Having ditched his first wife, Katharine of Aragon, Henry sets his sights on Mary Boleyn. He changes course and heads for her sister, Anne. They wed, but their bliss ends when she gives birth to a daughter, instead of the son Henry wants. Afterwards, Henry goes for Jane Seymour and tries to find a way out of his current marriage.
Due to its subject matter, studios weren't eager to film the play just after its debut. The film version, directed by Charles Jarrott and starring Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold, came out in 1969, shortly after The Hays Code was abandoned. Out of its ten Academy Award nominations, its only win was for its elaborate costumes.
Tropes found in the play and the movie include:
- Affectionate Nickname: Henry calls Anne "Nan" (a contraction of "Mine Anne") to show affection; he does this even when she clearly despises him. (Her uncle also calls her Nan.) Henry also calls his first wife, Katherine, "Kate," when they're alone, possibly hinting to their shared past when they were quite close.
- Altar Diplomacy: King Henry VIII feels free to pursue Anne Boleyn because his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was made to cement a treaty. As he put it so succinctly: "I do not love that woman. I did not marry her. That was a marriage of state: England married Spain." (This is actually a big fat lie: Henry defiantly married Katherine because he was in love with her. But then, Henry VIII and truth have never had a cordial relationship.)
- Artistic License History: Anne was not given the "choice" of her life in exchange for a divorce from Henry and having Elizabeth declared a bastard. She was only ever condemned to death — but this invention allows for the drama to remain alive between Henry and Anne, as opposed to his will ruling completely unopposed.
- Also, Anne was hardly "barely 18" as the movie poster suggests. Although we don't know exactly how old Anne was, (most) modern historians think she was around 25 when Henry first noticed her and around 32 when they married.
- Brainy Brunette: Anne, as played by Genevieve Bujold— although her hair is lighter than some think the real Boleyn's was.
- Dead Sparks: Averted. Even when Henry doesn't love Anne anymore, she still excites him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Jane Seymour catches Henry VIII's eye at a ball; Anne has Jane Seymour forced out of the ball under armed guard and sent to the country.
- But this pales in comparison to Henry. Anne Boleyn fails to produce a living male heir for Henry; he has her arrested for treason, adultery, and incest, with death the punishment.
- Face Death with Dignity: Anne."Go your way, and I'll go mine.
You to your death, and I to my expiation.
For there is such a thing as expiation.
It involves dying to live."
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Cardinal Wolsey is much more sympathetic here than pretty much any other depiction. Though devious and power-hungry, he's ultimately a tragic character who's outfoxed by Anne and destroyed by Henry when no longer useful.
- Hollywood Costuming: Anne wears her French hood like a headband. French hoods do not work - or even stay on the head - that way.
- How We Got Here: The story opens with Henry signing Anne's death warrant.
- I Kiss Your Hand: Inverted; Henry asks Anne for a kiss, and she kisses his hand. "It was not such a kiss I meant, my dear," he says.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Henry, who could have any woman in the kingdom, lusts after Anne from first sight, but the more she tries to drive him away — treating him coldly, telling him to his face that he's a lecher and writer of awful music — the more charmed he is.
- Jacob Marley Apparel: During his closing monologue, Henry imagines Anne with her hair up, her fur collar turned down, and a ring of blood around her neck.
- Kangaroo Court: Anne's trial for adultery."You know this is not a trial, Uncle Norfolk! It's like an evil dream, with no witnesses, no defense for the accused, no sifting of evidence, no waft of air from the outside, and yet I'm being tried here for my life—and five men are being tried!"
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Henry tells Anne the thought of her watching him has made him impotent with all other women, who laugh at him in bed. The Film of the Play suggests this is a tactic suggested by a buddy of his to try and make Anne swoon.
- Really Gets Around: Henry, who confides to Smeaton that his advances have never been turned down.
- "When I've wanted them, I've had them. And once I've had a wench, I'm cured."
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Anne's ferocious verbal attack on Henry in the Tower.
- Spiritual Successor: Mary, Queen of Scots (1971). Same producer and director, different monarchs.
- Time Title: A 1948 play centering on the period when Henry VIII divorced his wife, Catherine of Aragon, to pursue his mistress, Anne Boleyn. Anne lasted just about one thousand days from that point.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Downplayed. Henry lusts for Anne at first sight, but she despises him. She eventually comes around, and for a brief time, they're happy — then Henry falls out of love with Anne, and Anne still loves him dearly.
- Unwanted Spouse: First Katharine, then Anne.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Like most fictionalizations of Anne's life and death, the play and movie take liberties with the truth. Anne's "The Reason You Suck" Speech in the script could never have occurred in real life, as Henry didn't visit Anne after her arrest, and the odds of Elizabeth ever becoming Queen were very, very low.
- You Said You Would Let Them Go: Cromwell promised Smeaton that he would be allowed to live if he confessed to carnal relations with the queen. Henry tells Smeaton that it was a lie and he's to die regardless of what he says.
Tropes unique to the film:
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with little Princess Elizabeth walking off as Anne's voiceover confidently states that Elizabeth will one day be queen.