Private Life of Henry VIII, The (1933)

United Artists (UK) (London Films Production)

Though he looked much older, Charles Laughton was only 33, when played the lead role in the historic biopic “The Private Life of Henry VIII.”

British producer-director Alexander Korda was not hampered by the strictures of the Production Code and, using Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis' scenario, which took liberties with historical facts, dared showing King Henry VIII as a lusty man, eating like a slob, then tossing the leftovers, sleeping with women and using politics as fun games.

The proceedings are peppered with anachronistic dialogue and humor, which made the movie popular and entertaining.

MGM's Irving Thalberg was impressed with Laughton's performance and later cast him in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934), essentially a vehicle for his wife-star Norma Shearer.

The female cast was impressive, including Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn, Binn Barnes as Katherine Howard, Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour, and Elsa Lanchester (who became Laughton's wife) as Anne of Cleves, and Catherine Parr as Everley Gregg.

Also in the cast are Franklin Dyall, as Thomas Cromwell, and Robert Donat, as Thomas Culpepper. Like Laughton, Donat would be recruited by Hollywood for prestige literary production and would win the Actor Oscar in 1939 for “Goodbye Mr. Chips.”

The production values are modest, particularly the set design by Vincent Korda (Alexander's brother), a function of the below average budget and brief shooting schedule, but the picture is well photographed by the gifted French lenser George Perinal.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Picture, produced by Alexander Korda
Actor: Charles Laughton

Oscar Awards: 1

Actor

Oscar Context

“The Private Life of Henry VIII” competed for Best Picture with nine other films: “Cavalcade,” which won the Oscar, “A Farewell to Arms,” “Forty-Second Street,” “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” Lady for a Day,” “Little Women,” “She Done Him Wrong,” “Smiling Through,” and “State Fair.”

“The Private Life of Henry VIII” was the first British film to be nominated for Best Picture and to score a huge success at the box-office, largely due to Charles Laughton's Oscar-winning performance. “She Done Him Wrong” is the only Mae West to be nominated for the top award.

Laughton received two more Oscar nominations, in 1935 for “The Mutiny on the Bounty,” and in 1957, for Billy Wilder's “Witness for the Prosecution.”

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