Anne Boleyn (1920)

No comparable tonal problems with this film; not even Lubitsch could turn Anne Boleyn into a comedy. Not that Emil Jannings, as Henry VIII, doesn’t try his best, with a good deal of his characterisation of the much-married king being basically describable as “sex pest”. Any comic business in the film is even more incidental than it was for most of Sumurun, and pretty much all of it comes from Jannings letting Henry’s libido hang out, and it seems a bit… I don’t know, weird when you remember how the romance ended with Anne losing her head, not to mention her being the trigger for Henry splitting the English church from Rome. Apart from that, though, I didn’t really know an awful lot about the historical Anne, so I had a quick squiz at Wikipedia, which indicated that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film’s fidelity to historical fact is merely broad rather than precise. For example, her brother George is entirely absent from the film, which is interesting given that alleged incest was one of the things she was executed for… and the schism from Rome that she indirectly caused isn’t quite glossed over, but it’s not quite the major event in the film that it was in reality. Still, Lubitsch would no doubt argue (like the people behind The Tudors do) that he was there to entertain rather than educate, and as a film I thought it was rather more successful than Sumurun, it hung together far better. That said, it gets much of its power from Jannings rather than Henny Porten in the title role; “Heinrich der Achte” finally comes across as far nastier and more ruthless than the libidinous fatty he initially seems to be. It’s good, and yet I can’t help not regretting thar Lubitsch eventually gave up on this sort of serious drama in favour of the comedies we generally remember him better for.

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