Now that the second season of the bloody and bawdy series “The Tudors” has begun, it’s time to look at the original “Anne of the Thousand Days”. It’s especially apt since this season of “The Tudors” will basically be “Anne of the Thousand Days” But beyond the bare facts, any resemblance to the 1969 film will be strictly coincidental, I’m sure!
“Anne of the Thousand Days” was based on the 1948 Broadway play by Maxwell Anderson. It was controversial for its time, due to some candid talk about incest, adultery and illegitimate children. A burly Richard Burton stars as the lusty King Henry VIII and a luminous Genevieve Bujold is the ill-fated Anne Boleyn.
As the king of England, Henry is accustomed to getting what he wants, especially pretty women. When he spots Anne Boleyn, recently returned from France and happily swirling around the dance floor at court, he decides he wants her. The fact that Henry is married, Anne is betrothed to Harry Percy and Anne’s sister Mary is pregnant with the king’s child makes no difference. Wives can be ignored, betrothals can be broken and mistresses set aside. But Anne is not like the others, grateful for royal attention. Angry at the king for refusing her permission to marry Percy, she just endures his courtship. He forces her to come to court as Katherine’s lady-in-waiting so he can work on her.
Though it may have been lust driving him before, Henry begins to fall in love with Anne and Anne loves the power and wealth she now has as the king’s almost mistress. Almost, because Anne keeps the increasingly frustrated king out of her bedchamber. And underneath all the lust and frustration is Henry’s bleak knowledge that he has no son to succeed him, just a daughter, Mary. Katherine of Aragon is past childbearing and Henry himself is middle-aged. Feeling certain he can’t or won’t do what she demands, Anne swears she will give him his longed-for sons if he gives her marriage and a crown. Her underestimation of Henry’s will to have her alters England forever.
As Anne, Genevieve Bujold brings the right amount of spirit to her role as she resists but then reluctantly falls for Henry. Her despairing cry when she gives birth to a stillborn baby boy – her saviour as her uncle the Duke of Norfolk puts it – after disappointing Henry with daughter Elizabeth, is heartbreaking.
Richard Burton plays Henry’s bluff, lusting and conflicted nature to perfection in what is a pretty unsympathetic role. In one scene, he lurks behind a wall as Anne is put on trial for treason, clearly uncomfortable with the lies put forth against the woman he once loved. Both actors triumph in the tower scene, where Henry goes to ask Anne for an annulment and she refuses to make their daughter illegitimate. To lessen the grim ending, the movie makes Anne prescient: predicting to a doubtful Henry that Elizabeth will be queen and of a greater England than her father’s. Take that, you male chauvinist!
“Anne of the Thousand Days” is talky but that’s to be expected, given its stage origins. The costuming gives it a sumptuous feel – the movie won Best Oscar for Costume Design. It also won several Golden Globes: Best Director (Charles Jarrott), Best Drama, Best Actress (Genevieve Bujold), and Best Screenplay (John Hale, Bridget Boland, Richard Sokolove). And as a tale of love gone wrong, it’s definitely a winner.