Anne of the Thousand Days

Anne of the Thousand Days is a 1969 costume drama made by Hal Wallis Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures. It was directed by Charles Jarrott and produced by Hal B. Wallis. The film tells the story of Anne Boleyn. The screenplay is an adaptation by Bridget Boland, John Hale and Richard Sokolove of the 1948 play by Maxwell Anderson; Anderson's blank verse format was retained for only portions of the screenplay, such as Anne's soliloquy in the Tower of London.

The film stars Richard Burton as King Henry VIII and Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn. Irene Papas plays Catherine of Aragon. Others in the cast include Anthony Quayle, John Colicos, Michael Hordern, Katharine Blake, Peter Jeffrey, Joseph O'Conor, William Squire, Vernon Dobtcheff, Denis Quilley, Esmond Knight and T.P. McKenna. Elizabeth Taylor makes a brief, uncredited appearance.

Despite receiving largely negative reviews, the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won the award for best costumes. An expensive advertising campaign was mounted by Universal Studios that included serving champagne and filet mignon to members of the Academy following each screening.

Background and production

The play Anne of the Thousand Days, the film's basis, was first enacted on Broadway in the Shubert Theatre on 8 December 1948; staged by H. C. Potter, with Rex Harrison and Joyce Redman as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, running 288 performances; Harrison won a Tony Award for his performance.

Cinematically, Anne of the Thousand Days took twenty years to film because its the themes — adultery, illegitimacy, incest — were then unacceptable to the U.S. motion picture production code. The film was made in London and Pinewood and Shepperton Studios.


The film begins in 1527 when Henry VIII (Richard Burton) reveals his dissatisfaction with his wife, Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas). He is currently enjoying a discreet affair with Mary Boleyn, a daughter of one of his courtiers; but the King is bored with her too. At a court ball, he notices Mary's 18-year-old sister Anne (Genevieve Bujold), who has just returned from her education in France. She is engaged to the son of the Earl of Northumberland and they have achieved their parents' permission to marry. The King, however, is enraptured with Anne's beauty and orders his Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to break up the engagement.

When news of this decision is carried to Anne, she reacts furiously. She blames the Cardinal and the King for ruining her happiness. When Henry makes a rather clumsy attempt to seduce her, Anne bluntly informs him that she finds him "spoiled, vengeful and bloody. You make love as you eat — with a great deal of noise and no subtlety."

Henry brings her back to Court with him, whilst she continues to resist his advances out of a mixture of repugnance for Henry and her lingering anger over her broken engagement. However, she becomes intoxicated with the power that the King's love gives her. "Power is as exciting as love," she tells her brother, "and who has more of it than the king?" Using this power, she continually undermines Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle), who at first sees Anne as just a passing love interest for the King.

When Henry again presses Anne to become his mistress, she repeats that she will never give birth to a child who is illegitimate. Desperate to have a son, Henry suddenly comes up with the idea of marrying Anne in Catherine's place. Anne is stunned, but she agrees. Wolsey begs the King to abandon the idea because of the political consequences of divorcing Catherine. Henry refuses to listen.

When Wolsey fails to persuade the Pope to give Henry his divorce, Anne points out this failing to an enraged Henry. Wolsey is dismissed from office and his magnificent palace in London is given as a present to Anne. In this splendour, Anne realises that she has finally fallen in love with Henry. They sleep together and, after discovering that she is pregnant, they are secretly married. Anne is given a splendid coronation, but the people jeer at her in disgust as "the king's whore." Months later, Anne gives birth to a daughter — Princess Elizabeth. Henry is disgusted at this and their marriage begins to cool. His attention soon travels to Lady Jane Seymour, one of Anne's maids. Once she discovers this liaison, Anne banishes Jane from court. "She has the face of a simpering sheep," she informs Henry, "and the manners, but not the morals. I don't want her near me."

During a row over Sir Thomas More's opposition to Anne's queenship, Anne refuses to sleep with her husband unless More is put to death. "It's his blood, or else it's my blood and Elizabeth's!" she cries hysterically. More is put to death, but Anne's subsequent pregnancy ends as a result of a stillborn boy.

Henry demands that his new minister, Thomas Cromwell, find a way to get rid of Anne. Cromwell tortures a servant in her household into confessing to adultery with the Queen; he then arrests four other courtiers who are also accused of being Anne's lovers. Anne is taken to the Tower and placed under arrest. When she is told that she has been accused of adultery, she laughs. "I thought you were serious!" she says, before being informed that it is deadly serious. When she sees her brother being brought into the Tower, Anne asks why he has been arrested. "He too is accused of being your lover," mutters her embarrassed uncle. Anne's face shudders with horror before she whispers, "Incest?... Oh God help me, the King is mad. I am doomed."

At Anne's trial, she manages to cross-question Mark Smeaton, the tortured servant who finally admits that the charges against Anne are lies. Henry makes an appearance, before visiting Anne in her chambers that night. He offers her freedom if she will agree to annul their marriage and make their daughter illegitimate. Anne refuses, saying that she would rather die than betray their daughter. Henry slaps her before telling her that her disobedience will mean her death.

A few days later, Anne is taken to the scaffold and beheaded by a French swordsman. Henry rides off to marry Jane Seymour and the film's final shot is of their young daughter, Elizabeth, toddling alone in the garden as she hears the cannon firing to announce her mother's death.

Historical accuracy

  • Historians dispute King Henry VIII's paternity of one or both of Mary Boleyn's children. Henry VIII: THe King and His Court, by Alison Weir, questions the paternity of Henry Carey; Dr. G.W. Bernard (The King's Reformation) and Joanna Denny (Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen) argue that Henry VIII was their father.
  • Anne Boleyn might not have been eighteen years old in 1527; her birth date is unrecorded.
  • Evidence indicates the royal marriage's ending began with her miscarriage in 1534 and became fact with the miscarried boy in 1536.
  • Anne's marriage was annulled, but was not offered her life spared for agreeing. Elizabeth's safety was assured with her accepting King Henry's demands.
  • King Henry did not intervene in Anne's trial; she was disallowed the right to question the witnesses against her. She and the King met last at a joust the day before her arrest.
  • Anne of the Thousand Days depicts Anne innocent of the charges; considered historically correct, per the biographies by Eric W. Ives, Retha Warnicke, Joanna Denny, and Tudor historian David Starkey state her innocence of adultery, incest, and witchcraft.


1970 Oscars Won Best Costume Design (Margaret Furse)
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Actor in a Leading Role - Richard Burton
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Actress in a Leading Role - Genevieve Bujold
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Anthony Quayle
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Maurice Carter, Lionel Couch, Patrick McLoughlin)
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Cinematography (Arthur Ibbetson)
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical) (Georges Delerue)
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Picture - Hal B. Wallis
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Sound - John Aldred
1970 Oscars Nominated Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (John Hale, Bridget Boland, Richard Sokolove)
1970 Golden Globes Won Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama - Geneviève Bujold
1970 Golden Globes Won Best Motion Picture - Drama
1970 Golden Globes Won Best Director - Motion Picture - Charles Jarrott
1970 Golden Globes Won Best Screenplay - John Hale, Bridget Boland, Richard Sokolove
1970 Golden Globes Nominated Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama - Richard Burton
1970 Golden Globes Nominated Best Supporting Actor - Anthony Quayle
1970 Golden Globes Nominated Best Original Score - Georges Delerue
1971 BAFTA Nominated Best Art Direction - Maurice Carter
1971 BAFTA Nominated Best Costume Design - Margaret Furse

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