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After Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Richard Burton pretty much stopped being an actor; while he had brief moments since, particularly in The Taming of the ShrewThe 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 and Sixth Mr. Liz Taylor. Fortifying himself with lethal liquids to numb the humiliation of having succumbed to consort, Burtons pain is so evident in Anne of the Thousand Days that its equally painful for his admirers: as hard as we want to, we cant move beyond how hes lost the pleasure in acting. In light of his celebrity, hes 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 doesnt inhabit the king; by his own admission hes 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 Braggs 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, Burtons not off the hook: penning self-mockingly of his power to garner large salaries, percentages and perks, he apparently never bothered to insist on improvements—factuality, sharper dialogue and, the easiest, self-respect. Genevičve Bujolds Anne is a variation of Salome, and shes well-nigh persuasive in her defiance, her vocalized contempt, her daring incitement. (You like it a lot when she provokes Henry to slap her.) Bujolds portrait doesnt grant much sympathy in that the famous fate is too predestined. John Colicoss Cromwell has a great encompassing line about Annes pre-marriage bewitchery: “She almost reigns, she entirely rules.” The screenplay, based on Maxwell Andersons play, is full of liberties, some that need addressing. Anne most probably wasnt 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 Wolseys 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 Annes concocted treason. Out of what one chronologist calls “macabre concern,” Henry decreed Anne not be burned at the stake but swiftly beheaded after she addressed the witnesses. (When the imported executioner lifted her chopped head, spectators ghoulishly claimed her lips were still moving.) With Irene Papas, Michael Horden. Original running time 145 minutes. Filmed in Panavision, with 70mm blowup. (Sans hardticket in Chicago, opened at select metropolitan theatres.)

Oscar for best costumes (Margaret Furse); nominated for best film, actor, actress, supporting actor (Anthony Quayle), screenplay, cinematography, art direction, sound, original musical score.  

Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.