Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933, UK)

In director Alexander Korda's well-known, biographical (biopic) historical drama - the chronicling of the life of the famous 16th century ruler - it was a larger-than life portrayal of the title character - eccentric, spoiled, despotic, corpulent, bawdy and much-married King Henry VIII (Oscar-winning Charles Laughton), notoriously known for his gluttony scene and frequent beheading of his wives:

  • the opening title card: "Henry VII had six wives. Catherine of Aragon was the first; but her story is of no particular interest - she was a respectable woman, so Henry divorced her"
  • the startling Pre-code opening scene of Henry's ladies-in-waiting feeling and sniffing his still-warm bed: "So that's the king's bed!...And he's not long left it. Feel! Ooh! - I wonder what he looks like in bed"
  • the opening scene as Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) awaiting public execution (by beheading) for alleged adultery when she failed to give Henry a male heir (false charges since "All her lovers confessed. Under torture. She was as innocent as you or I...She dies so that the king may be free to marry Jane Seymour. Yes. That's what they mean when they say, 'Chop and change.'")
  • about to be executed Anne Boleyn asked: "Will the net hold my hair together when, when my head falls?...Isn't it a pity to lose a head like this? Still, they will easily find a nickname for me. Among the Queens of England, I shall be 'Anne sans tête.' That means 'Anne who lost her head'"; (later as she was about to be taken to the platform, she tearfully touched her neck: "And I have such a little neck"; her final words before execution were: "What a lovely day!" - ironically, the same phrase was next spoken by Henry's new fiancee)

Anne Boleyn Awaiting Execution

Anne: "Isn't it a pity to lose a head like this?"

Anne Boleyn: "And I have such a little neck"

"What a lovely day!"
  • the sequence of an English axeman (Sam Livesey) complaining about the specially-requested French swordsman (Gibb McLaughlin) from Calais brought in to cleanly cut off Anne’s head: “It’s a crying shame. Half the English executioners out of work as it is!”
  • Anne Boleyn was to be executed on the same day as King Henry's third marriage: "When Anne Boleyn's head falls, a gun is to be fired from the tower, another from Westminster, and a third from Richmond, so that the king may know the moment he's free to marry Jane. What a pretty arrangement"
  • the scene of Henry's dramatic entrance among his gossiping ladies-in-waiting of his court - in full regalia - and his early confrontation with Lady Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes) (his future 5th wife); when asked, "If the king were not a king, what would you call him?", she pleasingly answered him: "I should call you, Your Majesty - a man"; he called her a "wench"
  • Henry's flirtations with his soon-to-be 3rd wife Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie), Boleyn's dim-witted maid, who was undecided about which headdress or necklace to wear to her wedding; she spoke about the 21 buttons on the front of her wedding dress: "One for every year of my life" (reflecting her youthful age); with his hands on his hips, Henry reacted and laughed boisterously at her, and kissed her neck after she fell into his lap
Henry's Dramatic Entrance
Confronting Lady Katherine Howard (Binnie Barnes)
Flirtations with Soon to be Wife Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie)
  • Henry's advice and recounting of his marriages to his courtier Thomas Culpeper (Robert Donat): "My first wife was clever, my second was ambitious, my third - Thomas, if you want to be happy, marry a girl like my sweet little Jane. Marry a stupid woman!"; she gave birth to a son, but died during childbirth, and Henry was shocked: "Poor pretty little Jane. God rest her sweet soul"
  • although in an affair with Culpeper, Lady Katherine schemed to one day marry the King: "Who knows what life may bring? The crown perhaps... Stranger things have happened"
  • in one unforgettable scene, the despotic and gluttonous King Henry VIII at a banquet table devoured a whole chicken and tossed the remains over his shoulder: ("You call this a capon? Look at that. All sauce and no substance. Like one of Cromwell's speeches. (coughing) And just as difficult to swallow. Too many cooks. That's the trouble. Above stairs as well as below! Marry again? Breed more sons? Coarse brutes. There's no delicacy nowadays. No consideration for others. Refinement's a thing of the past. (he tossed away pieces of half-eaten capon) Manners are dead!...Am I the king or a breeding bull? Are you all dumb? I've known brighter funerals") - while Thomas Cromwell (Franklin Dyall) looked on disgusted at the sight; to brighten up the meal, Lady Katherine volunteered to sing "What Shall I Do For Love?" and the King was quite pleased with her musical performance
A Gluttonous Banquet
  • during talk about planning a fourth marriage, King Henry caused widespread laughter when he commented: "I would consider it the victory of optimism over experience!"; there was consideration that Henry might marry German Duchess Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's real-life wife)
  • in a garden of giant sunflowers, the Duchess was approached about marriage to King Henry VIII, but she was immediately dubious of the "bluebeard" King: "His first wife divorced, his second chopped, his third dead. A pretty prospect for the fourth. But she will not be Anne of Cleves, and that you may tell him" - instead, the wily Duchess had fallen in love with Peynell (John Loder), the messenger sent to bring her to England
  • in the meantime, the King snuck into the chamber of ambitious and flirtatious Lady Katherine late one evening; as he was outside her door, she told him: "Isn't it rather late for a maid to unlock her door to a man?" and he impatiently commanded: "Oh, come on. Unlock the door"; he claimed no one saw him, although that was completely untrue; she played along (because he was the King) but then said she couldn't love him back if he was preparing to marry Anne of Cleves ("I can't love a man with a wife"); they passionately kissed, but the untimely arrival of Anne of Cleves interrupted their rendezvous
  • the entrance of Anne of Cleves, who purposely made herself as ugly, clumsy and unattractive as possible to repulse the King; he was clearly not interested in her as he was prepared for his bedchamber: "I don't know how I'm going to go through with this. You can take a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink"; as he waited for her arrival, he spitefully said to himself: "The things I've done for England"; as he entered, the pig-tailed Anne loudly bit into an apple
Anne of Cleves

King Henry VIII's First Look at the Unattractive Anne of Cleves

"The things I've done for England"

Anne's Worries About Henry: "Poor Mother told me..."
  • after marrying Anne of Cleves, there was a subsequent marital argument between Henry and Anne when she told him: "Poor Mother told me. First, she says, the marriage is no good. And then he cuts off the head mit an axe-chopper"; their marriage was not really complete because they had not consummated their love by having sex; they discussed the birds and the bees: (Henry: "When a hen lays an egg, it's not entirely all her own doing." Anne: "You mean sometimes it was the cuckoo?" Henry: "Yes, it was the cuckoo")
  • in a very amusing sequence, Anne of Cleves kept winning in a game of cards against the very frustrated Henry (who ran out of money), when he made a veiled threat to chop off Anne's head - she dared him: "You daren't.... Because in Europe, I will make such a scandal as you never heard. It is not the first time you have chopped the head. Henry the wife-butcher, that's what they will call you!...Well, why don't you divorce me like a gentleman?" - and she bargained that she would immediately agree to a divorce or annulment; Henry promptly promised her two manors, four thousand pounds a year, and Peynell as the master of her household; she divulged that she knew of his intentions to marry Katherine Howard next; as the scene ended, he complimented Anne - with a kiss on the forehead: "You're the nicest girl I ever married"
  • while plucking a goose, one of the cooks commented on Henry's procession of wives - with culinary metaphors: "Oh, a man loses his appetite after four courses....He got into the soup with Katherine of Aragon, cried stinking fish with Anne Boleyn, cooked Jane Seymour's goose, and gave Anne of Cleves the cold shoulder"
  • Henry's sights were then set on Lady Katherine Howard, an opportunist courtesan who soon became Henry's fifth wife, but then she became involved in a rekindled clandestine affair with Henry's courtier Thomas Culpeper; Culpeper despaired to Lady Katherine about how they couldn't ever privately be together: (Thomas: "We can't go on like this" Katherine: "I know it's dreadful. Seeing each other every day and never being alone together" Thomas: "No, it's not that - it's-it's being torn in half between you and the King" Katherine: "But, Tom, we belong to each other" Thomas: "No, we belong to him")
  • Henry shared his own thoughts to Cromwell on his many failed marriages - now that he thought he had found true happiness with Katherine: "So, how many blunders, stupidities and cruelties has a man to pass, before he finds his happiness in a wife?"
  • Henry's advisors hesitantly informed him about his adulterous wife - she had been unfaithful with Thomas Culpeper: "It is proved, Your Majesty! There are witnesses!" - he was outraged and then distraught; as her execution was being prepared, he said to himself: "Mea culpa"

Re: Katherine's Execution: "Mea culpa"
Henry Enraged and Then Distraught By News of Katherine's Adultery
  • the aging Henry's sixth and last marriage was to a middle-aged widow who was fussy, caring, shrewish and domineering, Lady Catherine Parr (Everley Gregg)
  • the film's final line by Henry - to the fourth wall: "Six wives, and the best of them's the worst."

Opening Title Card

Ladies-in-Waiting Sniffing Henry's Bed

Axeman's Complaint to French Swordsman

Henry Providing Marital Advice to Courtier Thomas Culpeper (Robert Donat)

Henry's Stunned Reaction to the News of Jane's Death in Childbirth

Lady Katherine's Early Scheming with Culpeper to Be Queen

Under Consideration for Marriage: Duchess Anne of Cleves - Who Fell in Love with English Messenger Peynell

Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester)

Henry's Late Evening Rendezvous with Lady Katherine

One of the Cooks: His Description of Henry's Past Four 'Courses' of Wives

Henry's Intent to Marry Lady Katherine

Henry's 5th Marriage to Lady Katherine

Culpeper and Katherine: Conflicted and "Torn in Half" by Her Marriage to Henry

Henry in Self-Reflection: "How many blunders... before [a man] finds happiness in a wife?"

Henry's 6th Fussy Wife Katherine

Last Line: "Six wives, and the best of them's the worst!"


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z