Henry VIII (TV serial)

Henry VIII

DVD cover art
Genre Historical drama
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Pete Travis
Starring Ray Winstone
Helena Bonham Carter
Narrated by Derek Jacobi
Composer(s) Rob Lane
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 2
Executive producer(s) Justin Bodle
Rebecca Eaton
Andy Harries
Peter Morgan
Bill Shephard
Producer(s) Francis Hopkinson
Running time 193 minutes
Production company(s) Granada Television
WGBH Boston
Original network ITV
Picture format 16:9 576i
Audio format Stereo
Original release 12 October (2003-10-12) – 19 October 2003 (2003-10-19)

Henry VIII is a two-part British television serial produced principally by Granada Television for ITV from 12 to 19 October 2003. It chronicles the life of Henry VIII of England from the disintegration of his first marriage to an aging Spanish princess until his death following a stroke in 1547, by which time he had married for the sixth time. Additional production funding was provided by WGBH Boston, Powercorp and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

It stars Ray Winstone in his first role in a costume drama. His co-star is Helena Bonham Carter who played Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn; her character dominates the first episode and her dramatic death brings the first part of the story to its conclusion. David Suchet also makes an appearance as Henry's first chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey. The second episode, which follows the last eleven years of Henry's life, sees Winstone act opposite Emilia Fox, as his docile third wife Jane Seymour, Sean Bean as Robert Aske, leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and Emily Blunt (in her first major appearance) as Catherine Howard, the promiscuous teenager who was coerced into becoming Henry's fifth queen.


Episode 1

The first episode opens to reveal a dying Henry VII mistaking his heir Henry VIII for his late son Arthur Tudor. Concerned for the fragile chances of his family's dynasty, the dying king implores his son to marry his brother's widow Katherine of Aragon and have a son to secure the family line. Fifteen years later Henry VIII is the most popular King to ever sit on the throne, but he still does not have a son by his Queen, only a daughter Mary. Elsewhere at Hever Castle in Kent the Boleyn Family celebrate the engagement of their daughter Anne to Henry Percy the future Earl of Northumberland. The head of the family the Duke of Norfolk assures her father, Thomas Boleyn, that he has the king's ear on the match and that he will give them permission to marry. But once the roving eye of the king falls upon Anne, he quickly finds a reason for the marriage to be cancelled and wastes no time in persuading her for himself, even riding from his secluded coastal castle to Kent during an outbreak of illness. Resolved that Anne will not become his mistress, but his wife, the King instructs his chancellor Cardinal Wolsey to find a way for his marriage to his devoted wife to be annulled, prompting two opportunistic Protestants reformers, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, to provide a way for the king to marry Anne Boleyn and bring untold wealth to his pocket but only if he breaks with the Catholic Church. Finally, his wife Anne is soon pregnant, only for Henry's hopes to be dashed. Instead of the longed for son and heir, Anne delivers a daughter, Elizabeth, and Henry's ardor cools towards her, even more so when he meets the sister of two of his courtiers, Jane Seymour. Despite the growing tensions between the King and Queen, Anne becomes pregnant once more but goes into premature labor and delivers a stillborn son. The first episode ends with an angry King Henry demanding Cromwell get rid of Anne which results in her subsequent trial and execution.

Episode 2

The second episode begins with Jane Seymour being dressed for her wedding and her subsequent introduction to the people who take her to their hearts, whilst the King and Cromwell differ on the dissolution of the monasteries which have angered the English Catholics and united them into a huge army to march on London in protest calling it, the Pilgrimage of Grace, headed by the King's former comrade Robert Aske whom the King tricks into incriminating himself into treason and is sentenced to a gruesome traitor's death. Meanwhile, the country is on edge as the heavily pregnant Queen goes into labour and finally gives birth to a son much to Henry's joy although it is cut short when the Queen dies. Two years after the Queen's death, Cromwell, whose power has steadily risen through the days of Anne Boleyn encourages the King to consider marrying the Protestant Anne of Cleves but once he sets sights on her, the King is repulsed and immediately seeks a way out of the marriage. Sensing the decline of Protestant influence the Duke of Norfolk devises a way to snatch the reign to power and arranges for his teenage niece Catherine Howard to enchant the increasingly obese and terrifying King and to eventually marry him. It soon transpires that the young Queen has a promiscuous history and is carrying it on with a man in the king's service which the Protestant reformers seize as their opportunity to rid themselves of the Catholic faction. The Queen and her family are arrested and the young Queen dies at the hands of the executioner, like her cousin Anne Boleyn. With the demise of Catholic peers the reformers take the opportunity to consolidate their powers, enhanced by the wedding of the king to Catherine Parr who attempts to unite the royal family. The film closes as the King reflects on his past loves. His obsession with Anne Boleyn, his quiet but steady affection for Jane Seymour, and his lust for the young Catherine Howard. Finally the king's over indulgent lifestyle catches up with him and he suffers a seizure and later dies in a scene reminiscent of the films opening, imploring his son to be successful as a man before he can be successful as a king. He dies with his son and last wife beside him.

The closing scene of the film provides a summary of the lives of the remaining characters, the summary is as follows.

The Duke of Norfolk escaped death. In time he was released from the Tower, given a full pardon and regained all his lands and power. Edward became King Edward VI, but his health was frail. He died of consumption aged fifteen. Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England, ruled by proxy until 1551 when he was imprisoned in the Tower and beheaded. Thomas Seymour did finally marry Katherine Parr, but broke her heart when he attempted to seduce the fourteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth. He was executed for treason in 1549. Bloody Mary came to the throne in 1553. She burned hundreds of Protestants as heretics and died embittered and unloved in 1558. Anne of Cleves outlived all the wives. Widely liked and respected, she was buried rich and popular with full honours. Thomas Cranmer continued to lay the foundations for the Church of England, only to be arrested on the orders of Mary I and burnt as a heretic. And what of Henry? After a lifelong struggle to give England an heir, his glorious successor was not a son, but a daughter. Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn came to the throne in 1558 and ruled England for 45 years.

Historical inaccuracies

Anne Boleyn was not brought to court to wait on Queen Catherine on Henry's instructions. She had been in the service of his sister for several years before she transferred to his wife. He courted her sister for several years before he became fixated on her. In the film Mary Boleyn is pregnant by the King and Anne is engaged to be married (see below) when he first meets her.

Mary Boleyn is depicted as being pregnant but unmarried. In reality she had been married for over a year to William Carey before her affair with the king began and so would not have needed Wolsey to arrange a marriage to "render her respectable".

Anne's father Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire is portrayed as being given the title Earl of Essex. In reality, the Earldom he was given was Wiltshire, not Essex. (Wiltshire was ironically the home county of Anne's successor Jane Seymour.)

Lady Rochford was actually the wife of George Boleyn, not his mother. In the show, she is portrayed as Elizabeth Boleyn, but would have been the countess of Essex (Wiltshire) because of her husband's promotion from Viscount Rochford to the Earl of Essex (Wiltshire).

The relationship between Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn was, in real life, a secret affair as Percy was already betrothed. He would not have appeared before the King to ask for his blessing to marry Anne as the series portrays.

The Duke of Norfolk is portrayed as a young man when in fact he would have been middle aged by the times of the events in the show. Also the Duke of Buckingham was not in his late fifties at the time of his execution, he was in fact in his late thirties to early forties.

Anne Boleyn is seen wearing a lace headdress in numerous shots. In reality she would have been the only woman to expose her hair which would have been considered immodest, but which she did to maintain an illusion of chastity. Likewise for Catherine of Aragon, who famously only ever wore English or Spanish-styled gable hoods; her hair would never have been exposed as in the show.

Mary Tudor was not present with her mother on the latter's deathbed as the show implies. In truth Mary and Catherine were separated shortly before Henry and Anne were married and never saw each other again.

Ambassador Mendoza is shown urging Catherine of Aragon on her deathbed to encourage her nephew, the powerful Emperor Charles of Spain, to lead an invasion against Henry, which she steadfastly refuses to do. In reality Ambassador Mendoza had returned to Spain long before and was replaced by the wily Eustace Chapuys, who did in fact visit Catherine of Aragon just before she died.

Robert Aske was, in actuality, hanged in July 1537. Queen Jane Seymour, after hearing of this, rushes to her husband's side (where he has just reunited with the Duke of Norfolk after the latter's exile, in glee at the arrangement of Aske's death). Jane and Henry fight, and then Jane goes into premature labor. Edward VI was not born until October 1537, however, so the king's fright and immediate prayer was appropriate, yet it would have been unlikely for the baby to survive in those days if it was three months premature.

Henry's son Edward was not present by his father's side when he died.



The serial was announced in 2001, with Alan Bleasdale as the writer.[1] Granada Television's controller of drama Andy Harries could secure only £750,000 for each hour of Henry VIII from ITV, so had to attract co-production funding from other companies. He approached the American CBS network for the money. CBS executives wanted to replace Helena Bonham Carter with Sarah Michelle Gellar and dub all of the actors' voices with American accents. Harries declined CBS's funding[2] and got the money from Powercorp, WGBH Boston and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation instead. The final budget was £5.2 million.[2] Bleasdale had originally scripted an opening scene that featured Henry confronting the devil in hell. ITV's director of drama commissioning Nick Elliott told Harries, "I'm not having the devil on ITV. You'd better ring him and tell him I'm not paying £5 million to have the devil on ITV." Bleasdale then quit the project.[2] He was replaced by Peter Morgan, who had written the Granada drama The Jury.

Filming took place at Pinewood Studios[3] with exteriors filmed at Leeds Castle in Kent.[4] Post-production took six months.[5]


Year Award Category Nominee Result
2004 Fantasporto Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
Zee Cine Awards Won
Royal Television Craft & Design Award Visual Effects – Special Effects Lee Sheward Nominated
Television and Radio Industries Club Award TV Drama Programme Nominated
International Emmy Award Best TV Movie/Mini-series Won


  1. Staff (23 March 2001). "Ray Winstone to play Henry VIII on ITV". Broadcastnow.co.uk. Emap Media. Retrieved on 21 April 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 Leonard, Tom (31 October 2003). "Viewers get cold feet over drama". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved on 10 March 2015.
  3. Carter, Meg (6 October 2005). "Making drama out of history". Broadcastnow.co.uk. Emap Media. Retrieved on 21 April 2009.
  4. Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Henry VIII Article".
  5. Staff (5 November 2003). "St Anne's takes on Henry VIII". Broadcastnow.co.uk. Emap Media. Retrieved on 21 April 2009.
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