Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

"Handsomely mounted and costumed with enough sparks and pace to quicken the interest and heighten the senses." | Photo: Courtesy of KVIFF

It may be categorised as a “costume drama” but Brazilian-Algerian director Karim Aïnouz has blown away the cobwebs normally associated with such undertakings to turn the examination of the relationship between Henry V111 and his sixth and final wife Catherine Parr into an engrossing tussle with contemporary resonances.

Jude Law as the ailing and paranoid monarch gives one of his best character portrayals in a long time as the tensions mount between him and his spouse (spiritedly evoked by Alicia Vikander as the “firebrand” of the title) in a whirlwind of palace intrigue and conspiracy theories.

It is handsomely mounted and costumed with enough sparks and pace to quicken the interest and heighten the senses as the king returns from fighting overseas severely wounded in his right leg and suffering pain who has to contend with a conniving court of among others Eddie Marsan’s Prince Edward Seymour and heir to the throne and his brother Thomas who appears to be romancing Catherine. It appears that the child she is carrying may not be the King’s progeny after all.

Catherine, who is trying to transform the court based on her radical and Protestant imbued beliefs, represents the kind of strong woman in whom contemporary audiences will find much to admire. She was the first English woman to have a book published, was privately a radical in an England that had been staunchly Catholic. She emerges as an intelligent female who wants to avoid the gruesome fate of her predecessors.

Although she is centre stage for much of the film, it is Law’s scene-stealing turn as an ailing and floundering figure at the end of his life which grabs much of the attention. Clearly he is relishing the task and turns in an edgy performance of mental undercurrents, menace and ultimately darkness.

In a uniformly strong cast Simon Russell Beale is also worth noting for his excellent account of Bishop Stephen Gardiner who is suspicious, and rightly so, of Catherine’s motives in changing the Tudor world.

Perhaps it is Aïnouz’s outsider gaze on these historical events and the conflicts with the social order that give the production its perspicacity and its driving force.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2023
Share this with others on...
A dramatisation of the marriage between King Henry VIII of England and Catherine Parr.

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Writer: Henrietta Ashworth, Jessica Ashworth, based on the novel The Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Eddie Marsan, Jude Law, Sam Riley, Ruby Bentall, Erin Doherty

Year: 2023

Runtime: 121 minutes

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Marie Antoinette