**This is reposted in honor of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe.**
Genevieve Bujold crafted a strong body of work in the ’70s and ’80s, but no performance stands out more than her starring role as Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days. I watched this movie in seventh grade and was the only one in my class who enjoyed it! It sparked a fire in me and started my obsession with all things Tudor (and Anne Boleyn in particular). It isn’t historically perfect, but Bujold’s Anne sparked a revisionist revolution for women in a time where women’s lib was just coming to the forefront. It’s hard getting up from underneath the train of her fantastic performance, but leading man Richard Burton does well. Sumptuous, opulent, regal; all of these set up Anne of the Thousand Days as the quintessential historical film to watch.
Henry VIII (Burton) is unhappy with his “Spanish cow,” Queen Katharine (Irene Papas). When he locks eyes with the beautiful Anne Bolyen (Bujold) he’s determined to have her for himself. Forsaking the church and his country, Henry will do whatever it takes to make Anne his next Queen.
If you know history, then you’re aware of what happens to Anne Boleyn (and that it took a third wife to get Henry his coveted son). Whether you’re a die-hard history fanatic or just a casual observer, Anne of the Thousand Days does costume drama flawlessly. Everything about the movie appears authentic, from the beautiful castles to the sweeping costumes and jewelry. The 1960s-1970s saw a mass resurgence of costume dramas involving early English history (I reviewed The Lion in Winter as part of my Christmas films last year) and this is by far the best. The actors fill the costumes well, particularly Bujold, with each outfit being better than the next.
From a historical standpoint, the movie is flawed, but stronger because of it. I have to give a shout-out to Susan Bordo’s excellent book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which deconstructs the movie; I’m supplementing a lot of my thoughts with her words. Casual fans of history, or those who watch The Tudors, won’t notice the small things that aren’t historically accurate (Queen Katharine did not get to spend her final hours with her daughter, Mary) and the small things aren’t particularly inflammatory unlike those in my review of Elizabeth. A legion of Tudor fans grew up with Bujold’s dominate, opinionated Anne; Anne isn’t a wilting flower of the English court – much of this is attributed to her “French” upbringing, said with eyes going down your nose – and who believes everything, including sex should be discussed: “We don’t come out of a rainbow at seventeen and there’s no point in saying we do.” The movie has her as the instigator of several events, both true and less than, such as executions and the fall of Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Qualye); the latter of whom is blamed on his failing to match Anne to her true beloved, Henry Percy (Terence Wilton).
The movie is one about love, particularly showcasing how women of the era had to change their affections in order to advance their standing. It can be seen as pandering to the plot that Anne changes her tune about Henry rather abruptly, but the set-up gives reason for that. Anne loves Henry, but admits she’s afraid because as soon as she gives in, he’ll tire of her (a true statement). The character walks the tightrope between saving herself, and her morals and Bujold is amazing. A telling moment is her laughter when Henry is denied a divorce which turns to sobbing; by that point in the movie she’s tired of being treated like chattel and just wishes a decision, one way or another, can be made. Bujold’s acting is so intense that there are imperceptible changes which make the audience feel Anne is aging. There’s no aging process used on Bujold, but her youthful vitality of the beginning gives way to a wiser, and older Queen. I attribute it to Bujold’s fantastic acting because I can’t think of another actor/actress who had me believing I was watching a full life lived.
Bujold and Burton aren’t the best pairing (Elizabeth Taylor campaigned for the role, and she has a brief cameo), but it’s certainly realistic. When Anne describes Henry as a man “with a great deal of noise and no subtly.” Burton projects and strides across the stage as if he’s performing for a live theater, a performance that’s grander (and by extension exaggerated) in comparison to Bujold’s understated performance; she’s living the character while he’s performing it. Everyone needs to watch the final sequence, Anne’s confrontational speech to Henry, as proof of Bujold’s indomitable will. Yes, I understand it probably never took place, but for 1969 it was telling women to stand up; even a woman in this time period could stand up to her husband and be right. Her speech is almost a curse to Henry; prophetically declaring that “my Elizabeth shall be Queen, and my blood will have been well-spent.” It’s a moment that never fails me make me silently raise my fist in triumph.
I would have included it, but unfortunately it hasn’t been posted online. The awesome Susan Bordo allowed me to post a link to her posted version of it so enjoy Anne’s Tower Speech! I also have to mention the rare bit of comedy that happens; had Taylor been cast I’m sure shades of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf would have surfaced, particularly in my favorite line. When Anne discovers that Henry’s love is waning, she casts his next wife from court. Henry is angry, of course, and instead of arguing with him Anne coolly states: “I sent her as far as I could, since we don’t own Scotland.” It’s a quiet moment of domestic humor that could have become ridiculous in Taylor’s hands.
I could take this review further, but really I would become a fan-girl gushing about one of her favorite movies. It’s almost insane to realize that despite the film’s nomination for Best Picture, it just received a DVD release in the last five years (commonly part of a two-pack with the semi-sequel Mary, Queen of Scots) and has yet to receive a Blu-ray release. Genevieve Bujold is the reason to watch, but the rest of the movie is costume drama at its most opulent. Richard Burton and Bujold are their characters, and inspired countless people to take up Tudor study. They definitely got me!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.