Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Henry VIII and His Six Wives is a 1972 British film adaptation, directed by Waris Hussein, of the BBC 1970 six-part miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Keith Michell, who plays Henry VIII in the TV series, also portrays the king in the film. His six wives are portrayed by different actresses, among them Frances Cuka as Catherine of Aragon, and Jane Asher as Jane Seymour. Donald Pleasence portrays Thomas Cromwell and Bernard Hepton portrays Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, a role he had also played in the miniseries and briefly in its follow-up Elizabeth R.[2]

Henry VIII and His Six Wives
Original British quad poster
Directed byWaris Hussein
Produced byRoy Baird
Mark Shivas
Written byIan Thorne[1]
StarringKeith Michell
Charlotte Rampling
Jane Asher
Donald Pleasence
Lynne Frederick
Music byDavid Munrow
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed byAnglo-EMI (UK
Levitt-Pickman (US)
Release date
  • 13 July 1972 (1972-07-13) (UK)
  • 13 December 1973 (1973-12-13) (US)
Running time
125 min
CountryUnited Kingdom


On his deathbed, Henry VIII reflects upon his long reign, and especially the crucial part his six marriages have played. The bulk of the film is depicted in flashback, while the elderly Henry VIII is surrounded by his family and courtiers waiting for him to die.

Henry's first queen is the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. The young pair are in the midst of celebrating the birth of their son, only to be told that he has died. Henry and Catherine mourn their child together, and hope for another soon. Many years pass, during which time Catherine only manages to produce one living daughter, Mary. Henry confides to Thomas More that he fears the marriage is cursed by God, as Catherine had previously been married to Henry's late older brother, Arthur, although the marriage was not consummated.

Henry woos Anne Boleyn, a lady at court, who refuses to sleep with him unless she is his wife. Henry presses the Vatican for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine but when that fails he has Cardinal Wolsey removed from office and himself made head of the Church of England. Catherine is sent away from court and Anne is crowned the new queen. Anne also fails to produce a male heir, only giving birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. Henry loses interest in Anne and starts courting Jane Seymour, another lady of the court. Thomas Cromwell, protege of Cardinal Wolsey, observes Henry's interest in Jane and decides to assist him, presenting a case of Anne's infidelity with various gentlemen of the court and her own brother, George Boleyn. Anne is arrested and beheaded in the Tower of London.

Henry marries Jane Seymour, who successfully returns Princess Mary to royal favour and has opinions on the matter of religion and asks for pardons for the participants of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Jane gives birth to Henry's long-sought male heir, Edward, but she dies soon afterwards.

Henry's courtiers advise him to marry again for diplomatic reasons, with Cromwell pushing for the German Anne of Cleves, of whose portrait Henry approves. However, when she arrives Henry is disappointed that her appearance doesn't match the image, and not long after a reluctant wedding, arranges an annulment.

At court, Henry is drawn to Catherine Howard, young cousin of Anne Boleyn. Catherine is surprised by Henry's attention, but is pressured to give way to him by her uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Henry and Catherine marry, with Henry lavishing her with many gifts and jewels. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer then discovers that Catherine has had liaisons before her marriage, and presents this knowledge to Henry, who at first refuses to believe the charges. Cranmer secures a confession from Catherine, who also admits of an affair with Thomas Culpeper during her marriage to Henry. Catherine is beheaded.

Henry, now elderly, approaches Catherine Parr, a widow from two previous marriages. Catherine is at first reluctant, citing her religious views which differ from Henry's, but Henry admits his need for companionship in his old age. The pair marry, and Catherine becomes a loving stepmother to the royal children Mary, Elizabeth and Edward.

At the end of the flashbacks, Catherine Parr is shown waiting by Henry's beside with Princess Mary. Archbishop Cranmer is summoned for Henry's final confession, and Henry dies holding his hand.

Main cast


After the success of Keith Michell's performance in of the original BBC series,[3] which focused on the individual wives, it was decided to make a feature film from Henry VIII's point of view.[4][5] Nat Cohen asked Mark Shivas to produce the film.[6]



  1. The scriptwriter for the Jane Seymour episode in the original television series, which won the 1970 Prix Italia for Best Dramatic Production.
  2. Angelini, Sergio. "Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  3. Crist, Judith (17 December 1973). "Movies". New York Magazine. 6 (51): 98 via Google Books.
  4. Ebert, Roger (25 February 1976). "Henry VIII and His Six Wives Movie Review (1976)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  5. Chapman, James (2005). Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film. I.B.Tauris. pp. 261–268. ISBN 9781850438076.
  6. Television: An Interview with Mark Shivas Hodgson, Clive. London Magazine18.1 (1 April 1978): 68.
  7. Parrill, Sue; Robison, William B. (2013). The Tudors on Film and Television. McFarland. pp. 101–102. ISBN 9780786458912.
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