A lot of the Oscar-nominated films that I’ve already watched have been based around real-life events, primarily historical stories. For example the plot of how Henry VIII met and married Anne Boleyn has already been told in two films – the Private Life of Henry VIII and A Man for All Seasons. But those films tell the story form the perspectives of King Henry and Thomas More and not from that of the woman who would be Queen. Thankfully, we now have Anne of the Thousand Days which shows us everything from Anne’s first meeting with Henry to her eventual execution.
The film commences with Henry signing the document condemning Anne to death, before flashing back to the first time they met. Throughout the film Anne is presented as quite a strong-willed woman who outright refuses to become the King’s latest lover, partly due to his prior relationship with his sister Mary. Part of Henry’s attraction to Anne is the fact that he treats her as if he weren’t the king, but this charm soon wares off as she begins to irritate him. However, she still refuses to let him have his wicked way with her until he makes her his Queen. She does this by undermining the power that Cardinal Wolsey possesses and showing Henry that he doesn’t need the church. Anne’s words also bring power to Thomas Cromwell who helps him set up a new church that lets Henry divorce his wife Catherine and marry Anne. But Anne’s life as the Queen isn’t all rosy as she isn’t accepted by the people of England and when she gives birth to a daughter, Henry starts to tire of her. But Anne lets the power go to her head and she tries to prevent Henry from starting an affair with the younger and prettier Jane Seymour. As the arguments start to fly between the two, Henry puts pressure on Cromwell to find a way out of his marriage to Anne. Cromwell’s scheming ultimately results in Anne’s death and the end of her thousand days with Henry.
There’s no denying that Anne of The Thousand Days is incredibly melodramatic, a fact which is bolstered by a scenery chewing performance by Richard Burton. Indeed, Burton’s King Henry VIII is so cartoonish that occasionally you feel you like you’re watching a pantomime. As somebody who has quite a bit of knowledge of this time in history, Anne of the Thousand Days feels like a bit of a potted guide to the whole reign of Anne Boleyn. To me it has none of the class that A Man For All Seasons possessed and instead is over-the-top in every way. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its positives primarily all of the ascetic detail from the art direction through to the Oscar-winning costumes. Geneviève Bujold’s performance as Anne was equally impressive as we saw her transform the young Queen from a strong-willed innocent into a manipulative game-player. To me Bujold was the star of the show and she made this into Anne’s story, even when she wasn’t on screen. There were a couple of supporting players who briefly shone namely Irene Papas as the dignified Queen Catherine and William Squire’s brief appearances as a wise Sir Thomas More. But, alongside Burton, all of the other cast members were overplaying their roles too much for me to enjoy them. Though Anne of a Thousand Days scooped a massive ten nominations at the Oscars, it only won the costumes prize and it seems as if the makers of the film curried favour with the Academy by serving a champagne dinner after every screening. Thankfully, those who in charge of the Oscars today are a lot less susceptible to bribes and instead watch every film before coming to an informed decision on the year’s best films. That’s what happens isn’t it?