Henry VIII, ascended to the throne as a lithe, handsome seventeen-year-old and died after an extraordinary 38-year-reign, an embittered, obese invalid.The rest of Europe looked on in amazement as Henry, desperate for a male heir, cast aside the older, but loyal Katherine of Aragon for a series of marriages, with wives who are better known for the way their lives ended rather than for how they were lived - the determined temptress Anne Boleyn; the pious yet tragic Jane Seymour; the outcast Anne of Cleves; the young, adulterous Katherine Howard and finally, the devoted care-giver Katherine Parr.This tale of Henry VIII depicts the sexual intrigue, betrayal and rivalry that existed within his Court, in a reign hallmarked by political and religious upheaval, violence and corruption.
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The tragic history of Henry VIII gets a brash, full-blooded treatment in this well-cast, two-part production for British TV. Having made a vicious impression in the acclaimed 2000 gangster film Sexy Beast, Ray Winstone plays Henry as a self-doubting, insecure brute with base instincts and a healthy suspicion toward his not-so-loyal subjects. Director Pete Travis and writer Peter Morgan can be forgiven for neglecting the greater scope of history; by leaving epic battles off-screen and focusing on the intrigues and betrayals surrounding Henry's infamous succession of six ill-fated wives, this authentic-looking melodrama succeeds as a tightly paced study of hidden agendas among the King's immediate staff. In a story that involves religious upheaval, infidelity, courtly corruption, and Henry's anguished obsession to sire a male heir to the throne, Helena Bonham Carter (as Anne Boleyn) is an obvious stand-out in an excellent cast that includes Charles Dance, David Suchet, and Sean Bean, while Winstone's volatile Cockney bearishness drew mild objections from royal-drama purists. The film doesn't flinch from the brutality of the early 1500s when Henry reigned with an iron fist (including several beheadings to drive the point home), so this Henry VIII is not for kids or the faint of heart. Taken on its own terms, however, it's a rich, irresistible example of superior British filmmaking. --Jeff Shannon
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