Michell’s Henry VIII
The Six Wives of Henry VIII was shown on BBC1 in 1970 and was an immediate hit. Keith Michell won a well-deserved Bafta for his impressive portrayal of Henry VIII. Michell was forty when the TV series was made but his 19 year old stripling King is as believable as the bloated blimp that forces himself upon Catherine Parr.
Each wife had her own episode written by a different playwright. This series does lend itself to watching again. It tells us much about how TV has changed as an entertainment medium, it tells us more about how attitudes to sex and screen have been revolutionised.
There are no breasts in this BBC series, no heaving buttocks, no endless, boring, do-we-really-have-to-sit-through-this-again heavy breathing rumpy pumpy. Michell’s Henry VIII does turn into a randy old goat but you get the strong impression that this Henry is all talk and very little do. The wives are the focus of attention but not because of the way they look. Each is given a distinct personality and intelligence. None of them, not even Katherine Howard, gets her kit off.
Interestingly each episode was given a different colour theme. Catherine of Aragon’s colour palette was brown, gold and beige (very seventies), so when Anne Boleyn turns up in a red dress you know she’s trouble.
There is a magnificently malevolent Jane Rochford played by Sheila Burrell, a conscience stricken and cowed Cranmer played by Bernard Hepton and Dorothy Tutin as an intelligent, vivacious and brittle Anne Boleyn as well as Keith Michell’s Henry. The Six Wives of Henry VIII was a ground-breaking series when it was first aired and it paved the way for the 1971 six-parter about Elizabeth I which starred Glenda Jackson.