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The Private Life of Henry VIII

The Private Life of Henry VIII
Directed by Alexander Korda
Produced by Alexander Korda
Ludvico Toeplitz
Written by Lajos Bíró
Arthur Wimperis
Starring Charles Laughton
Robert Donat
Merle Oberon
Elsa Lanchester
Music by Kurt Schröder
Cinematography Georges Périnal
Edited by Stephen Harrison
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 17 August 1933 (1933-08-17)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £65,000[1]
Box office £750,000[1]

The Private Life of Henry VIII is a 1933 United Kingdom historical film directed and co-produced by Alexander Korda and starring Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Merle Oberon and Elsa Lanchester. The film focuses on the marriages of King Henry VIII of England. It was written by Lajos Bíró and Arthur Wimperis for London Film Productions, Korda's production company. The film was a major international success, establishing Korda as a leading filmmaker and Charles Laughton as a box office star.


The film begins 20 years into King Henry's reign. In May 1536, immediately following the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon), King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) marries Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie), who dies in childbirth eighteen months later. He then weds a German princess, Anne of Cleves (played by Laughton's real-life wife Elsa Lanchester). This marriage ends in divorce when Anne deliberately makes herself unattractive so she can be free to marry her sweetheart. (In an imaginative and high-spirited scene, Anne "wins her freedom" from Henry in a game of cards on their wedding night). After this divorce, Henry marries the beautiful and ambitious Lady Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes). She has rejected love all her life in favour of ambition, but after her marriage, she finally falls in love with Henry's handsome courtier Thomas Culpeper (Robert Donat) who has attempted to woo her in the past. Their liaison is discovered by Henry's court and the couple gets executed. The weak and ageing Henry consoles himself with a final marriage to Catherine Parr (Everley Gregg) who proves domineering. In the final scene, while Parr is no longer in the room, the king breaks the fourth wall, saying "Six wives, and the best of them's the worst."



Alexander Korda was looking for a film project suitable for Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester. Several stories of the film's genesis exist: the resemblance between a statue of Henry VIII and Laughton, a cabby singing the music hall song "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am", and a discussion on a set of one of his previous films. Originally, the story was to focus solely on the marriage of King Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anne of Cleves, but as the project grew, the story was re-modified to focus on five of Henry's six wives. Only the first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was omitted because those involved had no particular interest, describing her as a "respectable lady" in the film's first intertitles.


Box office

The film was a commercial success. It made Alexander Korda a premier figure in the film industry at the time; United Artists signed Korda for 16 films. It also advanced the careers of Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, and Merle Oberon. It was also Oberon's first major film role. Laughton would later reprise the same role in 1953 in the film Young Bess, opposite Jean Simmons as his daughter, Elizabeth.

It was the 12th most successful film at the US box office in 1933.[2] The film premiered to record-breaking crowds at New York's Radio City Music Hall and London's Leicester Square Theatre (now the Odeon West End), running for nine weeks at the latter venue from 27 October 1933.[3] It earned rentals of £500,000 on its first release.

The first non-Hollywood film to win an Academy Award. Charles Laughton won the 1933 Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance as Henry. The film was the first British production to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Laughton was also voted Best Actor in a British film by readers of Film Weekly.[4]


  • Law, Jonathan (1997). Cassell Companion to Cinema. London: Market House Books Limited. ISBN 0-304-34938-0. 
  • Magill, Frank (1980). Magill's Survey of Cinema. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press, Inc. ISBN 0-89356-225-4. 
  • Korda, Michael (1980). Charmed Lives: The Fabulous World of the Korda Brothers. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-1318-5. 

See also


  1. ^ a b "BRITISH FILM LOSSES.". The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia). 8 February 1936. p. 3 Edition: SPORTS EDITION. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "BOX OFFICE SUCCESSES OF 1933.". The West Australian (Perth: National Library of Australia). 13 April 1934. p. 3. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: A Choice of Pleasures, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000, pp.77-8
  4. ^ "BEST FILM PERFORMANCE LAST YEAR.". The Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 9 July 1937. p. 8 Edition: LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 

External links

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