“I totally respect [the Queen]. She’s enjoyed that and maintained, yes, a sense of dignity.” —Johnny Rotten May, 2022
The queen even won over Johnny Rotten. No one has an 100% approval rating, but the queen came awfully close.
Since almost everyone on Earth has lived their entire adult life with the queen, we might have assumed that the British people have a sincere reverence for their monarchs.
But we’d be wrong. The reverence and respect was given to Elizabeth II because she darn well earned it. Lesser monarchs were free to be mocked.
“The Private Life of Henry VIII” is as irreverent as they come. It is a broad, bawdy comedy that reimagines the 16th Century Tudor king as a disgusting dimwit.
In addition to being surprising and hilarious, “Private Life” is the most influential movie in the history of British cinema.
Before “Private Life,” only 5% of the money spent in UK theaters went to British-made films. And no one in America watched British movies.
“Private Life” was a breakthrough hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Private Life” established England as the leader in historical costume movies. To this day, if a film is set in Roman times or the time of Jesus, the characters speak with British accents. And somehow this makes sense to us, because the Brits are the undisputed masters of period films.
Charles Laughton was the breakthrough superstar of British theater. He is absolutely hysterical as King Henry VIII. We all have delusions about ourselves because no one is willing to tell us the truth about our flaws. Laughton’s Henry is nothing but delusions because everyone is scared to criticize him.
The recurring joke in “Private Life” is that Henry is a sincere romantic and he can’t understand why he never finds true love. It never occurs to him that the problem is that he is loud, obnoxious, gout-ridden, and a disgusting eater. The scene where Laughton actually devours an entire chicken while talking and belching is piggish perfection.
Naturally, women spend the entire picture trying to avoid being touched by Henry. Only one actually succeeds.
German princess Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester) is horrified to be forced into an arranged marriage with the vile English monarch. And she finds a way out on their wedding night.
First, she fools Henry into thinking that she doesn’t know what the marriage bed is for. Then she hustles the confused King in a game of cards. Before he knows it, Henry thinks that it is his idea to annul the marriage and give Anne a lavish estate as compensation.
Henry VIII is one of history’s most notorious sexists. But in “Private Life,” women have agency. Even commoners.
There’s a delightful little scene where a nurse barges in and puts a magic charm underneath the King’s pillow. She says that it will facilitate the conception of a male heir. The guard scolds her and argues that the sex of a child is a matter of chance. The nurse wins the argument, places the magic charm, and takes full credit for the prince born nine months later.
I love this movie. “Private Life” doesn’t waste time with lavish sets, bombastic music, or over-the-top drama. It’s 100 minutes of irreverence and whimsy.
This past month, the UK has been respectfully mourning their extraordinary and graceful queen. “The Private Life of Henry VIII” is the exact opposite. It is a relentless roast of one of the most distasteful people to ever wear the English crown.