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By the time Richard Burton had been signed by producer Hal B. Wallis to star in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), the story of Henry VIII's marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, the 44-year old star had already spent several years starring in period films with great success. Most recently, Burton had co-starred with Peter O'Toole in Becket (1964) for which he had earned his third Oscar nomination for the title role. Wallis, who had produced Becket, was an old hand at historical drama, with credits dating back to The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and Burton was eager to work again with the producer, eventually convincing him to purchase the rights to the 1948 play by Maxwell Anderson, Anne of the Thousand Days.
Over a lavish lunch on the set of The Taming of the Shrew (1967), with the actor and his wife and co-star Elizabeth Taylor, Wallis discussed his ideas about the story of the "child-queen" Anne Boleyn. "Elizabeth hung on my every word," Wallis recounted in his autobiography, Starmaker (Macmillan). "I was surprised by her attention, as there was no part in the picture for her. Over an elaborate dessert she took a deep breath and said, "Hal, I've been thinking about it for weeks. I have to play Anne Boleyn!" My fork stopped halfway to my mouth. Anne Boleyn? Elizabeth was plump and middle-aged; Anne was a slip of a girl. The fate of the picture hung in the balance. I could scarcely bring myself to look at Richard, but he handled it beautifully. He put his hand on hers, looked her directly in the eye, and said, "Sorry, luv. You're too long in the tooth." Elizabeth took it like a trooper." And there were no hard feelings since Burton reportedly received his largest fee ever for his role in the film - $1,250,000. Plus, Taylor ended up playing a cameo role as a masked courtesan attending a costume party and Burton's daughter, 11-year old Kate, and Taylor's 12-year-old Liza, were cast respectively, as a servant girl and a street urchin.
The historical context of the story of Anne of the Thousand Days had wonderful dramatic potential; not only was it a love story, but one that changed the course of English history. Henry VIII had divorced his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and abandoned the Catholic Church to marry Anne, only to behead her when she was unable to provide him with a much-desired male heir. Wallis was stymied, however, in the casting of Anne and spent months searching for an unknown actress to take the part. Finally, after viewing footage of Genevieve Bujold's performance in the film Isabel (1968), he decided upon the French-speaking Canadian actress, whom he hired without a formal screen test or personal interview. "The minute she appeared on the screen, I was riveted," Wallis wrote. "I saw a tiny, seemingly fragile woman made of steel - willful, passionate, intense. She was exactly the actress I wanted to play Anne Boleyn."
After being denied permission to film at Henry VIII's palace, Hampton Court, shooting commenced in England at the actual family home of the Boleyns, Hever Castle in Kent, and the very place where Henry VIII had first spotted Anne. Burton and Bujold (whom Burton nicknamed "Gin") got along famously - perhaps a little too well in the eyes of Burton's wife. Taylor was absent during much of shoot but, after hearing rumors of her husband's romantic interest in his co-star, she decided to visit the set. She arrived on the day the final scene of the film was shot- a crucial scene in which Henry confronts Anne in the Tower of London. Upon hearing of Taylor's arrival, Bujold "was fighting mad," according to Wallis. "She turned to Jarrott and me and said, "I'm going to give that bitch an acting lesson she'll never forget!" then took her position in front of the camera. What seemed a misfortune suddenly turned into an advantage. Genevieve flung herself into the scene with a display of acting skill I have seldom seen equaled in my career. Then she stormed off the set. Soon after filming finished, we had an end-of-the-picture party. The two actresses held court at opposite ends of the room. Richard Burton very pointedly never left Elizabeth's side."
Burton's portrayal of the king was acclaimed by most critics and Bujold credited Burton for her performance, stating, "He was generous, kind, helpful, and witty. And generosity was the one great quality." More importantly, her portrayal of Anne resulted in her only Academy Award nomination to date. Probably the most notable praise for Wallis came from an unlikely critic. At a Royal Command performance of the film in London, Queen Elizabeth II told the producer, "Thank you, Mr. Wallis. We're learning about English history from your films."
Anne of the Thousand Days was nominated for ten Academy Awards that year: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Sound, Best Screenplay, and Best Costume Design. The attention the film received gave Bujold's career a life outside of Canada and Burton felt that the film would finally provide him with the Oscar that had eluded him in the past. Nominated for the sixth time for Anne of the Thousand Days, he felt that this time he would go home a winner. But after losing again, to John Wayne for True Grit (1969), Burton appeared resigned to his fate. He would only be nominated one more time, for Equus (1977), and lose to Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl! In all, Anne of the Thousand Days would only claim one statuette, for Costume Design.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Charles Jarrott
Screenplay: Bridget Boland, John Hale, Richard Sokolove; based on the play by Maxwell Anderson
Art Direction: Lionel Couch
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Editing: Richard Marden
Music: Georges Delerue
Cast: Richard Burton (Henry VIII), Genevieve Bujold (Anne Boleyn), Irene Papas (Queen Catharine of Aragon), Anthony Quayle (Cardinal Wolsey), John Colicos (Cromwell), Michael Hordern (Thomas Boleyn), Katharine Blake (Elizabeth), Peter Jeffrey (Norfolk).
C-145m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Genevieve McGillicuddy