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Henry VIII (1979)

The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight (original title)
Not Rated | | History | TV Movie 25 April 1979
Henry VIII is a proud and wilful monarch who defies Rome's ban on divorce to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. Cardinal Wolsey, the Powerful Lord Chancellor of England, attempts to bend Rome ... See full summary »


Kevin Billington


William Shakespeare (play)
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Stride ... Henry VIII
Julian Glover ... Duke of Buckingham
Ronald Pickup ... Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
Barbara Kellerman ... Anne Bullen
Timothy West ... Cardinal Wolsey
John Rowe ... Cromwell
Lewis Fiander ... Duke of Suffolk
Alan Leith Alan Leith ... Sergeant-at-Arms
Claire Bloom ... Katharine of Aragon
Tony Church Tony Church ... Prologue
John Bailey John Bailey ... Griffith, Gentleman-Usher
David Troughton ... Surveyor
John Nettleton ... Lord Chamberlain
Charles Lloyd Pack Charles Lloyd Pack ... Lord Sandys
Nigel Lambert Nigel Lambert ... Sir Thomas Lovell


Henry VIII is a proud and wilful monarch who defies Rome's ban on divorce to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. Cardinal Wolsey, the Powerful Lord Chancellor of England, attempts to bend Rome to the king's wishes in the matter of the divorce of Catherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn. Later, near death, he repents his unpriestly activity. After Henry divorces her, Catherine is sent to Kimbolton Castle. Anne marries Henry and becomes his queen. Written by GusF

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Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

25 April 1979 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare: Henry VIII See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Director Kevin Billington felt that location shooting was essential to the production."I wanted to get away from the idea that this is some kind of fancy pageant. I wanted to feel the reality. I wanted great stone walls. We shot at Hever Castle, where Anne Boleyn lived, at Penhurst, which was Buckingham's place, and at Leeds Castle, where Henry was with Anne Boleyn." See more »


Version of The Tudors: Dissension and Punishment (2009) See more »

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User Reviews

Touches a high point of greatness
11 January 2019 | by TheLittleSongbirdSee all my reviews

Have made a point a few times about the BBC Television Shakespeare being an interesting series for seeing so many talented actors and seeing the plays, familiar and not so familiar, adapted and performed relatively faithfully on the whole. Some are better than others, with not every performance in the series working and there could be issues with low budget production values and in some productions stage direction.

'The Famous History of the Life of Henry the Eighth' is one of the best of the series. One of not many performances where there wasn't anything to me that stood out as wrong, whereas even the other "one of the better" productions have one or two reservations. Also agree that it is one of the (very) few BBC Television Shakespeare productions to be much better than the play it's based on, when it comes to Shakespeare that is a near-unheard of feat. The play has interesting characters, but the story doesn't have the same amount of meat and engagement, by Shakespeare standards it's fairly dull, and even Shakespeare's language doesn't see him at his most inspired. All of these are miraculously brought to life and fully fleshed out in 'The Famous History of Henry the Eighth'.

It is one of the better-looking productions visually, being one of only two of the series, the other being 'As You Like It' (better than credit for to me but nowhere near as good still) to be shot on location so the action feels opened up and not confined. The locations have a real sense of period and you would be hard pressed to find more colourful more beautifully tailored costumes in the series than the ones here. The masque is indeed sheer magic. The use of music was lovely, couldn't question any of the placements and it is lovely music in its own right.

On a stage direction level, it is one of the main reasons as to why 'The Famous History of the Life of Henry the Eighth' is one of the series' best. It has tension, intrigue and emotion throughout, and sometimes not in an overt way. It is not only because the energy is never lost, it's never static, it is always tasteful with no pointless touches and that it never resorts to overblown excess that swamps everything else. It's also because of the subtleties and the details, big and small, where the characters are so well fleshed out (Katherine and Wolsey especially) motivations are clear and everything seems to happen for a reason and not randomly.

All the performances are top-drawer, with as others have said the acting honours going to a dignified and moving Claire Bloom and Timothy West mastering Wolsey's complex character. John Stride gets Henry VIII in personality and manner spot on, even if not the most ideal physically. Ronald Pickup is a noble Cramner and Barbara Kellerman was a pleasant surprise as Anne, alluring and never passive and by Kellerman standards the performance is pretty restrained which is great.

Concluding, wonderful and one of the best in the series. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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