The second of the six wives of Henry VIII and the mother of the future queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn is a tragic footnote to the lives of these two famous Tudor monarchs from English history.
"Anne of the Thousand Days" gives Anne Boleyn the belated respect she deserves due to the sparkling performance of the actress Geneviève Bujold. The screenplay draws upon the successful 1947 stage play by Maxwell Anderson, who also wrote plays on the lives of Elizabeth I and Mary of Scotland. But this is his most famous historical drama, and it is unfortunate that Anderson did not live to see this fine film adaptation.
The film covers major events and figures from the early Tudor age, including Henry's controversial divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey, the courageous ethical stance taken by Sir Thomas More in opposing the will of the king, and the unscrupulous Thomas Boleyn, who played the role of pimp and go-between in the trysts with his daughters and the king.
While the movie proceeds at a deliberate pace in recounting the various subplots, it is the figure of Anne Boleyn who ties together the different plot strands related to the king's "Great Matter." Bujold's multi-layered performance reveals an Anne Boleyn with heroic virtues and deep ethical concerns.
The film takes license with a non-historical scene where Anne confronts Henry after she has been convicted of treason, adultery, and incest and is imprisoned in the Tower of London. The deluded Henry has come to believe that he was "bewitched" by an enchanted Anne, and the scene in the Tower delivers a thundering dramatic climax to the film.
Bujold's performance is all the more remarkable as she is playing opposite one of the great actors of the previous century in Richard Burton. Not only does Bujold's Anne set Burton's Henry straight, but she takes a stand on matters of conscience from which we can still learn today. Geneviève Bujold and this dynamic scene in the Tower of London alone make "Anne of the Thousand Days" a classic.