DOING IT TO YOURSELF
After Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Richard Burton pretty much stopped being an actor; while he had brief moments since, particularly in The Taming of the Shrew, The Gathering Storm and the neglected Wagner, mostly he sneered his way through roles—over-empathic in scene after scene, hurling invective, looking like the self-hating male virago no one wanted to pay to see. He became his own worst nightmare—the fifth Mr. Liz Taylor. Fortifying himself with lethal liquids to numb the humiliation of having succumbed to consort, Burton’s pain is so evident in Anne of the Thousand Days that it’s equally painful for his admirers: as hard as we want to, we can’t move beyond how he’s lost the pleasure in acting. In light of his celebrity, he’s far from an inappropriate choice to play Henry VIII—with a more enthusiastic, demanding director than Charles Jarrott, he might have been to the movie what Keith Michell was to the miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII. But Burton doesn’t inhabit the king; by his own admission he’s slogging through one hangover after another and the boozed bloated face confirms it. (Producer Hall Wallis, who was hoping for another Becket success, must have been alarmed by his star’s appearance because shortly into the story, his eyes have been Visined and his teeth look bleached.) In his private notes published in Melvyn Bragg’s Richard Burton: A Life, he writes: “Why am I doing a film that I so patently am bored by? Why do I allow myself to be talked into doing the mediocre? I cannot even bring myself to read the script, let alone learn it.” Threats of lawsuits aside, Burton’s not off the hook: penning self-mockingly of his power to garner large salaries, percentages and perks, he apparently never used his clout to insist on the easiest improvements—factuality and sharper dialogue. Genevičve Bujold’s Anne is a variation of Salome, and she’s well-nigh persuasive in her defiance, her vocalized contempt, her daring incitement. (You like it a lot when she provokes Henry to slap her.) Bujold’s portrait doesn’t grant much sympathy in that the famous fate is too predestined. John Colicos’s Cromwell has a great encompassing line about Anne’s pre-marriage bewitchery: “She almost reigns, she entirely rules.” The screenplay, based on Maxwell Anderson’s play, is full of liberties, some that need addressing. Anne most probably wasn’t publicly jeered when she wed Henry (in two separate but private ceremonies) or when made Queen. What is more likely true is that she received tepid reactions from the crowds, with only a greedy aristocracy cheering Anne to lead the charge for Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall in order to sack his wealth. The real public jeering would begin when Anne was arrested for adultery and plotting to kill the king. Henry was neither present at nor dared speak to the court judging Anne’s concocted treason. Out of what one chronologist calls “macabre concern,” Henry did decree Anne not be burned at the stake but swiftly beheaded and that she be granted permission to speak to witnesses before execution. (When the imported executioner lifted her chopped head, unverified spectators ghoulishly claimed her lips were still moving.) A would-be roadshow, nominated for ten Oscars—including best film, actor, actress, supporting actor (Anthony Quayle), screenplay, cinematography, art direction, sound, original musical score—with only Margaret Furse winning for her royal green and black and gold ensembles which help Burton enormously. With Irene Papas, Michael Horden. Original running time 145 minutes. Filmed in Panavision.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.