Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Anne of the Thousand Days”

Last week’s movie pick featured a film about Elizabeth I, and this week’s follows up with a film about her mother, Anne Boleyn. “Anne of the Thousand Days,” released in 1969, stars Richard Burton as Henry VIII and Geneviève Bujold as Anne Boleyn and is based on the play by Maxwell Anderson.

The movie begins in 1536. Henry VIII (Burton) is considering whether or not to execute his second wife, Anne Boleyn (Bujold), who is being held in the Tower of London. The film flashes back to the very first time Henry met Anne in 1527. He is unhappy in his current marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his eye has already begun to wander. He sees Anne dancing with her fiance, the son of the Earl of Northumberland. Enchanted, he orders Cardinal Wolsey to break up the engagement. When Anne hears of this, she is heartbroken and furious. She rebuffs Henry’s attempts to seduce her, even when he brings her to his court. Yet as time wears on, she finds that she loves the power that the king’s love has given her.

Movie poster for Anne of the Thousand Days
Poster from film. Image via

Time and again, Henry begs Anne to become his mistress, but she refuses since any children that they have will be illegitimate. She will only be queen and bear him children within the confines of marriage, and she can’t marry the king since he is already married. Henry is unable to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and after the Pope refuses the divorce, Henry angrily dismisses Wolsey from his position and gives Anne Hampton Court as a gift. Anne realizes she loves Henry, and the two consummate their relationship, after which Anne discovers she’s pregnant. Once Henry is informed, he moves heaven and earth to make Anne a queen. He breaks with the Catholic church and forms the Church of England, in which the marriage to Catherine of Aragon is considered annulled. Henry marries Anne in secret, and then sets about making her his queen.

Anne’s coronation ceremony is elaborate, but the crowds of London refuse to accept her as their queen, calling her the king’s whore as she proceeds through the streets to the cathedral.

Still from Anne of the Thousand Days of Anne and Henry dancing
Still from film. Image via

However, Anne and Henry are confident that the people of England will accept her as queen once their son and heir is born and it’s clear that the Tudor dynasty will be carried on.

Their hopes don’t turn out to be true, however, as Anne gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Henry is disappointed, even though Anne adores her daughter. When Henry’s friend and advisor Thomas More refuses to accept Elizabeth as the heir to the throne and Anne as queen, Anne demands More’s execution, which Henry orders with a heavy heart. The marriage begins to crumble, and Henry’s eye begins to wander again and he sets his sights on Jane Seymour. Anne has Jane sent away from court, but as soon as she and Henry begin to rekindle their relationship, Anne has her brought back to court. Soon, Anne is pregnant again, but her son is stillborn. It’s all too apparent that this is the beginning of the end for her and only spells her doom.

“Anne of the Thousand Days” takes a lot of license with the history of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but it does so in a way that tells a very engaging story and makes the viewer feel much compassion for Anne and detest the things Henry does to keep her at his side. Anne is portrayed as a young woman who only wants to marry the man she loves and be happy, but it’s Henry’s intervention in her life that ruins all chance of that happiness. Henry himself is portrayed more as the man he became after meeting Anne than as a young king restless in his marriage yet still dependent upon the counsel of men like Wolsey and More. He is shown as a mercurial, selfish man with a fierce sense of entitlement who will do anything to get whatever it is he wants, and then once he has it or once he finds that it doesn’t live up to his expectations, he finds a way to be rid of it.

Still from Anne of the Thousand Days of Anne's coronation
Movie still. Image via

We also see how power changes Anne from a naïve young woman into one who would dream to rise to the rank of queen. As Henry has changed her fate with the power he has over her life as king, so she does the same, only through the power she has over his heart. Though she might love Henry, she also loves her position as queen of England, and she will do anything she can to maintain it and remain Henry’s wife. Yet in the end she gives up everything she has with the knowledge that her daughter will carry on her legacy and rule as one of the greatest monarchs England has ever seen.

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