Sunday, September 5, 2010
The Tudors & Stuarts on film - ed. Susan Doran & Thomas S Freeman
I love to read someone’s careful dissection of a movie, picking out all the inaccuracies, why so-and-so couldn’t have been in this scene because they weren’t born until 10 years later. Or how modern attitudes have crept into this movie or the makeup & hairstyles reflect the time the movie was made rather than the period of the action. It’s not all nitpicking though. The writers are as keen to praise as to blame. They recognize when a movie has captured the essence of an episode from history even though the historical accuracy leaves a little to be desired.
I found it interesting to read how the portrayal of Henry VIII has changed according to the latest historical thinking & the expectations of the audience. In the 1933 movie, The Private Life of Henry VIII, Charles Laughton played Henry as Bluff King Hal, striking poses reminiscent of Holbein’s great portrait of the king. But, as well as the tyrant chopping off the heads of wives & courtiers, & the glutton getting fatter by the minute, by the end of his life, he was shown as a henpecked husband & figure of fun. The ultimate end of this idea of Henry was Sid James’s performance in Carry On Henry. The more ruthless as well as the more attractive side of Henry’s personality has been highlighted in recent years with Eric Bana in The Other Boleyn Girl & Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the TV series, The Tudors.
The influence a successful movie can have on public perceptions of a historical figure is shown by the play & film of Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons about Sir Thomas More. More is portrayed as the saintly man stricken by his conscience & unable to obey his King, even at the risk of imprisonment & death. This has been the accepted view of More until very recently but historians have tempered the view of the saint & martyr with the view of More as a religious bigot who punished those he saw as heretics severely.