Henry VIII (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ray Winstone as a king of England? I guess Vinnie Jones was busy.

In this two-parter from Masterpiece Theater, Winstone cockneys his way through several decades in the life of Hanko Ocho, beginning with Anne Boleyn. The script rushes through all six wives, all the religious upheaval, and all the various scheming chancellors and nobles, and does it all in about four hours. It's a vast morass of political and sexual intrigues condensed and simplified for the masses, then jam-packed into the running time of a single long feature film.

In fact, so much exposition was crammed into the script that the screenwriter had to relay repeatedly on the ol' "I am so-and-so" or "you are so-and-so" technique, as in "I could never betray Ann, for she is not only my niece, and the aunt of your majesty's son, but she is also a subject of Norfolk, of which I am Duke," or "I am your wife," or "You are a lawyer," or "I am a poor butcher's son," or "Have I not served you faithfully as chancellor for 13 years, since you plucked me from obscurity?" Best of all, there is the all-purpose, "I am your king." How are you supposed to respond to that? "Hey, no kidding? All this time I thought the king was that skinny bald guy over there, the one with the salt-and-pepper beard! I thought you were the harpsichord player! My bad."

I think it would be marvelous if people were really to communicate in expository dialogue. Suppose someone sends me an e-mail asking, "Can you tell me when my subscription expires?" I could answer, "I can, for I am your webmaster, as I have been for lo these three years since you subscribed, and was for seven years before then, since the tenebrous days of the first Clinton regime." (Or, alternatively, use "since thou subscribeth," and change "tenebrous days" to "halcyon days" for Democrats)

Is Henry VIII good history? No. It omits and changes details to compress the story, and even when it sticks to the facts it still manages to give various elements the wrong weight in terms of significance.

Joking aside, is Winstone a credible Henry? Maybe. Winstone is very dynamic and a good actor, and he does look like very much like Henry VIII.  As for his working class accent ...  well I suppose we can allow some dramatic license there. Henry might have spoken very informally, despite his palace upbringing, because he was a regular guy who liked his ale and his cards and his sports, hung with the guys, and made hay with the ladies. Unfortunately, that spin is partially betrayed by the fact that the kid who plays Henry at age 17 doesn't have the same accent. 

Does the script develop its characters adequately? No. Apart from factual inaccuracy, the greatest flaw of the presentation is that it focuses on events that revealed Henry VIII to be a petty and flawed man, and fails to give any real understanding of his strengths. As for the minor characters, there are so many of them that there is no chance to develop any sense of each one as a complex individual. Even if you are quite familiar with the outline of history in this era, you will have to keep asking yourself, "Now, who is this guy again?" I paused the DVD several times to go to the companion website and refresh my memory about which people were involved in which schemes, and why.

On the other hand, I think the program succeeds in a way. It does give a very good understanding of the general issues which caused England to become Protestant. It also allows us to imagine the various characters as real human beings with credible human motives, and in so doing it tries to show some of the psychological complexity that drove Henry into actions which seemed contradictory to his nature. Unfortunately, Henry's intellect is given short shrift so that the script can cover more lively cinematic matters like jousting and sex, but there is only so much that can be covered in four hours. This sort of soap-opera overview is not the kind of history that will be appreciated by persnickety scholars, but it is the kind that gives you a respectably fair overview of the issues and personalities if you don't really care about the minutiae, and it does so in a reasonably entertaining package.



  • No features except the original trailer
  • the transfer is not anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



Helena Bonham Carter showed one nipple in a sex scene. By the way, Carter was pregnant when she played this role, which necessitated some adaptation of the costumes, and some concealment in the camera angles - especially in her sex scene. I guess the good news is that her breasts seemed larger than usual.

Emily Blunt showed her breasts in a darkly-lit "day for night" shot.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • No theatrical release (It was shown in two parts on Masterpiece Theater)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, good, not great offering for the Masterpiece Theater audience. Surprisingly violent by their standards, and not suitable for children.

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