Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 25 min.

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Charles Jarrott Actors: Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold, Irene Papas, Anthony Quayle, John Colicos, Michael Hordern, Katharine Blake, Peter Jeffrey, William Squire, Valerie Gearon

 


 

“W

hat is the verdict?” Unscrupulous lawyer Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) brings news of the decision of a sham trial, in which Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold), Queen of England, is convicted of adultery and treason – to be burned or beheaded at the king’s pleasure (something of a start at the end, which spoils the outcome for anyone unaware, regardless of the notoriety of the premise). “She has born you a useless daughter.” Though King Henry VIII (Richard Burton) thinks back fondly of his time with Anne, he’s frustrated that she has been unable to bear him an heir – the very same issue he had with his previous wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon (Irene Papas). “I’m bored with my Spanish cow.”

Cutting back to an earlier time, young Anne arrives fresh from France, immediately catching the eye of the king. With unquestioned power, Henry is able to manipulate the lives of all those around him, bending them to his every whim. So despite Anne’s entanglement with a mere lord, and her strong-willed resistance to being coerced by powerful men, she’s bound to become the next plaything of the authoritative ruler; daughters are but pawns for their families to use in the pursuit of wealth and titles. “Who could say no to me?” And Henry even has the blessing of the crooked Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle), who prefers that the king remain preoccupied with chasing a reluctant woman, leaving the church to run the affairs of the country.

“What a game!” Although Burton is well-versed in historical epics, having headlined such grand dramas as “Hamlet,” “Becket,” “Cleopatra,” and “The Robe,” here he takes on the role of the villain, crafting a despicable yet intermittently nuanced persona, striving to muster sympathy as he combats his hard-nosed conquest. Amusingly, this period piece – full of colossal sets, countless extras, and award-winning costumes – is essentially a two-person battle of wits, finding exquisitely political dialogue and frank sexual conversations governing Henry and Anne’s contentions. Anne in particular manages to pit her enemies against one another, strategizing how best to help herself while delaying giving the king what he desires.

“Find a way to get rid of her!” Interestingly, though the script makes note of the era’s unfriendliness toward women, Anne reveals her unexpected powers in the form of canny feminine influence, pushing Henry toward hasty decisions that could challenge his religious prosperities and upend the realm – much to the diversion of the formerly inert maid-of-honor. Of course, she’s also playing with fire; her life depends on thwarting Henry’s advances, which only grow more undeterred with each new hurdle. Bujold handles the part superbly, transitioning from discerningly stubborn child to prudent martyr, fixed on a cause to protect her heritage above all else.

As a study of historical figures morbidly clashing over sovereignty, the film is certainly educational and a fine reproduction of 16th-century events. But the lengthy runtime betrays a sluggish pacing, chronicling each component with a comprehensive attention to detail but a dismissal of ultimate entertainment value. And many of the most engaging elements of interplay were previously covered in “A Man for All Seasons” a few years prior, with greater potency. Nevertheless, there are a handful of striking sequences, such as when Henry’s disinterest with Katherine becomes duplicated toward Anne in a nearly identical staging; when Thomas More (William Squire) meets his unceremonious demise; and when Anne is finally separated from her daughter – an act that spells the beginning of the end for the doomed woman, who made a miscalculation not in her abilities to pull strings, but in matters of physiological chance.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10