liberal opinions and angrily rejects her. Soon, a warrant for the queen to be arrested and "examined", which is practically a death sentence, is written out. Catherine is terrified, but Archbishop Cranmer advises her to assume a modest, humble, apologetic pose to the king, and Henry, does in fact, forgive her. Soon after, Henry suddenly collapses, obviously near death. After a long wait, the King dies, and Thomas Seymour asks Catherine to marry him. Still in her mourning clothes, Catherine accepts.


My personal review of the mini-series will be posted over the weekend. 



tudorcrazy said...

Wow, talk about historical inaccuracies. Henry was fighting Henry the V11 to marry Catherine as he loved her. After his father died he did as he pleased and married her.He got a papal dispensation to do so so surely he wanted her.
Jane Seymour never went to Edward's Christening, as the mother was never allowed until she was
"Churched" All you Tudor folks need to look that word up.It stems for Leviticus in the bible which is Jewish law, that a woman is unclean after childbirth until a certain time where she is given a Mikvah bath.
Queens and Kings never attended the Christening. Just like the King can't go to funerals as it is against the law for the king to imagine death. I could go on and on but won't.
I doubt Lady Rochford plotted against her husband, but they had a terrible marriage for sure. The execution of George brought her to the brink of ruin in her career as a courtier, as she lost all er holdings which revert to the crown upon execution, or to a son. They were childless. It is only Cromwell, and Jane who repaired her state and brought her back to court.

Anthony Paradiso said...

Agreed with Catherine of Aragon comment.

Thank you for the knowledge of the meaning of the word "Churched". I was unaware of the meaning and also thank you for the comment about Kings not attending Christenings or Funerals.

I would not be surprised with Lady Rochford's actions as she disliked being married to him and would find anyway to rid of him. So, I would not be surprised.

Great comments and discussion!

tudorcrazy said...

Concerning Lady Rochford I might say I have read her bio can't think of author, I must go to my library. Anyway, she was pushed into this match by her father. Little was known about her early life. The Tudors portrays George as a bisexual and cruel. I think there was a great deal of inaccuracy there but it made the storyline great.
However, they had a very unhappy match. George was very educated and gifted in languages like Anne and certainly their Father Thomas Boleyn who was a gifted brilliant ambassador. He spoke seven languages. French English Italian, Hebrew, Spanish,Greek, and of curse Latin. George was also very well educated, as was Anne. I don't think Mary was the brightest, but she was a very accomplished courtier. She certainly slept with 2 kings and married for love later in life.

tudorcrazy said...

Mary Boleyn was a very important link in the Tudor genealogy. Lettice Knollys her grandaughter was married to Robert Dudley and the mother of the The Earl of Essex, by another marriage. See Margaret George"s latest novel Elizabeth.
Lettice was Mary Boleyn's Grandaughter, and Elizabeth's great Aunt. Elizabeth had a sexual liason with Lettice's son Essex, and then she executed him. So Elizabeth executed Lettice's son, and Lettice was Elizabeth's cousin. Confusing but true.

tudorcrazy said...

Back to inaccuracies of Katherine of Aragon. I do not think Henry the Vll wanted the marriage only her dowry. She waited in Poverty and limbo until his death and then Henry 8 married her. He was chivalrous, and I believe had great feelings for her for a long time. I think he looked up to er, as she was truly royal. this is an article i found. I encourage you to read her biography to know the specific events and politics leading to their marriage.

Katharine was now promised to Arthur's younger brother, Henry. Born 28 June 1491, he was almost six years younger than Katharine. But he was robust and healthy, and already regarded as a precocious intellect. Before his brother's death, he had been destined for the church and educated accordingly. But now he was the future king and as such he needed a future wife. Henry VII betrothed young Henry to his brother's widow, a plan which required a papal dispensation. Ferdinand, at odds with France, was anxious to please his English ally; Isabella's piety may have ruined the plan but she was dying and did not protest. Katharine and her duenna, Dona Elvira, both wrote that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Pope Julius II granted the dispensation.

The new betrothal may have been spurred by Henry VII's legendary avarice. Katharine had brought half of her dowry with her upon marriage to Arthur; if she returned home, her marriage contract required that the dowry be returned. Also, her inheritance as dowager Princess of Wales was substantial. If she left England, so would that steady income.

Katharine herself wrote to her father that she had no wish to remain in England but she would obey his decision. Perhaps she had already learned enough of Henry VII's character to know she would be shabbily treated. Despite her royal position, she lived in poverty. The Spanish ambassador was forced to buy her necessities and she was unable to pay her attendants. And soon enough Henry VII was implying that he would break the Spanish betrothal. Katharine spent the next seven years in a state of political limbo. And when he turned fourteen, Henry VII had his son publicly repudiate the betrothal, claiming that the marriage contract was made without his knowledge or consent. Yet Katharine remained in England.

In 1509, the situation was resolved with startling speed. Henry VII died and his eighteen year old son became king. Handsome, proud, and imbued with the romantic spirit of chivalry, he promptly married Katharine. Did he marry her out of a sense of obligation? Was it because, as he later claimed, he wished to respect his father's last wish? Were political councilors encouraging the Spanish alliance? Or did he love the dignified and lovely young princess? It is impossible to know. But they certainly acted like a loving and affectionate couple, far beyond typical royal marriages. There were public displays of affection, declarations of love and respect, and for a long while she was also a close political adviser.

Now I would like to express my opinion of K of A.
I think she should have granted him a divorce to protect Mary. Her zealous adherence to the marriage produced a damaged young woman intent on murdering every reformer was the result. Mary should have been betrothed and married to a prince who could give her a better life and children. I understand her Catholicism kept her from divorce, but as the King's subject, and Mary's mother she did a huge disservice to her daughter, and could have been a wonderful influence on the kingdom. She even could have remarried. Food for thought.