Oct 30, 2013

Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry Viii

as KING HENRY VIII
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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor
The Private Life of Henry VIII was a weird film for me. I wasn't sure what to make of it. Apparently it was a hugely successful film during the time of its release, and the very first British film to be nominated for Best Picture (not to take away from Cavalcade's British glory, but the Best Picture winner was made through Fox while Private Life was through London Films), which is crazy to think that it took AMPAS six years to become entranced by British pictures, seeing as they're such anglophiles nowadays. At the heart of The Private Life of Henry VIII is Charles Laughton, who looks spot on as King Henry VIII, but like the film I'm not so sure what to make of his performance either.

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I have to give it to Laughton--he absolutely dominates every single scene he's in. And this is to be expected--King Henry VIII's legacy is an extraordinary one and his portrayal should be as such. Laughton is on full blast as Henry from the very moment he appears onscreen to his very last line, and while some can see this as full dedication to the character, I found it to be rather exhausting. A pro of his performance is his power--the way in which he projects his voice as he speaks, the way he walks, the way he presents himself onscreen; all fit for a king. Every line he speaks is Shakespearian in delivery and demands attention, and I definitely can't deny that he is effective and believable as a formidable ruler. But after awhile all this begins to wear thin and the performance became a little one-note, and by film's end all I saw was a large man who was yelling all the time.

 photo ScreenShot2013-09-01at54430PM.jpg My biggest problem with the film and the performance is that I just don't get it. For one, the film is a comedy, and I wasn't aware of this going into it, so for a while I was confused as to why everything was so zany (I wonder if a dramatic approach would have enhanced my liking of everything?). The scene in which Henry shoves his face with chicken is supposed to be famous but once again, I just didn't get it. I didn't get why it was included, I didn't get why I had to watch a pig scarf down poultry. While in retrospect I understand the comedic angle they were going for, it all seems to be making a fictionalized mockery of something that could have been really interesting had it been more serious. It also doesn't help that I didn't like the character of Henry. I do think that Laughton is fun to watch at times, but condensing his private life into over an hour's worth of film prevented me from really understanding Henry and making a connection with him. While Anne of the Thousand Days would provide some more thorough understanding behind Henry and Anne's troubled marriage, the way in which The Private Life of Henry VIII mad dashes through Henry's life makes him come off as a static douche who disposes of wives as he would material objects. Why does the film choose to focus more on him and Katherine? Why does he shed tears for Katherine's infidelity but not for the death of Jane, the wife who gives him his only son? Again, my lack of appreciation for the material is due to the film's structure or motives, and while Laughton turns in some solid work, there's not enough characterization for me to care.


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