Name another time in history when fashion, monarchy, scandal, death penalty and religious reformation converged at a bizarre crossroad, other than the epochal era of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII of England.
Before you turn around and leave this blog, let me clarify that this entry isn’t a boring, historical rehash of what happened during the 16th century. It is an insightful critique of the classic movie, Anne of the Thousand Days. I must admit, I knew nothing about Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII prior to seeing the movie – history was never my strong suit. I discovered this movie, thanks to Netflix’s smart recommendation based on my fondness for Gone With the Wind, Anna Karenina and other classic films.
Fashion was, of course, the first thing that drew me to it. I absolutely love the movie and the costumes! I actually fantasize on wearing them and those of Anna Karenina or Audrey Hepburn’s movie outfits. I did have low expectations of the movie and was willing to “endure” it so I can see the beautiful outfit of the period. However, the first 10 minutes instantly piqued my curiosity for it began with the news of execution through guillotine. What a barbaric thing to do! Who’s being executed and why? The movie then moved backwards from there.
For the next 2 hours, I was taken on a roller coaster ride of a maddening array of emotions. There were so many things outrageous about what happened, so many unexpected historical discoveries I stumbled upon.
In Henry VIII, I saw the paragon of power abuse. He embodied and exaggerated humanity’s rebellious nature, that unexplainable, burning desire to chase after things we cannot have. The more it is forbidden, the more we lust over it, only to completely lose interest after finally having it, despite the enormous amount of resources spent pursuing it. And then to repeat the process all over again. Anne Boleyn was no saint, for sure, but she was definitely a powerhouse. Her stubborn spirit, strong will and wily character got her the throne but these also led to her demise.
It was such a misogynistic period. The obsessive desire for a male heir to the throne is a very alien concept to me, being from 21st century California, one of the most liberal states in United States. When Richard Burton (as Henry VIII) uttered: “she has borne me a useless girl!”, I nearly fell off my chair. It took me a while to pick up my jaw from the floor where I have dropped it. Boy, was I glad to not have to endure that period – when the king can take whatever he wants at whatever price and fabricate lies that could eventually lead to death by decapitation. To have an absolute monarch who invokes the name of God in pursuit of something so despicable, something not even humanly acceptable; that coupled with the belief that the king is a direct representative of God who cannot be questioned is a heady mix of disaster. And I thought we have issues in the 21st century!
The only silver lining to the whole mess was its eventual consequences, which included the English Reformation. Among other things, this sent the Puritans and the pilgrims packing and moving west to America. I was shocked to find that this road was littered with royal scandals.
My only criticism is the glaring absence of the British accent. Is that how Hollywood did movies in the 60s? Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold and everybody else were supposed to be English and yet their accent was American! The first pilgrims haven’t even left England, and so, there is no America and yet… never mind. Anyway, Genevieve Bujold and Richard Burton did an amazing portrayal of such strong characters. Is it historically accurate? Probably not. But don’t ask me, I’m not a historian. I’m just a fashionista who happen to love movies and building software.
Finally, here’s my favorite line from the movie:
“For six years, this year, and this, and this, and this, I did not love him. And then I did. Then I was his. I can count the days I was his in hundreds. The days we bedded. Married. Were Happy. Bore Elizabeth. Hated. Lusted. Bore a dead child… which condemned me… to death. In all one thousand days. Just a thousand. Strange. And of those thousand, one when we were both in love, only one, when our loves met and overlapped and were both mine and his. And when I no longer hated him, he began to hate me. Except for that one day.”