Anne of a Thousand Days (1969)
Not a scene-stealer, Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in Anne of a Thousand Days, is the perfect complement to Richard Burton’s Henry the VIII. Since her acting style in no way impinged on Burton’s ego, the pair worked well on the screen. She was properly submissive and outrageously passionate in all the right places with just the right amount of restraint when angry and just enough sauce when passively scheming.
Enfolded in all those sumptuous silks and velvet, air-brushed for Technicolor and 35mm cinematography, anybody would be beautiful, but Bujold gave a striking performance for which she won the Academy Award for best actress.
To Bujold’s credit, she plays up Maxwell Anderson’s dialogue to reveal Anne’s political intelligence. She shows nuances of character as well as big emotion. Her portrait of Anne shows not just rebelliousness against the Tudor King, but also a stubborn streak that manipulates Cardinal Wolsey right out of the Tudor court. Would the King have punished Wolsey quite so harshly if not for Anne Boleyn’s hatred of him? He did fail to meet the King’s directive to find a way to legally divorce his Catholic wife, Katherine of Aragon, but he had served Henry VIII faultlessly up until that one magnificent failure.
One of our reviewers remarked recently that Burton was “phoning in” his performance of Henry VIII, but I thought he played it rather well, and after all, he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor. Burton’s Henry VIII is a matter-of-fact monster, showing no emotion whatsoever as he waits to hear the gunshot that will signal the finality of his second wife’s execution. In a chilling, if underplayed performance, Burton as Henry then spurs his stallion on and rides off into the achingly beautiful English countryside to visit his most recent girlfriend, Jane Seymour. He married her soon after Anne’s execution, but she died in childbirth. Her son Edward lived to succeed his father but died while still a teenager.
It is Anne’s daughter who is remembered today as the great Elizabeth I. In the touching, final scene of Anne of a Thousand Days, the child Elizabeth walks alone, seemingly overwhelmed by a Medieval, yet magnificent castle and garden.
Any sins against the truth as we now know it are generally “sins of omission,” and perhaps interpretation. We see actors dressed in gorgeous Tudor costumes and for the length of the film let ourselves think that this is how the Tudors looked. We forget that the simple act of keeping clean, let alone warm, was daunting for these people. Watching Bujold’s Anne falling in love with a handsome King “Hal” it is easy to forget they didn’t have refrigeration, that their homes were warmed by drafty fireplaces, that disease could take down an entire village in a week’s time.
Maybe it’s the glossy finish on this Hal B. Wallis film, the removal of anything un-beautiful, that makes it so entertaining. Even so, the actors do artfully portray the ugliness that follows treachery, intrigue, and corruption.
Anyone wishing to see a list of untruths and misrepresentations in the film can look it up on the Internet movie database, Imdb.com. It does capture the spirit of Anne’s one thousand days as Queen of England. A good history will help you separate fact from fiction. A good movie, like this one, so rich in costume, design, cinematography, and art direction, will bring history to life.