‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ – Review

'Anne of the Thousand Days' (1969).
‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ (1969).

So I finally got around to watching Anne of the Thousand Days starring Richard Burton as Henry VIII and Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn.

A bit of background: alongside Burton and Bujold, Irene Papas, Anthony Quayle, Michael Hordern and William Squire star (as Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Boleyn and Thomas More respectively). The film was adapted from a play of the same name which ran for 288 performances on Broadway. The film was released in 1969 and was directed by Charles Jarrott. It received mixed reviews from critics but won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, nominated for a further nine (including nods for Burton, Bujold and Quayle). It was also nominated for two BAFTAs, although failed to win, but it did win four Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Bujold.

There were several brilliant quotes in the film, from Bujold in particular. This is one of my favourites when Anne is sitting in the Tower, pondering her fate, and just to make it clear, I’ve written as if the portrayal in the film is true when analysing the quotes. Skip to the end for my own opinion:-

“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.”

Anne was only queen for about a thousand days, give or take, depending on when you measure her ascension from – the marriage or the coronation – and when she ceases to become queen – her arrest or her death. This quote is when Anne is locked in the Tower, awaiting death, debating whether it was worth it. Anne acknowledges that there were times when she and Henry were happy, but these were interspersed with sorrow. The reason for her death is clearly suggested as being the birth of a dead child, and how she was unable to give a king a son, harking back to the old prophecy that a woman couldn’t rule, which ironically was disproved by Elizabeth. Anne also acknowledges that she hated Henry and when she realised he wasn’t that bad, he began to hate her. His love was limited to what she could do for him.

The last line in the film also stirs emotion, a prophecy:-

“Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours. She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built. My Elizabeth shall be queen, and my blood will have been well spent.”

This prophetic almost-accusation of Anne’s, some of the last words of the film, show her determination that Elizabeth had inherited at least some of Anne’s own temper, fire, and ability to get what she wants. Anne knew that

Richard Burton as Henry VIII & Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in 'Anne of the Thousand Days' (1969).
Richard Burton as Henry VIII & Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ (1969).

Elizabeth would rule well, with a mix of Boleyn and Tudor blood, though she could never have known precisely how well – that her rule would lead to a Golden Age. The possessive pronoun “My Elizabeth” demonstrates Anne’s determination not to be forgotten, and although Elizabeth never really spoke about Anne, it is clear that she admired her mother, who was portrayed in coronation pageants, and in the ring Elizabeth wore. In her final moments with Henry, Anne wasn’t afraid to let her true feelings out – that Henry was essentially a weak ruler, and that even a woman could rule better than him. Anne sees her death as justified as it would allow a strong monarch to rule England; but she probably thought that Elizabeth would marry and have children and her blood would be passed down the royal line.

With respect to historical accuracy, Anne Boleyn is portrayed as being just eighteen in 1527, which would put her birth date in 1509, but historians now generally accept it to be in 1501, though some do still believe 1507. There are no known records which suggest that Henry intervened in Anne’s trial – their last recorded meeting was at a joust the day before Anne was arrested – and at the trial Anne was not allowed to talk to the witnesses, as she did with Smeaton in the film. However, the film does depict Anne as being innocent of the charges, which is now generally accepted by historians as being accurate. Another correct interpretation in the film is the way Anne was executed; in the Tower and by a French sword, but by all accounts, she was allowed to make a speech, which was denied to her in the film.

I actually really enjoyed the film, though parts of it did seem rushed. It’s very difficult to condense Anne’s life into one film, as it was so filled with vitality, love, hate and manipulation. As Eric Ives said, she was the most controversial queen consort England ever had (Life and Death of Anne Boleyn) because of the way she came to power and the devastating circumstances of her death. I do think the ending of Anne’s life in the film was very well-done, but I felt that the section during the divorce and their courtship was a little forced, and short. The script I loved, however, as I felt it really showed Anne’s temper and her possible real feelings about Henry, though I don’t think she would have been silly enough to broadcast them out loud as she did on screen.

4 thoughts on “‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ – Review

    1. Yeah, I know! I’m also writing on it as part of my Masters thesis and how accurate it is to the historical record, and also how its portrayal of Anne Boleyn differs from others.


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