Henry VIII - Production Notes
Last Update: 30 October 2004
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Masterpiece Theatre (PBS)
My idea of Henry is quite mixed. I think he was a very troubled man -- paranoid
and psychotic at times, charming and funny at others. The last words his
father left him with were 'you must have a son,' which preyed on his mind for
the rest of his life. When Katherine of Aragon couldn't give him a son, Henry
had to start making decisions, and that's when it all started to go wrong for him.
This is a man who allowed two of his wives -- women he loved passionately --
to be murdered. At the same time, he wrote beautiful love letters, understood
science and, to a certain extent, was a great ambassador. He was an intelligent,
gentle romantic man who lost his way when it came to love. He sells his soul
for his country and for the duty he inherited and from then on it became easier
and easier for him to discard the women he loved. Jane Seymour finally gave
him the son he wanted, but he lost her and that must have destroyed him.
Back then, there was a strong belief in God, death, heaven and hell and I
guess he punished himself [for her death] for the rest of his life.
Powerful men usually have a weakness and that always seems to be sex! Also,
if you look at other powerful men throughout history, they had to be leaders
and have that evil streak in them to survive. Everyone is fighting for his or her
position, and people like Henry didn't know who their friends were. There
must've been a lot of paranoia and Henry had to keep his wits about him.
In my mind, only winners make the history books, though you have to read a
little between the lines. For example, I've tried looking at things from Anne
Boleyn's and the Boleyn family's point of view, trying to understand why they
wanted to become so involved with the King when it would have been safer
to stay away. It's good to look at that kind of stuff and get a greater understanding.
(Writer) Pete Morgan has done his homework. All I have to do is just come in, dress
up as the King and bring all the emotion, pain and joy that goes with it. Henry's
passion for being an Englishman, his passion for being in love -- I can relate to
that. The passion for wanting to be violent at times -- I can also relate to that.
But to actually hurt someone you love, I can't understand that.
I think you would have had to be to survive in those times. There's certainly
no room for nice guys. It was dog eat dog. So no, I'll leave the Tudor Court
to the 16th century. Definitely not for me!
I've really enjoyed wearing the costumes, as I'm usually in a pinstriped suit! You
see pictures of people throughout history and you think they are these stiff
characters who are nothing like us. But they are. They walk, talk and have the
same haircuts as us and that's how I've approached this costume -- it's just like
putting on a suit.
The dialogue has been tricky, and it's hard to make tricky dialogue your own and
make it conversational and demanding and powerful. So that's been the trick,
trying to melt that altogether.
Every day has also been very diverse. For instance, there was one day when I had
sex with Anne Boleyn, she gave birth, we got married and I raped her -- all in the
same day! Also I'm playing a 30-year-old Henry right through to 50-year-old Henry.
So you've really got to try to remember what's happening, and what stage you're at
because it's not all done in chronological order. Sometimes you forget which scene
you're on and where you are, but that's half the enjoyment and the challenge.
I love working with Helena. She's such good fun and you can have a laugh on set with
her -- and that's important if you've got to snog someone all day! It's been something
I've been looking forward to for a while, as I have always respected her as an actress.
I really enjoyed the horse riding, which I learnt to do on my previous film, Cold
Mountain. It's strange because twenty years ago I was terrified of horses and
wouldn't have been able to do it. But I've had the same horse since then called
George, and he's great. He does all kinds of action stunts; I call him Robert DeNiro!
It's really flattering for me to play a King. I mean, I'm a kid out of Plaistow and
I'm playing one of the most famous kings of England. It's fantastic!
Helena Bonham Carter
Anne Boleyn was certainly a bold, dramatic creature who had a huge influence on the
King, the church, and, ultimately, England's history. She was someone with sex
appeal who had learnt the art of flirtation and seduction and how to use it. She
was everything an 'ideal' woman of that time wasn't meant to be -- she wasn't
submissive, she didn't withhold her emotions. And I think that ultimately she
wanted to be in control of her own destiny.
In our version of the story, she is playing very hard to get. At first she had
genuine repulsion for this man, who had mistreated her sister so badly [Mary
Boleyn was one of the King's longest standing mistresses, bearing him two
children only to be rejected once he had tired of her]. It's only when her uncle
points out that she could become Queen if she plays her cards right that she
manipulates Henry by becoming his 'chaste' mistress -- that is to say she
refused to have sex with him until she was certain that she would become Queen.
We are led to believe that they took great pleasure in each other's company,
as they were both well educated and probably had in depth discussions on
political and religious reform. It's portrayed that she does fall in love with
him only once she gets her guarantee of marriage. Henry was a very good
looking, charismatic man -- tall, athletic, a Renaissance man and a warrior
King who had incredible power and a gift for languages [Anne spoke fluent
French] and music...it would have been difficult not to fall in love with him
Her main objective -- to have a son -- is the one thing she can't control.
Like Katherine of Aragon, who was cast aside for her failure to bear children,
Anne too was incredibly unlucky after having Elizabeth. To be under the
pressure she was to produce a son, it really isn't a surprise that she miscarried
at all. It is so ironic that, with Henry driven by this obsession with having a son
throughout his whole life, it actually turns out to be his daughter Elizabeth who
becomes one of the greatest monarchs in history.
Each day's shooting was very different and packed with heavy dramatic scenes.
I'd get raped in the morning, give birth to Elizabeth in the evening, the next day
I'd be executed and the next I'd miscarry! The rape scene was unpleasant; it
brought home just what a monster Henry could be. That's when their relationship
reaches its all-time low. The only thing that would put Anne back in his favor
would be to produce a son, but he can hardly stand the sight of her, let alone
sleep with her. Desperate for that son, he rapes her and she does actually
conceive. When she miscarries, that is the last hope destroyed for both of them.
But I've loved doing this production. I just love the Tudors and I love the story --
it's dramatic, sexy and, given their fame, in a way, glamorous. Even my execution
is quite exciting, although I've been executed before! When we were filming the
execution scene, I had expected something similar to my last one, which was at
Dover in the snow with a huge crowd of people. But for this one, it was done in a
car park, at the back of Pinewood studios with just fifteen or so people shouting
'ooh, you're a witch, you're a whore, you're so naughty!' Everything else will be
added in post-production. Actually, it's quite strange to get your head around
your own execution -- Oh God, crap joke! Sorry!
Ray's really down to earth. He's a dynamic choice and looks perfect for the role.
He makes it immediately exciting and puts a different slant on it because he is
so unpredictable, which is fun and brings a raw brutality to it.
I was pregnant during filming, making dressing up in the lavish costumes required
for a Tudor queen no mean feat! It's not exactly suitable maternity wear! But
the corsets gave some continuity while I got bigger each week. Luckily they are
not too tight or I may have ended up with a baby with a flat head!
Some of the costumes were re-cut up to four times during filming. The dresses
were designed with longer bodices than typical Tudor dresses to distract from
the waistline and the lacings were placed at the backsides for ease and comfort.
I seemed to be labeled as this person who is fighting the tag of a 'period actress,'
when in fact I do as much period as any other type of drama. It might seem a cliche;
for me to do another period drama but that's not going to stop me doing something
that has a meaty part in a good story. Anyway, me being 'Mrs. Period Cliche;'
is balanced in this project by Ray being definitely not!
Cardinal Wolsey was very friendly with Henry VII, and when Henry left his throne
to the young Henry VIII, Wolsey became a second father to him. From the
moment he was promoted to Cardinal, he became one of the most wealthy and
influential characters in England. Some people have said that he even advised
Henry on certain regal visits and decisions.
Yet Wolsey was not immune to Henry's extreme temper and suffered a similar fate to
others who were loved by the King as he was. Like Katherine of Aragon, another of
Henry's most loyal and time-honored devotees, Wolsey was banished and left to
die, penniless, as an outcast of the court. His crime? He couldn't secure an
agreement from the Pope to allow Henry a divorce from Katherine, enabling him to
wed Anne Boleyn. A harsh overreaction which was fueled by Anne, who hated
Wolsey from the moment he saw through her cunning seduction of the King.
It was an overreaction that Henry may never have forgiven Anne for.
Wolsey was a very clever man and saw right through Anne. Of course, as soon as
she was Queen, she did all she could to get him removed, both for revenge and
her own safety.
Historically, Henry's reign was a reign or terror. If you didn't do what he asked of you,
or he didn't agree with you, you would lose your head. I don't think anyone
deserved what Wolsey got. You can't really blame him for the Pope's decision.
To have all that wealth and power and then to lose it all so suddenly must've been
a big lesson to learn. Wolsey was used to lavish parties and the show of power
and money -- he practically built Hampton Court for himself. He was a very garish
and pompous man.
However, he was also a genuine father figure and considered himself a dear and
close friend of Henry's. He died not long after he was banished, actually on his
way to the Tower of London to stand trial. It is rumored that he killed himself
through poison, but we don't know that for sure as there were no police investigations
or autopsies then! I think he did commit suicide rather than to be charged in
front of his former peers and public. He would have been so very ashamed.
That whole cruelty of mankind doing the unspeakable to his own kind doesn't bear
thinking about. Having said that, there is something within me that would love to
have been around to take a peek into such periods of history. Purely out of
interest -- I'd have run a mile from the cruelty though!
I've done many 'real' character roles and I always find it fascinating. It's fascinating
to get under the skin of these people, especially with a character like Wolsey,
where I got to show very different sides to one man. I did a lot of research. I
read through so many history books, watched documentaries, went to galleries,
looked at portraits. I love doing all that.
The process of the costume and make-up really helped me to become Wolsey.
I do feel I become another person on set. And the more I get used to television
crews, the easier it is to ignore them and to imagine myself fully in that era.
It's just something you have to do or you may not be truly believable.
I'm lucky to be allowed to play such a wide variety of characters. Poirot has been
so successful internationally, that, being in disguise, I don't really get any
attention as myself, which makes it easier for me to move on to other
characters. I've just played a homosexual psychopath in The In-Laws so I
tend to move between very different roles!
I've enjoyed playing Wolsey enormously. It's been so diverse. One day I am
watching knights jousting and the next I'm lurking in the shadows watching
someone -- Charles Dance actually -- being tortured! In fact, I think there
should be a series just about Wolsey!
It was great to be in the company of such fantastic actors. It's been
wonderful to walk into that 'family' really, when you know a lot of them
are fine actors who are such familiar faces on screen. It was also lovely
to work with people I have worked with before, like Helena [David and
Helena starred together in Live From Baghdad].
Not only was Jane Seymour courageous and strong but also I think she became a
symbol of love to Henry VIII. She is quite an inspirational character as she is so
true to herself. The popular belief is that she was pious and demure -- all the
things that Anne Boleyn wasn't! And she must have been terrified at first by
Henry's wooing -- as she had seen what life was like at the center of the court.
She was a lady-in-waiting to both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn so she
knew that it wasn't exactly a bed of roses. Some people believe that she was
only interested in ambition of the rise to Queen and manipulated her way to
be there. I chose to believe that her initial turning down of Henry to be his
mistress was due to fear and morals rather than tactics.
It was a time when it was difficult to say no to men, but she did her best to
do it in the right way. Ultimately, it appears she was a good wife to him,
providing him with a son, reuniting him with Mary, and it seems that Henry found
a love for her. This is backed up by the fact that he asked, on his deathbed,
to be buried with her in the chapel of Windsor.
I think it's important to research. For me, if I know as much as I possibly can
about an historical figure, I can form my own opinions. The views are often
from history's survivors and not always necessarily the truth, so I think you
have to work out your own truth about of what happened, using the script
first and foremost and research as an insurance policy.
I'm a lot more sympathetic towards Henry now that I know more about him.