Recently on Reddit in the Tudor History forum someone started a thread called Who Are Your Favorite Onscreen Tudor Portrayals? I thought that was an interesting topic, but needed to give it some time to think about. I’ve seen a lot of films and TV shows over the years about King Henry VIII and his family over the years, so picking some of my favorite actors from each one wasn’t easy. And then I figured it would make a good post for this blog, so here we go.
KING HENRY VIII
Keith Michell (who died in 2015 at age 88) played King Henry VIII twice, in two different BBC adaptations. First, in 1970 he starred in the 6-part miniseries THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII and then in 1972 he played the character again, with an almost all-new cast, in the feature film HENRY VIII AND HIS SIX WIVES, and he was excellent in both of them.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON
Maria Doyle Kennedy portrayed Catherine on the Showtime TV series The Tudors. This show I loved, despite the many instances of “creative license” that it took with historical events, which makes is somewhat controversial among Tudorphiles (fans seem to either LOVE it or HATE it). I feel that Kennedy nailed the dignity of Henry’s first wife.
Sticking with The Tudors, I’m picking Natalie Dormer as my favorite on screen portrayal of Anne Boleyn. She had an natural sex appeal that made you believe a man would be willing to risk his Kingdom for her.
I swear, I wanted to be more diverse in my picks, but Annabelle Wallis, who was the second actress to play Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour (replacing Anita Briem, who originated the role in the 2nd season) before Wallis joined the cast in the 3rd season) on The Tudors did such a great job in this role, she is my favorite.
ANNE OF CLEVES
Anne of Cleves has always been one of my favorite figures in the Tudors saga, I felt that historically speaking she gets a bad rap, primarily being remembered as “the ugly wife.” The popular story goes that Henry was basically “catfished” by her. That he was shown a portrait of her that was possibly deliberately embellished to make her look more attractive (some say on the orders of Henry’s Chancellor Thomas Cromwell who was eager to arrange this marriage) but then when Henry met her person he thought she looked like a horse, but at that point was forced to go through with the marriage. This seems unlikely to me, as the painter, Hans Holbein, remained in Henry’s good graces. If his portrait had really been that misleading, why would Henry keep employing Holbein to paint for him? There’s also the fact that Henry himself was approaching morbid obesity by the time he met Anne, so who was he to be complaining about anyone’s looks? Jenny Bos played Anne of Cleves, opposite Keith Michell in Henry VIII and His Six Wives and did a great job despite the fact that, according to IMDB, it was her first and last credited acting role.
Emily Blunt was just 20 years old and this was only her 2nd professional acting role when she portrayed Henry’s 5th wife, Catherine Howard, in the film HENRY VIII. She’s another controversial historical figure, usually portrayed as either an innocent victim manipulated by others, or a scheming temptress. I think Blunt’s portrayal in this film managed to find the middle ground between the two extremes.
Rosalie Crutchley (who died in 1997 at age 77) first played Henry’s 6th and final wife opposite Keith Michell in The Six Wives of Henry VIII and then reprised the role a year later in the sequel miniseries ELIZABETH R. I think she perfectly capture the conflicted soul of Catherine Parr, who didn’t want to marry Henry but then honestly tried to be the best wife and Queen she could be, which included reconciling Henry with his two daughters, out of her religious devotion.
That Covers King Henry VIII and his wives. Other notable figures of the Tudor era that I’ll single out are:
JEREMY NORTHAM as SIR THOMAS MORE on The Tudors
MARY RYLANCE as THOMAS CROMWELL in WOLF HALL
SAM NEIL as CARDINAL THOMAS WOLSEY in The Tudors
CATE BLANCHETT as QUEEN ELIZABETH I in ELIZABETH and ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
I could go, but I think that’s enough for this post.