More interested in sex and food than the affairs of state, Henry VIII marries six times, and having executed Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, been widowed by Jane Seymour and divorced Anne of Cleves, he settles into disappointed old age with Catherine Parr.
Alexander Korda always claimed that he got the idea for this costume romp on hearing a London cabby singing
I'mEnery the Eighth I Am'. However, he more than likely noticed elsewhere the resemblance between the corpulent king and Charles Laughton and commissioned screenwriters Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis to fashion a bawdy drama out of the events of a tempestuous reign. However, the Reformation - along with such key protagonists as Katherine of Aragon, Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More - was deemed too dull for film fare and, instead, the action concentrated on Bluff King Hal's lusty appetites and intemperate humour.
Period pictures were considered box-office poison in the early sound era and Korda struggled to raise his £60,000 budget - whose penury makes cinematographer Georges Perinal's achievement in giving Vincent Korda's ingenious sets a modicum of courtly opulence all the more remarkable. Indeed, Laughton and his co-stars were asked to defer their fees until after premiere at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Ultimately, however, the movie scooped £500,000 worldwide and made history by securing the British cinema's first Academy Award. But, more significantly, its success enabled Korda to establish London Films as a major force in the UK film industry and ensconced the heritage picture as a keystone of indigenous production until the mid-1990s. Moreover, Laughton's Best Actor triumph alerted Hollywood to the quality of British stage acting and a minor exodus followed, as the studios sought their own star thespians. Laughton himself would deliver more effective performances over the next 30 years. But even though his flamboyant portrait was decidedly mock-Tudor, his shifts from clumsy amorousness to betrayed fury and impenitent self-pity adroitly captured the popular conception of England's most colourful monarch. He was ably abetted by his screen spouses, who included his real-life consort, Elsa Lanchester, whose gloriously unglamorous turn as the Mare of Flanders provided the film's enduring highlight.
Enjoyable but patchy historical romance.