The Six Wives of Henry VIII (TV Mini-Series 1970) Poster

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Three A-/Two A/One A+
jimtheven20 February 2002
The best TV miniseries I've ever seen by far. Originally a BBC presentation, it became something of a pop culture phenomenon here in the summer of 1971, when, edited and with a more elegant introduction, it was presented on six Sunday nights. What's best in it is what's most important- the characterization by the six different playwrights of that monstrous old charmer, Henry VIII, and the performance(s) of Keith Michell in the role. I'll give my comments wife by wife. (The title of each episode is the name of the wife.)

CATHERINE OF ARAGON (A) The proximate cause of the English Reformation, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain who had been briefly married to Henry's older brother, whom he married with the necessary papal dispensation, and later wanted to dump because she didn't produce a male heir, which led to all the trouble with Rome. The series gets off to a rocky start. It was a daring ploy of the author to be deliberately tedious in the depiction of the unnoteworthy trials of the young "princess dowager" so as to draw a sharp ironic parallel to the world-shaking trials of the OLD "princess dowager." The satisfaction you feel in getting the point makes up for your initial impatience. All of the wives give fine performances; Annette Crosbie's is one of two which are as great as Michell's. She does full justice to a very great lady. Complaints: her old-age make-up is way overdone (she looks 60-70 instead of 40-50)and this is the only episode compromised by a gratingly poor performance (you'll know whom I mean).

ANNE BOLEYN (A-) Interestingly, the one part of Henry's life which is well-known, his romance with Anne Boleyn, is dispatched here in a minute-long opening interlude. There are some serious weaknesses in the script. The phraseology is "off" a lot- too modern, too soap operatic. ("Love is a most Complete Experience...") It puts its emotional climax (Anne's trial for adultery) at the mid point and then has to trump up unlikely, pointless scenes between the doomed Queen and the Henry's weak yes-man Archbishop Cranmer which come off as actors stalling on a stage because the hands are having trouble wheeling out the block. Henry is reduced to a supporting role in this one and is purely the villain of the piece. The previous Catherine and this Anne are the only wives whose personalities and words have come through in the pages of history; what's most admirable here (and least soap operatic) is that neither the playwright nor the actress (the late Dorothy Tutin)try to gloss over the cruelty and arrogance of the legendary Hussy, and even seem to want to convey the idea that in a sense getting thrown in the Tower and having her head chopped off were the best things that ever happened to her, almost a blessed relief. The supporting players are generally superb in all episodes. Here Anne's brother George and the gentle coward Cranmer are stand-outs.

JANE SEYMOUR (A+) Television at its finest. All but sheer perfection in every way. By far the richest in drama and historical analysis. The playwright ingeniously parlays the little that is known about the sweet country girl (the original Plain Jane)who gave Henry his all-important prince and then quietly crept into her tomb, into an unforgettably touching look at Innocence and Goodness defiled and destroyed even as it's healing and helping (to some degree) Guilt and Badness. The psychological and moral depth matches the emotional- a rare triumph. The portrait it draws of Henry is the most balanced, and Anne Stallybrass is the other actress who attains magnificence. Okay, one tiny flaw: the merry-making scenes are too long.

ANNE OF CLEVES (A-) In the series as in life, a little comedy relief in Henry's ghastly marital career. Elvi Hale is a delight as the supposedly ungainly German princess whom the now grotesque and dilapidated Henry married to deal an alliance with the European Protestants. All that's known of the real Anne is that she was considered ugly and gauche but loved even by Henry (after dumping her in short order) for her simple good nature. Here the "joke" is that behind the scenes Anne is a brilliant political chess player who only plays dumb when expedient. But the good nature is still there, along with a rather anachronistic conviction that "comforting a hurt child is more important than squabbles between Churches", making her probably the only one of the six wives most modern people could like and identify with. Biggest problem: the "informational dialogue" is poured on too thick. The fact that Miss Hale is not just not ugly but actually the only wife who comes close to being beautiful, may be part of the "joke": we have portraits of all six real life wives and she, the "ugly" one, is generally thought to be the only pretty one. The simple sadness of the last shot is unforgettable.

CATHERINE HOWARD (A-) Michell shines as the wreck of his dashing and heroic former self trying to drum up a second wind in his blubbery old hulk when he falls head over heels for a pretty lass whom he makes Queen of England without checking her references... The real Catherine was just a vain and frivolous little ninny who led a sordid life and came to a bad end: to tease a Legend out of this pitiful footnote here Catherine has all the cunning and craft and steely will of Cleopatra and Scarlett O'Hara, and all the rhetorical grandeur of Antigone. The artifice doesn't quite jibe with the facts even as shown. Angela Pleasance is excellent as the witchy little wanton; appropriately, she's attractively nubile but on closer look really not even that pretty. It's a detail which nicely highlights the Die Young/Stay Young Eternally theme. Compelling, but a little too nasty for its own good. The scene in which Catherine banishes the court jester is a nice touch (the clown as sinister symbol of Fate).

CATHERINE PARR (A)The most plodding of the scripts, the least thematically engaging and most history bookish and episodic, so it's a good thing that the dialogue is especially witty and incisive. Another great lady among the six wives in real life, and Rosalie Crutchley does a fine job of projecting her intelligence, humor, kindliness, and honesty, as well as her mortal terror when despite all her golden virtues she almost goes the way of the first Anne and the next-to-last Catherine because of her one fault: she doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut on the subject of Religion in earshot of a husband who made up his own religion up as he went along and had a habit of killing those who wouldn't or couldn't keep up with the developments. Scene of King and Kate's first meeting one of best in the series.
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A Masterpiece Despite the Fundamental Flaw
Stupidityno131 October 2004
This is one of the most popular and best-remembered BBC drama productions of all time. As well as drawing record audiences in the early seventies, it spawned the equally impressive follow-up - Elizabeth R. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is not held in such high regard without good reason. It is perhaps the most historically accurate dramatic account of this period in history we will ever see.

As well as its accuracy, the series is remembered for the performances of the actors. Keith Michell shines throughout as King Henry aging from an athletic young prince to a monstrously obese tyrant. All of the actresses deliver sterling performances as the wives. Standouts from the supporting cast include Sheila Burrell as the conniving Lady Rochford, Wolfe Morris as manipulative Thomas Cromwell, Patrick Troughton as the Duke of Norfolk and Bernard Hepton as Archbishop Cranmer, a role he was to reprise in Elizabeth R and the 1973 cinema remake of this series.

The costumes and makeup for this series cannot go unmentioned. They are little short of outstanding. One would almost believe Keith Michell was swapped for an older, fatter actor for the latter three episodes and the costumes change throughout, depicting shifts in courtly fashions.

CATHERINE OF ARAGON Perhaps the least lavish play in terms of production values, but among the better ones for scripting and acting. It begins, rather ploddingly, by covering Catherine's time in England before her marriage to Henry. When they do wed, the story skips abruptly to Henry's courtship with Anne Boleyn and the divorce of Catherine. Midway through this episode Anne Boleyn is Queen and Catherine is left dying away from court. It closes with her death in 1536.

ANNE BOLEYN A somewhat disappointing installment, despite wonderful acting and a sharp script. Anne is without a doubt the most famous wife of Henry VIII and the one who has provoked the most interest from historians, yet much of her life goes untold in this series. The earlier events in her story were rushed through in a handful of scenes in the second half of the Catherine of Aragon episode, and this episode focuses entirely on her downfall. Half of this play is dedicated to the last eighteen days of Anne's life, in the tower. Dorothy Tutin's fine performance brings this play back on par with the better ones in the series though.

JANE SEYMOUR Something of an anomaly within this series. It breaks with the continuity of the other five plays by covering events that had already been dealt with in Anne Boleyn's episode. The result is that Anne's execution is depicted twice during the course of the series. It also stands out from the rest in terms of production. The other five episodes are filmed as theatrical pieces whilst Jane Seymour is visibly an example of television drama. It's a shame that perhaps the dullest of Henry's wives gets by far the best treatment in the series. The real mystery of this episode is why the format suddenly changes before reverting back to the old style for the final three installments.

ANNE OF CLEVES It was never going to be easy to write a ninety-minute play about a largely unimportant, six-month-long mistake, but everybody involved seems to have made their best efforts here. Anne of Cleves is interpreted as being far more intelligent and witty than she cared to show in the English court and Elvi Hale plays her well. It's very absorbingly written too.

CATHERINE HOWARD It's difficult to decide what to make of this episode. The script has Catherine as a match for her ill-fated cousin, Anne Boleyn, with cunning intelligence, when she was, in fact, a frivolous girl who was thrust too high for her own good. It is, nonetheless, a good adaptation of her story and Sheila Burrell is fantastic as Lady Rochford. As with all the other episodes, there is a reluctance to paint Henry in a bad light here and Catherine almost comes out as the villain of the piece.

CATHERINE PARR Perhaps the most neglected wife in public interest, Catherine Parr's story is actually full of intrigue. This episode deals with her strong religious views and her enforcement of them which nearly sent her to a grizzly fate. Unlike the others in the series, this play relies heavily on dialogue rather than action and it closes the story well.

So the only real failing of the series is not that it is shown in six episodes, but that one episode is dedicated to each wife. The story could have been told more comprehensively if parts 1-3 dealt with Catherine of Aragon's time as Queen, her fall from grace in favour of Anne Boleyn, the divorce, the religious reforms brought about by the King's desire to marry Anne Boleyn and have her children as heirs to the throne, Anne's marriage to the King and her eventual downfall. Jane Seymour would be best dealt with in part 4, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard merged together in the fifth part, whilst Catherine Parr and the King's death could be covered in the sixth.

This criticism aside, the series has earned every word of praise ever spoken for it. It is one of the best nine hours you can spend watching a television drama, so go out and watch it.
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I can watch this miniseries over and over again!
ritamilo16 March 2005
This was one of the most amazing pieces of television/theater. I was 17 when I watched it for the first time and about 10 years ago, acquired the miniseries on VHS. Just recently I was given the DVD set as a gift. I've been re-watching it and I marvel at just how amazing the production and the performances were. At the time Keith Michell played Henry, the actor was in his early 40's yet managed to portray the monarch from age 18 till his death at 56. Simply remarkable and I think Michell is the consummate Henry VIII. As the previous poster, my favorite episodes were Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard; I didn't know Ms. Pleasence was Donald Pleasance's daughter. I also enjoyed Annette Crosbie's performance; she also portrayed Queen Victoria in the miniseries about Edward VII. All in all, this is one of the finest miniseries ever done on television and I doubt we'll see its equal anytime soon.
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Classic BBC!!!
domino100326 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Sure this is about Henry the VIII and his 6 wives, but it also delves a lot more into the politics of the palace. Henry VIII (Well played by Keith Mitchell)assumes the throne after the death of his father. He marries Catherine of Aragon(Annette Crosbie), the widow of his brother. All goes well, until Anne Boleyn (Dorothy Tutin)catches his eye. Then, with the help of social climbing servants, Henry VIII changes the course of religion, and history as well. Desperate for a son (Which Catherine couldn't deliver), he breaks with Rome to marry Anne Boleyn, which ends with her execution for alleged adultery. Soon, Jane Seymour (Anne Stallybrass), Anne of Cleves (Elvi Hale), Catherine Howard (Angela Pleasence), and Catherine Parr (Rosalie Crutchley)will be wed to the King, each changing history, all become victims of politics, scandals, and the King himself. Lots of heads literally roll when the King is displeased or angered.

Each part has its own style, emotion and impact. Practically no one escapes the wrath of the King, and all those that reach too high fall hard (Cromwell, played excellently by the late Wolfe Morris, falls exceptionally hard because of his advice to the King to marry Anne of Cleves, whom the King dislikes.) It is this segment that ALWAYS brings me to tears.

Henry VIII begs Anne of Cleves to stay with him, because he knows that there will be people that will throw a young girl at him, making look like "an old fool." (A foreshadow to "Catherine Howard," who does just that.). Watching that scene always makes me cry, because he is trapped not by his position, but social climbing phonies that want more power.

This is the perfect BBC drama to have in your collection and highly recommended.
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Hypnotic for lovers of drama, romance, and history
cmr122 August 2002
I first saw this BBC production at 13 in 1971, and was simply fascinated. I have seen it several times since, and it's always fresh and interesting to watch. Keith Mitchell is excellent as Henry VIII, and I found no fault with the acting or history of the series. Well-cast, well-acted. I must say that my favorite episodes were Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn and the very unfortunate young Katherine Howard, played by Angela Pleasence. I was surprised that she is the daughter of of Donald Pleasance. All of the episodes are outstanding, and are educational as well. Keith Mitchell plays Henry the VIII with all the conceited, bombastic, loving, hating and self-indulging qualities that history describes him as having. A must-see for lovers of drama, romance, and English History. 10 out of 10 stars easily.
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Nearly Flawless!
femme_fatale536721 October 2005
This is a set I'd love to own. The costumes are great, and acting is even greater, especially Keith Michel. He brings real depth to Henry and we see him as the interesting, complex man that he was, not just the selfish, bloated glutton of his later years. The court intrigue and politics, and also the costumes are expertly presented and you get a real feel for the times. The only flaw was that the actresses were generally too old for the parts they played, but there aren't many young actresses of this caliber, so one has to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the show. If I had to choose the best performance of the wives, I'd choose Annette Crosbie as Catherine of Aragon.
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See the TV series. Don't Bother with the Movie
gelman@attglobal.net27 February 2005
Six or seven hours of film (or was it tape) make "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" a series, not a movie. But here's a clear case of more is more. Each of Henry's wives gets her own story and collapsing those stories into a couple of hours is a disservice. Keith Michell as Henry and Anthony Quayle as the narrator are fine actors and they provide continuity. But the actresses playing the six wives are also excellent and each of the episodes stands up on its own. Ignore the nay sayers on this. This is another of the drama series that BBC does so well and that have benefited those of us who watch them on PBS. There have been a lot of good ones but this may be the best of the lot.
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Excellent and accurate portrayal of Henry VIII's life
dirkgambit25 March 2002
I have seen this series many times and enjoy it immensely every time I see it. I have read a number of biographies of Henry VII and this series is the most accurate portrayal of Henry VIII I have seen, making him a sympathetic character in spite of the way he treated some of his wives (in contrast, "The Private Life of Henry VIII," with Charles Laughton as Henry, is absolutely ludicrous in its portrayal of Henry and his wives). Watching this series gives one a good understanding of how a king could go through six wives, having two of them executed and one driven to an early death through mistreatment. Yet he is never exactly hero or villain, he is portrayed as a human being, who only once went into a marriage that was not for love, and quickly got out of it (through annulment). Anyone who is interested in the history of England's monarchy should enjoy this series. And a good follow up series is "Elizabeth R", with Glenda Jackson playing the title role (quite excellently).
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outstanding piece of TV drama
didi-52 July 2007
This series - and can you imagine the BBC financing and supporting a nine-hour historical drama series these days? - focuses on one of the six wives each episode, an interesting approach which comes off better in some instalments than others. Still, what is here is excellent - and far better than the ridiculously truncated film which followed a few years later.

Keith Michell as Henry. What more can I add to the praise which has already been put forward? He is excellent in every episode; we see Henry as a complex character who at times can cause us to sympathise with his predicament. The writing of this series is tight and believable, and the supporting characters are solid. This always helps move a series along when many supporting players are there throughout. Of particular note are Patrick Troughton as Norfolk, Bernard Hepton as Cranmer, and Sheila Burrell as Lady Rochford.

Of the six wives, all are excellent in their own ways. Katherine of Aragon's story is rushed, but Annette Crosbie does her best and is both memorable and pathetic ... Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn is more fiery but the trial scene is truly regal and gives a different perspective ... Anne Stallybrass as Jane Seymour is sweet, pious, and just a little bit cunning (and that episode, largely in flashback as Jane lies sick to death at her son's christening, is well done) ... Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves is extremely convincing, and her episode is full of intrigue ... Catherine Howard, as played by Angela Pleasance, is all gloss and no substance, but you still feel for her as she goes headlong to her fate without recognition ... and Rosalie Crutchley as Katharine Parr is a dull old crow in black, widow of old men, who at first resents her lot and then comes to respect and love the sick king.

This series really is remarkable. I would never get bored watching it - and eventually, it led to another top-class BBC drama, Elizabeth R, using some of the same cast and moving the story through the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I herself.
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Landmark Mini-Series; Good History; Strong Writing; Great Emotion
silverscreen88818 August 2005
This is a fictionalized biography of England's interesting, overrated and matrimonially challenged monarch of the early sixteenth century. The Renaissance--secularism, self-assertion, democratic elections and the relegation of otherworldism--had been introduced as a set of ideas negative to church-worldly theocracy in 1470 by Edward IV. Henry VIII's era's nobles then followed a fashion set by him; female costume was thin, confining, geometric and dull. Henry's male costume was broad, fur-bearing, opulent and increasingly Italianate. His life and times became a struggle between Medieval statism and individualist Renaissance priorities. The series is titled for the "six wives" he married; but an equal amount of time is spent on Henry's stormy reign. The six wives are "Catherine of Aragon" (Annette Crosbie; "Anne Boleyn" (Dorothy Tutin); "Jane Seymour" (Anne Stallybrass); "Anne of Cleves" (Elvi Hale); "Catherine Howard" (Angela Pleasance, aka Angela Scoular); and "Catherine Parr" (Rosalie Crutchley). The assessment of a nine-hour-long series of such complexity as English history, examples of acting, directing, staging, writing, political theory and psychology is a difficult assignment. It is on the grounds of separate evaluations of these aspects that I say one must approach the series. Henry begins as a conformist but Renaissance-loving youth of unusual promise; by the end of the series he has become a bloated and totalitarian monster. He has wasted the kingdom's exchequer in continental wars and on Medieval-style pageants and tournaments; and his neglect of justice and bequeathing of his kingdom to Bloody Mary Tudor, a Catholic, nearly undoes his life's great achievement, the removal of Catholic influence and monastic structures from England, for good or ill. The presentation of events, personalities, ideas and history here I regard as above-average in sum; at times, one feels one is watching realpolitik coming to life before one's eyes. The physical production is above average though seldom either sumptuous or grand; the richest part of the series is its costumes. The directors bring good performances out of many actors; blocking of action, gestures and scenic elements are always quite high-level, I find. Psychologically, the difficulty in such a six-episode coherently-arranged ninety-minute-each mini-series is to try to make the motivations and reactions appeal to late twentieth-century viewers. The writers of the episodes had varying material to work with, and for the most part handled both historicity as well as psychology with requisite skill, I suggest. The dialogue about political as well as personal consequences in most cases remains interesting, and rather well-handled, by my standards. 1. Catherine of Aragon. This is a rather well-written story which telescopes years of time, from the early marriage of Henry, then a prince, to his brother's affianced wife after his death to the ending of their quarrel after early happiness when Henry divorces himself from her and Catholicism. Annette Crosbie is miscast as a Spanish noblewoman but acts rather creditably throughout the episode. 2. Anne Bolyen. Less time is covered in this episode than in the first, and some backtracking is necessary since the same events are covered from Anne Bolyen's point of view the second time. I find the dialogue and story-line and acting to be the best in this Nick McCarty script of all the series' entries. Dorothy Tutin and Wolfe Morris are excellent in this episode even though she is a bit too old for the part. The highlight is the trial scenes that end with Anne's unjust murder. 3. Jane Seymour. I consider this the weakest of the scripts, although Anne Stallybrass is an effectively tragic figure; Bernard Hepton as Cranmer comes to the fore in this episode as a most effective presence. 4. Anne of Cleves. This charming and very-well-reasoned episode presents Elvi Hale as a delightful and occasionally merry prospective bride for an aging Henry; she became a world-class presence due to this intelligently written part. 5. Catherine Howard. Anglela Pleasence is quite good in this part though neither quite beautiful nor highly-charismatic; she deserved more work off this interesting effort. The script is a strong one, especially in dialogue; and the viewer is given the sense from the beginning that this is a monarch of whom men dare not run afoul. A moving and complex piece of television writing and well-acted, the episode shows that even the mighty Howard family is not impervious to Henry's danger. 6. Catherine Parr. Another episode that telescopes time. Enorrmous by now and dangerous, Henry has become the shadow of what he was; one fears for Rosalie Crutchley, the kindly woman who brightens his last years, for a climate where truth cannot be uttered is no England for honest men, male or female. One must begin any evaluation of the series with with Keith Michell as Henry Tudor. His performance is extraordinarily good, much better than anyone else's in the part has been of which I have knowledge. By playing Henry straight, Michell gave him time to become deviant--in reasoning, willful blindness, denial, cruelty and injustice--by slow degrees. Among the many other actors involved, Sheila Burrell, Christopher Hancock, Patrick Troughton and Zienia Merton among others deserve mention. A landmark when it was produced, the series has only grown in stature since it was first presented.
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The crowning achievement of British TV, still unsurpassed
Big Neil-24 August 1999
Impeccable in casting, sets, dialogue, and period feel. All of the principals are magnificent; but the actors who play Stephen Gardiner and Robert Barnes are simply extraordinary. The much-maligned Keith Michell is still the best Henry this century, easily brushing aside Robert Shaw, Richard Burton, and Charles Laughton. Michell's combination of vanity, insecurity, overweening machismo, and determination to stay top dog at all costs is painful but fascinating to watch. This TV series does full justice to all facets of the Tudor period; best of all, it reveals extra magical touches with each re-viewing. Which means, in short, that this is a video which you should buy, rather than rent.
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Absolutely brilliant
marytimlaw25 May 2002
This is the best of the 6 episodes about Henry's wives, probably because she was the most vital of his Queens, and the only one to be crowned in her own right. Dorothy Tutin is outstanding as the charasmatic woman who captured the heart of the King - she is a vivid contrast with Katherine of Aragon, solid and boring, and Jane Seymour timid and sly - I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the Tudor era and Anne in particular.
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The best version of Henry's wife travails ever
jjnxn-110 May 2013
Fantastic BBC series with a brilliant performance by Keith Michell as Henry VIII. He sustains the core of Henry throughout the entire series as he changes from an ardent young king into a grotesque martinet. All the actresses playing his various wives are terrific never slipping from character into more contemporary attitudes as is common today. All the episodes are fascinating but the ones of greater interest are the wives like Anne of Cleves and Katharine Parr whose stories are not as well known as say Anne Boleyn, although Dorothy Tutin is exemplary as Mistress Boleyn. The age of the piece does show in the limited settings and the texture of the picture but taking into consideration that in the early 70's that was the standard format once you get use to that its not really a distraction. A wonderful companion to the stellar Glenda Jackson starrer on Elizabeth I.
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By far the most definitive account of Henry VIII and his six wives
TheLittleSongbird5 December 2014
The Six Wives of Henry VIII has imperfections sure, with the Catherine of Aragon episode having some very overdone make-up and uninspired and less-than-lavish sets, in fact in the first two episodes they were rather plain, and Anne Boleyn's feeling at times rushed(Anne and Henry's romantic courtship could have come out more, disappointing after seeing it done so wittily in Anne of the Thousand Days). Even with these flaws though The Six Wives of Henry VIII is outstanding and something of a flawed masterpiece, the writing and acting being some of the best of any historical-based drama series I've seen.

While the series has some problems technically, actually it does not look bad generally at all considering the budget constraints. From the Jane Seymour episodes and onwards the sets and locations show more detail, I actually liked the shadowy quality that the lighting had and the photography is unobtrusive while not being staid. But visually it was the costumes that fared the best, a lot of effort went into them and it shows as they do look wonderful. The script is, to sum it up in a word, superb, very like scripts from a play, with dialogue that is truly literate and not soap-opera-ish in the slightest and treats the subject with subtlety(which is more than can be said for Henry VIII with Ray Winstone- most of the dialogue in that had the subtlety of an axe) and The Other Boleyn Girl). Not once did the dramatisation feel one-sided, Henry is actually a quite complex character here.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII respects history, it is by far the most historically accurate account of the subject matter without being too scholarly/history textbook-like, and although it's paced very deliberately it's still always entertaining, loved the wit that the Anne of Cleves episode had, the romantic elements are sweet, the political elements are suspenseful and it's always educational. Having the Anne Boleyn episode primarily focused on the build up to her final days and execution came across very well, and The Six Wives is the most successful of all the Henry VIII accounts on film and television to show what made Henry and his Six Wives so famous and in detail too. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is beautifully directed throughout, the dances were simple but elegant and what there is of music(due to the style of the dialogue there did not need to be much) is charming and appropriately used.

And as has been said early on in the review the acting along with the writing some of the best of any historical dramatisation and possibly the best thing about The Six Wives of Henry VIII. There is a splendid support cast, with standout performers from Bernard Hepton, Sheila Burrell as Lady Rochford and a scarily cold Patrick Troughton as Norfolk. Wolfe Morris is not quite as devious as Donald Pleasance in the 1972 film(too short and very compressed but very well written and acted) but he still acquits himself very well, and Anthony Quayle is a fine narrator. The six wives are all very well portrayed, Annette Crosbie is a splendidly dignified Catherine of Aragon and while not erasing memories of Genevieve Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days Dorothy Tutin is a haunting, witty and sometimes ruthless Anne Boleyn. Anne Stallybrass's Jane Seymour is very affecting and Elvi Hale gives easily the most interesting Anne of Cleves of any dramatisation of Henry VIII(that's saying a lot as Anne is nearly always wasted) and his Six Wives, charming and very funny. Angela Pleasance is thankfully neither blandly over-innocent or nymphomaniac-like and Rosalie Crutchley gives along with Crosbie the most sympathetically played performance of all six wives as Katherine Parr. Topping them all is Keith Michell, who is amazing as Henry, he can be hilarious but Michell does amazingly at capturing Henry's tormented pain in his later years and tyranny as well with neither component over-balancing the other, a multi-faceted and nuanced portrayal that makes you feel scared of(like in the Catherine Howard episode) and sympathetic(the Jane Seymour episode sees him at his most likable) towards Henry.

Overall, a flawed masterpiece of a series, has short-comings technically but the writing and acting are nigh-on perfect pretty much. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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The best British series ever
kiaora-124 April 2014
I highly enjoyed this series. I watched it when it first aired in 1971. I later bought it on VHS. I'd now like to get it on DVD. I have watched this series countless times and never grow tired of it. Keith Michel is excellent as Henry VIII and having read the book by Allison Weir, Keith seems to portray Henry fairly accurately. I thought all of the actors/actresses did quite well. The woman who played Catherine Howard seemed to overact just a bit, but she still did a fine job. The series makes you feel as though you're right there in that time period. It almost makes me wish I could have been there, except for the fact that life for the royals wasn't as glamorous or even safe. You could feel the tension and fear in all of Henry's wives as they risked their very lives to be the wife of a tyrannical king. Henry didn't start out that way, but soon after his father had died, Henry had great aspirations about being the new king. He wanted to make England powerful and prosperous again. That meant fighting wars and slaughtering enemies. It was only a while later, after Catherine had failed to produce a living son, that Henry realized how important a legitimate living male heir would be to him and he was willing to risk others to get what he wanted.
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A Princely Delight!! Keith Mitchell IS Henry the VIII
NutzieFagin9 April 2013
I saw this whole series when I was about 10 yrs old on Masterpiece Theatre back in the 1970's and I remember it made a huge impression on me concerning Tudor history. It motivated me to read more on the time period and English history. There are six episodes, each devoted to the stories of his wives. But not only the stories of his wives backgrounds and who they were in history, it also gives the history of what was going on during Henry the VIII's reign---The Reformation of the Church of England and the break from Roman Catholism. The act of Succession. and the relations and intrigues between foreign countries lined up against each other like a chess board.

The acting is superb! The costumes are rich and magnificent. Keith Mitchell looks so much like Henry the VIII, you think he's been resurrected. The settings or back drop may have been the only thing that the production company did not spend a lot of money on--lots of wood paneling and open hallways. But the Tudor homes and palaces were althoug opulent in construction--they did not have a lot of furniture or knick knacks of the homes of today.

Young people should be compelled to watch this series. It is a kingly delight and not to be missed by future generations.
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As fine a drama as ever aired on television
AlsExGal12 March 2011
I was only 13 when this series aired on TV back in 1971. Others have mentioned seeing it on PBS, but I clearly remembering it first airing in the U.S. on network TV - I'm fairly sure it was CBS - back in the summer of 1971. Isn't it amazing that in 30 years we went from great historical drama being summer TV fare to schlock like Survivor and Fear Factor?

At any rate, this series stars actors and actresses that Americans have probably never seen before since this was entirely a British production. It consists of six episodes - one for each wife - each running 90 minutes in length. My favorite episodes were those about the second and fifth wives - Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, respectively. Dorothy Tutin plays the long pursued and then quickly rejected Anne Boleyn, mother of the future Elizabeth I. She is executed on trumped up charges merely because she had failed to produce a male heir and Henry could never come up with an excuse for another divorce just a few years after he had come up with a philosophical and religious reason for one to Catherine of Aragon. He would have completely lost face and one with Henry's pride could not have that. How ironic that it was Anne's daughter Elizabeth - not Henry's son Edward - that was the strong and able monarch and heir Henry had hoped to produce, and the one to clean up the mess he made of England's treasury when she assumed the throne.

Katherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, is the other wife that is executed, although the charges of adultery against her are true. Mitchell does an outstanding job of playing the heartbroken king when he learns of Howard's treachery. The thing is, Katherine Howard's treachery is not so much that as it is the expected outcome of a young healthy 17 year-old girl married to an old man 30 years her senior who can no longer be a real husband to her. She was truly a tragic figure, but typical of that era - a young girl treated as a commodity by her family and placed in an arranged marriage. It is odd that with all of the intelligent and beautiful wives that Henry had, the one that had his heart until the day he died was the shy and plain Jane Seymour, his third wife, mother of his only son, and the only one of his six wives to die a natural death while still his wife.

Through all six episodes Keith Mitchell plays Henry the VIII spectacularly as he gradually ages from a lean eighteen year old that is full of life into a bloated self-indulgent old man who still has the passions he had a teen, but with a body that does not cooperate. Turns out kings like commoners cannot escape from the ravages of old age. If you enjoy this series, you might want to consider watching "Elizabeth R", starring Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. Both of these series are excellent, but that is the one that people have remembered over the years, plus it won an Emmy for Best Drama.
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comment and question
valjoemv-122 January 2006
I have the DVD version of "Six Wives of Henry 8th" and I love it each time I watch it. Keith Mitchell is Henry 8th. Nuff said. The costumes were beautiful. I fancy myself as a royal expert (at least my family says so). I watch it at least once every two weeks. The women chosen to play Henry's six wives were well played. I noticed two people in the series. The man that played "Thomas Seymour" and the man that played "Steven Gardiner Bishop of Winchester" were played by the same men in "Elizabeth R" (Henry's daughter by Anne Boylen). The Duke of Richmond is only mentioned once in "Catherine of Aragon". In the history books he lived to see Anne Boylen executed. Why was he not mentioned in "Jane Seymour" when he died? My next question is the man that played "Cardinal Wosley" in "Anne of Thousand Days" was credited in "Six Wives of Henry 8th" as the Narrator/Voice. As many times as I've seen the series I can not recall him. Any one know where he is so for future reference I will hear or see him?
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dbrenner2311 March 2005
I don't have enough time now to write a worthy review of this, but maybe that's a mercy!

A tour de force performance from Keith Michel as he portrays Henry from his youth to his death, through all of his transformations and wives. Each actor/actress brings another wonderful dimension to this timeless production.

STRONGLY recommended -- AND available on DVD!!! If you don't want to spend the $70+, suggest it to your local library.

You won't be sorry! If you like this movie, see also, "Edward the King" -- Those fed up with TV today will see TV as it should be!!
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A television classic.
Ivan-9915 May 2000
A television classic. Among the very best TV has offered. The writing, performances, costumes, music -- all marvelous!
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tannegie14 October 2019
It is by far the best portrayal of Henry VIII 6 wives. Keith Michell is astounding as the infamous king aging and obese at the end. Furthermore I acclaim the portrayal of Catherine of Aragon by Anette Crosbie as this Queen was shown as reddishblonde with blue eyes (Historically correct) The only flaw lies in the studio recording wich did not allow outside scenes...
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One of my favorite series!
fitzyboy29 August 2019
I watch this series at least once a week. It is by far one of my favorites and I can't imagine Henry VIII being played by anyone else other than Keith Michell
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6 Wives 6 Stars!
VikiLauda3 May 2019
I first saw this awesome series when it was originally broadcast when I was only 3 years old, & understood & enjoyed every second of it, to such an extent I would refuse to go to bed until it ended. 49 years later I am still hopelessly addicted to Tudor history!

"The Six Wives of Henry VIII" runs across 6 episodes with each episode focusing on each of the Kings wives & herein lies my only criticism is that as Katherine of Aragon was married to Henry for 20 years she should have had two episodes devoted to telling her FULL story. For instance, missing from episode 1 is the Battle of Flodden Field (1513) where Queen Katherine was Regent while Henry was in France which lead to victory for the Queen. However overall the screen play of all the episodes is exceptional, the script near perfect & the costumes the most accurate I have ever seen!

The acting too is amazingly good with the exception of Angela Pleasence (Catherine Howard) who occasionally over acts, but it certainly does not spoil her episode. My favorite was Elvie Hale as Anne of Cleves, who proves to be a sharp minded political operator & her beautiful costumes are perfect copies of the costumes worn by Anne in 2 portraits painted during her lifetime. Keith Michelle as Henry is absolutely AWESOME! we see him tansform form a young, handsome althletic King into the sick obese grumpy image we associate with Henry VIII.

Each episode presents us with an insight into what his wives may have been like, what made them tick, what inspired them & what drove them. Katherine of Aragon, abandoned at the court until Henry agrees to marry her, devotes 20 years to Henry only to be cast of. Anne Boleyn, intelligent well educated, but with a fierce temper who failed to make the transition from mistress to wife & fails to give Henry a son. Jane Seymore. Gentle quiet, & demure who wants to put everything to right in the world. Anne of Cleves turns disaster to her own advantage by out thinking even the King. Catherine Howard. young, vivacious & flirty but controlled by her devious Uncle into marrying Henry. & lastly Catherine Parr a pious protestant, twice widowed with her own wealth & a passion for writing (she wrote the first English book to be written by a woman!) who danced a tightrope of Henrys temper. Today's feminists could learn lots of lessons from the amazing wives of Henry VIII & this series could be the excellent starting point!
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Pretty Good. - SPOILERS
dac8723 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Having been introduced to the absorbing history surrounding Henry VIII and his ill-fated spouses, I decided to try this 9 hour long mini series. THE SIX WIVEs OF HENRY VIII is actually quite entertaining despite its length. The movie its self is made up of six installments, each dealing with a wife.

CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Boring and drawn out, I was not at all impressed by this film. The film follows Catherine through her first marriage to prince Arthur and the struggle she goes through to marry Henry after Arthur's death. After all she goes through, Catherine is forced into a divorce when Anne Boleyn shakes her tail at Henry. Finally, she dies a lonely, saddened old woman. Annette Crosbie plays a rather ludicrous Catherine, complete with phony cries of anguish when Henry divorces her.


I enjoyed this installment a great deal better than the first. Many knows the story of sexy Anne Boleyn who manages to catch King Henry's eye and persuades him into a divorce, only to be tried and beheaded when she fails to produce a son. Dorthy Tutin makes a rather sensual, but not very attractive Anne. We follow her from her life in the palace all the way up to her execution. The audience does not know how to perceive this queen, as she is a trollop, but also, very sympathetic and innocent of the crimes she is accused of committing.


While many praise this as the best movie out of the series, I found it to be very trying to sit through. Jane is the perfect wife for Henry, she even manages to produce a son, even though it costs her her life. While I agree it is refreshing to have some outdoor scenes in this film, Anne Stallybrass's insipid performance as "Plain Jane" is extremely dull. There is an overabundance of talk and a lack of action. I also found the symbolic dream sequences to be very out of place and utterly odd.


I actually quite enjoyed this section, which is based on the relationship between Henry of England and Anne of Germany. Anne is a German princess whom is engaged to the "handsom and dashing" Henry VIII. She is disappointed to find that Henry is a fat, overbearing, old man; to hide the fact the the queen refuses to let him "touch" her, Henry claims that he is disgusted by her looks. This eventually brings about their divorce a few months later. Elvi Hale shines as the "ugly" princess who's personality would outshine all of Henry's previous wives. It is very relieving to have some comic relief in the series, and this segment provides it (especially the wedding night scene where Henry chases an unwilling Anne about the room).


My personal favorite of the series. Catherine Howard tells the story of the beautiful, spoiled, promiscuous cousin of Anne Boleyn, who, with the help of her looks and wiles, becomes queen of England. One begins to hate Cate right from the start of the production; she is sly and mean spirited. After feigning virtue, she is married to Henry, only to break his heart later when her infidelity is proved. She and her lovers are sentenced to death and are beheaded. This installment is slightly similar to the fatal love affair between Lancelot and Guenevere; Angela Pleasence is splendid as the bratty Catherine, perhaps the most extraordinary thing about her performance is the change that she shows. At the beginning, she is childish and cruel, and towards the end, right before her execution, she shows great maturity.


I have little to say about this film as I could barely keep awake during it. I found it to be the worst of the films and it seems to me that it left a lot of loose ends
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The just and only GENUINE TRUTH, about the King Henry VIII and his, just and only, always truthful and always legitimate Wife and Queen Cosort Anne of Cleves!
vikicska-113 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
(To avoid to be on your Black list, I marked this message, with a warning "Contains spoiler" but please decide yourselves! Thank you very much!)

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to, kindly, advise you, that my Dear Ancestry Grandmother the German Princess and English Queen Anne of Cleves, with my Ancestry Grandfather the English Monarch King Henry VIII have had together two Royal Children. Their first-born Royal Child was their little Princess, born, in Sept/October 1540, which, then, became, my next Ancestry Grandmother, and their second Royal Child was the "Faire Boye", born, in January 1542, when this Truth, about these their concealed Royal Children, have been exposed, by the servants, which loved their English Queen Anne of Cleves, very much, and wanted her, to live, also, officially, with her Royal Husband, and not just secretly. But however, in this moment, when this have been revealed, our Dear Ancestry Grandmother the English Queen Ann of Cleves, according which, all things and all beings, in this world, which were and which are CLEVER, have been named, have immediately lost both of her Royal Children, at ones, as they had to be, immediately, sent, secretly, to exile, on to the Slovak Territory, of the Holly Roman Empire, where they, then had to live, without Mother and Father, in poverty and need and discriminations, and where all their Royal Descendants lives, this way, even, until today! Dear Friends, I would like to ask you, very much, please, be so kind, and do not talk, anymore, about our Dear Ancestry Grandmother the German Princess and English Queen Anne of Cleves, such disgracing her, and also us, all her English Royal Descendants, totally untrue things. She is my maternal strait line Ancestry Grandmother, through her first-born Royal Daughter, fathered by my Ancestry Grandfather the English Monarch King Henry VIII, and born in Sept/Oct 1542, and she was the most beautiful and the most decent, merciful, kind, and the most humble Queen, this entire World ever had! And this, I know absolutely exactly! Because exactly the same human character and beautiful look, have and had, also, all her Royal Descendants, - also my dear Mom, my dear Grandmother, and all the Ladies and Girls, in our Family, which are the Royal Descendants from this English Royal Family Tudor-Cleves. Please, be so kind, and just, read very carefully, and cautiously, everything about her, and do not believe any illogical statements, about her. Please, just, Open your Eyes and see, that she was a very beautiful Lady. Holbein did not lie, he was a GENUINE ARTIST! And nothing was "flattered", nothing was "old fashion", she just did something, what no one, in this world, ever, did, and this has caused, then, just, quite logically, this "strange/loving" behavior of my Ancestry Grandfather the King Henry VIII, towards her. But all this illogical, disgracing her, slanderous words, against her, dishonoring her and putting her down, were just made up, by her enemies, wanting to get, instead of her, and instead of her Royal Children, fathered by my Ancestry Grandfather the English Monarch King Henry VIII, and instead of their Royal Descendants, on to the English Throne! But our Grandfather the King Henry VIII loved her very, very much!!! Just look, what he gave her, and how he treated her! Always the best, as he could! He made her the most richest Lady, in England! But on the other hand, also, he wanted to protecting, her, and also his Dearest and most Precious Beautiful Royal Children, with her, so he did, what he did, as otherwise, no one from us, would be here, today!

His first three Children, living in gold and silver, died, without even, being able, having their own children! Is this not strange, enough? And the Royal Descendants, from his both Royal Children, with his Royal Wife and our Ancestry Grandmother the German Princess and English Queen Anne of Cleves, even, despite of the poverty, need, discriminations and terribly hard life, in Exile, they, still, live in Slovakia, even, until today!

And what their enemies did to me, personally, also, and this, absolutely innocently, you can read on:".

Thank you very much and Best Regards to all!

Prince of England and Ireland from Tudor-Cleves Ludovit Bialon.
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